"As a kid I was, to the despair of my father, a wild soccer fan," Henry Kissinger said yesterday.
"I used to hide soccer magazines under my studies. When my father was out of the room, I would read the soccer magazines. My father always said, 'Henry, if you continue along this line, you will come to no good end.'"
"And now I have fulfilled my father's prophecy."
Done with Harvard and LBJ, Rockefeller and Nixon, done with Vietnam and Cambodia, no longer entwined with Tina Louise, Kissinger three days ago was appointed chairman of the board of directors of America's major professional soccer league, the North American Soccer League.
He is quick to point out the job pays nothing and he really isn't running the league. But then, he doesn't have much time for anything beyond an advisory meeting once a month or so. It's just fun for a guy who used to be a goalkeeper.
That was in Germany. Until he broke his hand at age 8 or 10, Kissinger played in the goal. Then he became a forward. His family's flight from Nazi Germany ended his soccer career at 15. In the Untied States, he worked and went to night school, leaving little time for a headlong dash to no good end.
As it happened, however, he developed an interest in American sports and now identifies himself as "a sports fan in general." Yesterday he pronounced the Redskins "very, very good," saying, "They have a much more imaginative offense than before."
Naturally, Kissinger was asked about the Redskinettes, who were ordered under cover of their old truck driver uniforms after a week of skin. Kissinger is, after all, the world diplomat who once explained the phenomenon of a pudgy Harvard prof passing as a sex symbol by saying, "Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac." It would be a grievous "fault, indeed, to have Kissinger in hand and ignore the navel crisis precipitated by the Redskinettes three weeks ago.
"It seemed," he was told, "that your diplomatic skills might have been needed to resolve the affair."
A chuckle from the chairman here.
"I'm afraid I would have gone the other way in the decision," Kissinger said.
But we disgress. Soccer talk today . . .
"As goalie, how good were you?" Kissinger was asked.
"When . . ."
Suddenly, Kissinger's dog, Tyler, set up a barking clamor that must have ruined a KGB agent's ears somewhere.
"Excuse me," Kissinger said, "my dog has seen a squirrel." And the former secretary of state, a man who bestrode the world, leaped off in pursuit of his squirrel-crazed hound.
"Stop it," Kissinger directed Tyler, and, amazingly enough, Tyler stopped it.
Returning to his seat. Kissinger said, "I tell you, I'm never going to get killed by an invasion of squirrels. Tyler hates squirrels."
We were appraising the old goalie, the young Henry Kissinger.
"When I was goalie," he said, "they were high-scoring games."
Another small chuckle.
"To put it kindly . . ."
A pause here while Kissinger searhced for the proper phrase.
" . . . to put it kindly, my commitment was in excess of my ability."
Happily for soccer, Kissinger's commitment to developing the game in the United States is as real as his itch to play it as a kid. On his own, he has attended three World Cups and, while working, he has sought out soccer matches all over the world. He is, turly, a fan, and his devotion to soccer was so obvious that the American league's officials figured, what the beck, let's ask him to help us.
Kissinger was delighted.
"Owners kept calling on me to get an opinion of a number of things, particularly in relation to international soccer," Kissinger said. "So some of them suggested I join the board of directors. I thought it was a joke."
"It is definitely not a case of "let's get Kissinger in and get some publicity," said Steve Danzansky, president of the Washington Diplomats of the NASL. "It evolve out of two years' consultation with Dr. Kissinger. We simply found out how much he knows. He will help us in several areas, such as planning: how we proceed with TV, what our national image is, how we make gains internationally."
Kissinger says he hopes the United States will become competitive in world soccer competition. By 1990, he said, the World Cup ought to be played here.
"First, I would like for the sport to become a major sport in America with mostly American players," he said. To that end, he hopes the best athletes turn to soccer.
"But what about the glamor-money sports?" he was asked. "How can soccer ever draw the 'best' athletes when baseball, basketball and football offer so much money and soccer, in relative terms so little?"
"It is really a question of what they play in school," Kissinger said. "And I do not think it is really competitive in that way.
"There are enough good athletes for everything. This country is the best in every sport, in baseball and football and basketball. It just doesn't seem possible we wouldn't be among the best in soccer."
Lest Edward Bennett Williams sell away Kissinger's seat at RFK, the old goalie quickly added that he doesn't intend that soccer replace football.
"Football is a tremendous game. Like most American games, it is rather intellectual. In soccer, it is obvious what is going on. American games, like baseball and football, get rather complicated. Soccer is a continuous flow of action, also, while in football you get controlled, violent action in a limited period of time. I think football is tremendous."
Some of the football action, whether violent or not, is one thing Kissinger would like to see in professional soccer.
"The game has become too defensive," he said. "When I was a kid, the scores were about twice as large as they are now. They were like 5-2 and 4-2. Now socres are 1-0 and 2-1. What the NASL has tried to do with some rules that go against international rules (injury timeouts, substitutions, shootouts) is open it up a bit.
"I know Prince Rainier, from Monaco, who is active in soccer in France, has been pushing for rules to help the offense."
One thing more. The NASL announced three days ago that Kissinger purchased an option to buy a franchise in the league. Might we soon see the Kissinger Kickers battling the Dips?
Nope. "Oh, I technically bought an option," Kissinger said, adding softly, "but right now all the teams are losing money."
Father Kissinger would be proud of such restraint.