Sitting up in the press gallery before the Soccer Bowl Saturday with Phil Woosnam, looking out at the huge, imposing Giants Stadium, my mind went back 11 years to the O'Hare Motor Inn in Chicago.
That bleak winter day, the NASL commissioner sat repeating miserably, "Nobody's bigger than the game." The NASL, facing disintegration, survived by the skin of its teeth; and now it has even conquered Greater New York.
True, 16,000 ticket-holding fans stayed away from Soccer Bowl, presumably because the Cosmos were absent, but as Vancouver's Alan Ball remarked to me before the Whitecaps played and survived the semifinal against the Cosmos here, "A win for us would be good, because it would give the NASL credibility."
Vancouver duly won not only against the Cosmos but in the Soccer Bowl itself. Despite that, the NASL might say, with Rodney Dangerfield, "I don't get no respect."
"That the Cosmos for all their costly stars, could not even reach the final, that it should be contended by two teams full of British veterans, gives some point to the cruel Spanish nickname for the NASL: The Elephants' Graveyard.
Ball, chosen the most valuable player of the playoffs, is 34 now; so is the other Rodney -- Marsh -- who came into the game twice in the second half with two splendid attempts on goal, for Tampa Bay, a right-footed volley and a left-footer, each magnificently saved by Phil Parkes.
At the end, Parkes ran round the field, clapping and blowing kisses to the fans. Perhaps he was relieved merely at having survived. "I've played at Giants Stadium twice," he wryly remarked before the game, "and I'm glad to be alive."
If it was not a game of any consumate quality, it was still full of interest and excitement. Had Kevin Hector put away the easy chance that fell to him after Trevor Shymark's free kick had hit the post, had Peter Anderson's evident foul before the Rowdles' equalizer not gone unpunished, it might have been less dramatic.
Meanwhile, tribute should particularly be paid to two Vancouver players, Carl Valentine from Oldham and Bob Lenarduzzi, who used to play for Reading in England.
Each showed superabundant energy. Lenarduzzi not only played the dangerous Steve Wegerle comprehensively out of the game, but found time, speed and stamina to overlap admirably.
Valentine not only dropped deep to help midfield and defense, but once again displayed an exciting ability and readiness to accelerate past the defense on the outside -- down the touchline -- and finish with a dangerous cross.
The goal with which Whymark opened the scoring, abetted by Barry Kitchener's slowness, showed that the proceedings were just a trifle unreal.
But there was nothing unreal about Vancouver's ultimate success, and the sour ill grace of the New York fans suggested that they, like the Cosmos themselves, consider the championship their private property.