Hall of Fame inductions are about long-winded speeches, touching tributes, teary thank-yous and vintage videos. But they are also about story-telling, and on Saturday, the tales were flowing before, during and after the U.S. soccer ceremony in Foxborough, Mass., honoring Eddie Pope, Cobi Jones, Earnie Stewart, Bruce Murray and Bob Gansler.
A few of the highlights:
In the opening remarks, USSF President Sunil Gulati said: “The last few weeks have been crazy in the soccer world, in the political world and FIFA, and we think about what we want to do in the future, but it’s important to pause and remember that where we are today and where we want to go is built on the shoulders of a lot of people in this room.”
Pope, the D.C. United legend and three-time World Cup performer, remembered his first youth national team experience. His University of North Carolina coach, Elmar Bolowich, set up an invitation to a camp run by Gansler.
“I came back, thought I did pretty well, I’m excited, can’t wait to go back, and I walk into Elmar’s office and he said, ‘Yeah, I just heard from Bob Gansler. He said you were a disaster. Hopefully I can get you back in, but I’ll tell you one thing, you are going to have to work a lot harder.’ Luckily, Bob let me back into the second camp.”
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Pope said that, when he hears about current players around the world following in the fathers’ and grandfathers’ footsteps, he thinks that “we don’t have that history in the United States. I’m hoping is that a few World Cups from now, whether it’s John Harkes’ son, whether it’s my son, Cobi’s new son, or Earnie’s kids, the announcer will say, ‘This new United States soccer player playing in his first World Cup had a dad who played in the World Cup.’ For me, that would be a wonderful moment, and that’s where we are headed.”
Stewart was introduced by former U.S. teammate Claudio Reyna, who retold the stories of Stewart’s fear of flying.
“He continues to be someone I can get so much advice from and soccer knowledge. It’s incredible to see him continue to grow in that role today. A person I can count on all the time except certain moments you don’t want to listen to anything he is saying. That happened to be 30 minutes before a flight and during the flight. Earnie, unlike anyone I have ever met — no one — has a fear of flying that wasn’t a joke. He took his Valium 30 minutes before every flight. I’d look over at Earnie five minutes before a flight and his eyes were rolling into the back of his head and that was the only moment I would never listen to anything he was saying because it made no sense.”
Stewart also referenced his personal terror.
“I’d like to thank [legendary Dutch coach] Rinus Michels. I was going to the airport and my fear of flying was terrible, so my wife dropped me off for a flight to California. I said to myself, ‘This is it, I’m quitting, I’m never going to play for the U.S. soccer team ever again.’ I told my wife to come pick up me because I’m hanging it up. All of a sudden, I saw Rinus Michels -- and I never got a chance to tell him — he was there. At that moment, I thought, ‘If such an important person is going to step on this plane, what can happen to me?’ I step on, I called my wife again and told her : ‘Forget what I said.’ I am so very glad I decided to do that because it’s been a fantastic ride.”
Stewart is the director of football affairs for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands, overseeing coaching and the youth academy. He spent two seasons in MLS, with D.C. United. “I had a blast there,” he said in an interview before the ceremony. However, he didn’t go out on the best terms with coach Peter Nowak.
“We had a little bit of a fallout so I told him [with a few months left in the season] that he didn’t have to worry about me coming back. We got along off the field, but we had different objectives about how to play. That’s fine. In the end, we got a fantastic result and became champions.”
As a Dutch American who spent most of his life in the Netherlands, he would seem to have divided loyalties. However, “I came true to my feelings when the United States played in Holland last year. When I played against them, it was simple; I played for the U.S. so I was automatically for the U.S. It was exciting in the stands last year to find out where my heart was. I found out within a couple of seconds that my heart is with the U.S. and that everything in me was about the U.S.”
Murray, a former prolific national team scorer from Germantown, Md., who now oversees a youth soccer program in Greenville, S.C., was introduced at the ceremony by life-long friend and current Duke coach John Kerr Jr. They met as kids in Mexico City, when Kerr’s father was playing for Club America and the Murray family was on vacation (the fathers knew one another). The boys played together in the Montgomery Soccer Inc., youth system in Maryland and for national club champions in Virginia. They both won the Hermann Trophy at separate colleges (Murray at Clemson, Kerr at Duke), served on the national team together and played at Millwall in England. Murray was an assistant coach for Kerr at Harvard a few years ago.
Kerr: “When you think of Bruce Murray, you smile. Sometimes you laugh, sometimes you cry, sometimes you shake your head in disbelief. Right, Coach Gansler? But more often than not, you smile.
“What do Fidel Castro, Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi have in common with Bruce Murray? In the early 1990, they were all on the international watch list. Why was Bruce on this infamous list? Well, while traveling with the national team, Bruce lost his passport eight times in two years. Bruce is responsible for the Murray Rule, which has all the players hand over their passports [to a team administrator] after they pass through security.”
On Murray’s striking resemblance in looks and character to actor Will Ferrell, Kerr told this story: “One Saturday morning we were doing a clinic for boys and girls. At the end of the clinic, Bruce spoke to the group of about 50 kids. Bruce asked the kids if they had any questions. A little girl raised her hand and said, ‘Were you in the movie ‘Elf’?
“Bruce looked over at me, smiled and said, ‘Okay, kids, let’s go streaking!’” — a reference to Ferrell in “Old School.”
Murray opened his speech with a reference to the video that had just been shown. “If I have one regret,” he said, “I wish they could airbrush the mullet and the short shorts out of those pictures.”
On a serious note, Murray said he cherished the world travels during changing times. “We saw history in real time. I got a chance to play in east Germany when it was East Germany. I played a game a week before the collapse of the Soviet Union in Moscow. It was an incredible view of history.”
At the 1990 World Cup, “I was very nervous before the game against Italy. I am a lifelong Redskins fan so this is kind of weird. I’m walking out of the tunnel, Paolo Maldini is on my left — he looks good, he smells good, the guy is a rock star. I’m very nervous. I look over and see Tom Landry, the old Dallas Cowboys coach sitting with Franco Harris. Landry winked. It gave me confidence like it’s going to be okay. Who could imagine a lifelong Redskins fan getting confidence from the Cowboys coach in Italy at the World Cup? I’ve seen a few things.”
Jones recalled his visits to RFK Stadium.
When representing the Galaxy, “there was this one guy that would always give me some stick before the game. One game I was warming up, Eddie [Pope] happened to be near me and asked me why that guy was like that. I said, ’I don’t know. He’s always saying, Cobi, you are terrible! You are the worst! You should just quit!’ A week later, we had a national team game in D.C. and I saw the guy. Eddie is jogging with me, and I thought he’s going to be supporting me now. So Eddie said, ‘Let’s get closer to him.’ The guy is there, we’re jogging up, he said, ‘Cobi!’ I looked up. He said, ‘You’re terrible! You’re the worst player!’ I could never get a break there.”
Gansler, the 1990 World Cup team coach, ended his speech with cutting jokes about the USSF bosses, Gulati and Dan Flynn.
“We used to keep statistics on [Flynn’s] two-touch ability [when he starred as a defender at Saint Louis University]. With the first touch, he would kick people up in the air and with the second touch, he would get them again before they would land.”
Gulati “has a C coaching license. It is still under review. Mysterious circumstances.”