SEPTEMBER 3, 1973
It wasn't always easy being an American soccer pioneer—or even being near one. In April 1975, Bob Rigby manned the goal for the U.S. when Giorgio Chinaglia and Italy battered the Americans 10-0 in a so-called friendly at Rome's Olympic Stadium. When an errant Italian shot crashed into the lens of a photographer crouching beside the U.S. net, the game was stopped briefly as medics attended to a five-inch gash on the shutter-bug's forehead. "I remember thinking, Please let them hit another photographer," Rigby says. "I needed the break."
Rigby, one of only two male U.S. soccer players to grace an SI cover ( Earnie Stewart is the other), once dreamed of playing against the world's best. In the early 1970s, as an All-America at East Stroudsburg (Pa), he wallpapered his dorm room with posters of Pel�, Manchester United star George Best and English goalkeeping great Gordon Banks. Pel� and Best became Rigby's teammates for some of his 12 seasons in the North American Soccer League (NASL), and Banks and Rigby have run goalie camps together in the Philadelphia area for five summers.
The NASL's top draft pick in 1973, Rigby had his finest pro season as a rookie, when he led the league with a goals-against average of 0.62 and helped his hometown Philadelphia Atoms win the title. (The $500 championship bonus he received from the Atoms was quite welcome, considering Rigby's subatomic salary of $2,000.)
Rigby returned to the Philadelphia area in 1986 to teach high school phys ed and health but was frustrated by his limited ability to reach troubled students. "I saw kids with a lot of baggage," he says, "and there was no system in place to intervene." After earning a master's in counseling psychology at Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, Rigby sold the school district in suburban Ridley, Pa., on a program he had designed to identify and help students burdened with drug, alcohol, mental health and/or domestic problems, and has worked as the district's crisis counselor for 13 years. Rigby, 49, and his second wife, Linda, a guidance counselor at Ridley High, live in Turnersville, N.J., with daughters Amanda, 12, and Nicole, 8. Rigby has two kids from his first marriage; a son, Jeff, 23, who's a defender for the New Jersey Stallions of soccer's A-League, and a daughter, Jennifer, 21, who's a senior communications major at Rutgers.
As for his appearance on our cover, Rigby was so pleased with the recognition for him and his sport that he didn't even mind when SI called him Ray Rigby in the 1978 NASL preview. "If I'm not the most obscure guy on the cover I must be in the top 10," Rigby says. "It was absolute serendipity."