One of those
former live-ins, U.S. midfielder Ben Olsen, says that most of Arena's players
can do impressions of his sarcastic Long Islandese speech. "With Bruce I
can make jokes about him, and he makes fun of me," says midfielder DaMarcus
Beasley. Pope tells a story from his days at D.C. United when the coaches
thought forward Jaime Moreno had sat out too many practices with a minor
injury. Arena sauntered into the players' lounge and dropped a gem: "I want
to announce that Jaime's retiring next week. He won't be playing anymore."
Says Pope, "Everybody laughs, Bruce walks out, and Jaime's in training the
Yet for all his
quips and pronouncements, there are some topics that can turn Arena as silent
as a stone. "Bruce keeps a lot of things inside," says his brother
Mike. Foremost among them is the death, at 37, of his twin, Barbara. "That
had a huge effect on Bruce, but I don't know what that is," says his oldest
brother, Paul. "It's something he doesn't talk about."
A bouquet of a
dozen miniature pink roses arrived in the hospital room of Barbara Staak on
Sept. 21, 1988. It was the twins' 37th birthday, and though Barbara was in
constant pain from the breast cancer that would claim her life, she picked up
the phone and called Phyllis Arena.
"Thank you so
much for the beautiful roses," Barbara told her, assuming Phyllis had sent
them, since she always handled the family's birthday presents.
sorry," came the mortified reply, "but I forgot to send you
my gosh," Barbara said. "The card said, 'Love, Bruce.' I don't know if
he's ever done that before."
The Arena twins
were hardly inseparable growing up. Like a lot of siblings in big
Italian-American families in Franklin Square, N.Y., during the 1950s and '60s,
the three sons and one daughter of Adeline and Vinnie Arena split their
activities rigidly along gender lines. While Barbara learned to sew and cook
and socialized with a gaggle of aunts and cousins, Bruce spent nearly all his
free time with his older brothers playing baseball, football and lacrosse in
the schoolyard across from their house.
"Bruce was a
little, fat kid, like a bowling ball almost," says Mike, and even when he
lost his baby fat, the older boys were merciless. Paul recalls one regular
game, taken from fight scenes in James Cagney movies. The boys would all yell
"Alley beating!" and Bruce would run until they caught him and pounced.
"That's one reason he became so fast and elusive as an athlete," says
Mike followed Paul
as the starting quarterback on the Carey High football team, but Bruce dropped
football after his freshman season, not least because he was a 5'3",
110-pound signal-caller. Bruce wrestled on the varsity for three years, and
after a growth spurt he began holding his own as a midfielder on the lacrosse
team. "He was a great face-off man," recalls Mike. "He'd hold the
other player down and turn his big Arena ass into the guy and scoop the ball
Soccer was never a
significant part of the neighborhood's sports culture, and Bruce joined the
Carey soccer team as a midfielder only in his senior year. "In the first
game our goalkeeper got red-carded, and our coach asked if anyone could play in
goal," says Arena, who volunteered and never left his spot between the
pipes. He went on to become an All-America in lacrosse (at Nassau Community
College and Cornell) and soccer (at Nassau) and the most valuable defensive
player of the 1972 NCAA soccer finals. "I always told him soccer is a
stupid game, nobody plays it, and you're never going to go anywhere with
it," says Paul. "And of course I still tell him that."