He was speaking of the new and successful Montreal Manic side, which drew a crowd of 58,542 to the Olympic Stadium in the playoffs, and then of how the Sting, in the third game of its semifinal series with San Diego, had been cheered on by 39,623 at Comiskey Park. "When Karl-Heinz Granitza [the Sting's high-scoring West German striker] walks down the street in Chicago now," he said, exaggerating somewhat, "he could be Walter Payton. After that game they took his shoes, his shirt and they tore down the goalposts in a sheer outpouring of love. There's been nothing like it in the city since the Bears won the NFL championship in 1963."
The Sting hit Toronto like a circus coming to town, not like a team that had had to play nine games to reach the final. And the ringmaster, the most ebullient of them all, was Coach Willy Roy, whose game plan, he announced to reporters, featured a bigger goal at the Cosmos' end, with a midget to defend it, and Exhibition Stadium's ratty AstroTurf ripped up and replaced by grass.
For their part, the Cosmos hadn't looked like world-beaters this year. The 4-0 and 5-1 victories of other seasons had been rare. Up to the playoffs 12 Cosmos wins had been by a mere goal. And none of those victories had been against Chicago, which had not only beaten the Cosmos twice but whose record over the years against the easterners was an astonishing 6-1. "I'm afraid of the Sting, and I'm entitled," Giorgio Chinaglia, the Cosmos' captain and the league's leading scorer, with 29 regular-season goals, said last week. "Each time they beat us we were on a seven-game winning streak. And Toronto has bad, hard AstroTurf."
What no one could have forecast was that these two attacking sides could fail to score a goal through 105 minutes of play. In the first minute, the Sting's Ingo Peter drove a fierce, curling ball from outside the 35-yard line just wide of the near corner of the goal, and a slip by Cosmos Midfielder Johan Neeskens almost let Chicago's spectacular Argentinian Forward Pato Margetic, he of the shoulder-length blond locks, through moments later.
The Chicago defense looked permeable, though. Frantz Mathieu, especially, committed hair-raising errors in the first half that twice almost led to Cosmos' scores, although he had no particular difficulty with a mostly subdued Chinaglia. Why was Giorgio subdued? Possibly because of an incident that happened as the Cosmos' bus waited to leave the hotel before the game, when an unruly Sting fan yelled insults at Chinaglia in Italian. Giorgio charged out of the bus and a short fracas followed. A historic moment perhaps: the first touch of soccer hooliganism to reach North America. The game is clearly maturing here.
There was on-the-field rough stuff, too, as frustrations mounted. With half an hour left in the game, Chicago's Rudy Glenn heavily fouled Wim Rijsbergen from behind. Shoving matches developed, notably between Neeskens and Granitza. In the ensuing melee, Rijsbergen ended up painfully doubled over and had to leave the field, having been, as players delicately put it, "banjoed." It remained a mystery why no Chicago player received a red card as a consequence.
By then the game had become a succession of notable misses, mostly on the part of Chicago and most spectacularly in the second half, when Peter, with Cosmos Goalie Hubert Birkenmeier way out of position, hit the post from close range. And there was 15 minutes of barren extra time, and then the shootout.
It wasn't until the sixth shootout attempt, when the Cosmos' Vladislav Bogicevic struck the ball hard and true into the roof of the net, that the deadlock was broken and the Cosmos were a goal up. But immediately thereafter Granitza leveled the score for the Sting, the Cosmos' Ivan Buljan had his shot saved and at last Glenn clinched it for Chicago.
Later, Weisweiler said, "I think it would be better that we repeat this game, better for U.S. soccer," and he was right. As was Roy when he said, "We could've gone to New York or Chicago next week and replayed this game in front of 70,000 or 80,000." That's what would have happened anywhere else in the world, and such a rematch might, almost by itself, have set the NASL on its feet again.
As it is, there will be a long wait until next spring, a new season and maybe the final test of the league's resilience.