No, the Tatu who plays in the Major Indoor Soccer League didn't model himself after the no-neck guy on Fantasy Island. Yes, both are short, both sound funny speaking English, both are highly attuned to flying objects, and both make their living as sidekicks. But fortunately for the MISL, that's where the parallel ends.
Tatu is a Dallas Sidekick. Tattoo was Mr. Rourke's. In real life the man who played Tattoo on Fantasy Island founded the Herve Villechaize School of Bad Career Moves when he left the show while its ratings were high. Tatu may have left a bright soccer-playing future in Brazil six years ago, deciding instead to try a career in the U.S., where the sport—at the professional level, anyway—seems to be conducting a disappearing act. Tatu is attempting to do something about the state of U.S. soccer. He has even made it clear that he will give the shirt off his back to get indoor soccer noticed So far this season he has done just that 44 times.
That's the league-leading number of goals Tatu has scored for Dallas. He celebrates each goal—it doesn't matter if he scores at home or on the road—by taking off his jersey and throwing it into the stands. As far as the MISL is concerned, Tatu's jersey jettisons are as colorful as any NFL touchdown dance. Along with talent, charm and good looks, the shirt throwing has made Tatu, born Antonio Carlos Pecorari 25 years ago in Mairinque near S�o Paulo, the most marketable soccer player in the U.S. since Pel�.
Getting half naked during games and leading the Sidekicks in their quest of the MISL's Eastern Division crown is only part of what the 5'6", 160-pound forward does on behalf of his sport. Tatu is a promotional dynamo. He makes unpaid appearances at the birthday parties of his youngest fans, puts on soccer clinics, coaches a youth team, makes instructional films, poses for posters and signs autographs until the last kid has gone home happy. "Tatu Toffee" is the latest Baskin-Robbins flavor to hit the Big D. "I am determinated to make our game work in this country," he says.
Other players are among Tatu's biggest fans. They take no offense at his protracted postgoal celebrations, possibly because they are used to seeing people involved with indoor soccer lose their shirts. Recently the New York Express, whose projected success was thought to be the key to landing the MISL much needed national exposure, went under. Before Tatu came to Dallas three years ago, two soccer franchises had failed in the Metroplex.
"He's not doing the shirt thing to put it in your face." says San Diego Socker defender Kevin Crow, who often marks Tatu. "He's doing it to put people in the stands. Everybody is for that."
Tatu has also earned respect for his talent. He dribbles in tight quarters as well as any player in the league, gets open with explosive quickness and shoots hard and accurately with either leg with almost no windup. He thrives on contact, using his strength to "post up" less powerful defenders He also is developing into an unselfish playmaker. In this year's balloting by the players for the MISL All-Star Game, he was the Eastern Division's top vote-getter.
"Right now, Tatu is the best player in the game, the type of player you can build a franchise around," says Shep Messing, the part owner and goalkeeper of the ill-fated Express. "Besides, Tatu is a wonderful guy. There is no sense of ego in what he does. He projects joy, which is what the game should be about."
With the experience derived from 156 goals in the last three seasons. Tatu slings shirts with streamlined efficiency. He never tucks in his jersey, and he gets it over his head and on its way to the stands almost before the scoring light has stopped glaring. On the road he avoids making offerings to hard-core fans who may throw the shirt back.
"If I see a bunch of kids or a sign that says, TATU, I LOVE YOU, I feel safe throwing it there," he says. After a triumphant heave and a few hugs from his team-mates, he gets a new jersey from Sidekick equipment manager Chris Agnes. The team apparently doesn't mind the expense; each jersey costs $39.95.