On October 1, 1977, in Giant Stadium, 75,646 fans sat in the pouring rain to watch Pele's final match.
The original reason for the gift of a signed photograph of Pele to Joseph was because a dear friend of mine, Ted, who used to have season tickets to the New York Cosmos when Pele played in the 1970s was schedule to have a serious surgery and I wanted to do something special for him.
Ted would talk of times seeing Pele play with a sense of Ira, you missed a great time in history. He recounted to me that he was in the crowd the day of Peles last match.
It was an exhibition match between Peles old team Santos from Brazil and the New York Cosmos.
Pele played the 1st half for Cosmos and scored a goal. He played the 2nd half for Santos. Ted recounted to me that at the end of the match they honored Pele in the center of the pitch. It was pouring rain, but no one left the stadium.
Pele addressed the crowd, "I want to take this opportunity to ask you, in this moment when the world looks to me, to please take more attention to the young ones, to the kids all over the world," Pelé told the crowd. "We need them too much…I want to ask you—because I believe that love is the most important thing we can take from life, because everything else passes—to say with me three times, Love! Love! Love!"
I have thought about that many times since Ted told me and his remembrance of the words, "Love, Love, Love." I have seen the pictures of Pele hoisted on the shoulders of teammates with an American Flag and a Brazilian flag in his hands waving them to the crowd.
My picture of Pele was taken about 2 hours before a New York Cosmos match. It was during the time that the New York Cosmos had rejoined the North American Soccer League (NASL) and Pele was an Ambassador to the team. The Cosmos were playing their home matches in Hofstra University in Long Island. I made a point to cover as many of their matches in the hope of seeing and photographing Pele.
In our house we have an expression which is "Ira Time." This is meant arriving to where you need to be anywhere from 30 minutes to over 2 plus hours ahead of time.
In this case, I was there over 2 hours early. I got into the stadium and saw Pele escorted into a golf cart. They drove him to one of the buildings in the stadium. I followed them. He went into the building, I again followed. He went into an elevator, I got in as well. There was a film crew that was there to film part of a documentary about him. I believe they thought I was part of the film crew. I was not about to clue them in otherwise. The crew had Pele sitting in the stands for an interview. I was behind them and waiting for a moment to take a few shots of him as well.
After they finished the interview, I moved into position and asked Pele if I could get a few shots. I took a couple of frames with him smiling looking at me. I asked him to look out to the stadium. He gave a wide grin.
I then did something that I have only done one other time. I take getting my credentials very seriously and never use them to take selfies with any of the players. In this case, after the film crew were done they took some shots with Pele and I thought I might really regret not at least trying this one time. I asked one of the film guys if they would take a picture with me and Pele. It is such a moment for me. He and I are locked hand in hand. Pele the Great and me, a scrawny kid with a camera.