The day after arriving Las Vegas, Nevada, 96/08/30, my wife Julie and I went to the MGM Grand Casino to meet up with Anton Tielemans, Triad Publishing. I had the tremendous fortune to meet O Rei because of the promotional work I was doing on the Pele lithographs for Triad Publishing on my Pele internet page and Migutz' Futbol, Futbol Y Mas Futbol (predecessor to 360 Soccer) pages. After meeting Anton we went down and met the local Univision station staff in the lobby of the MGM as Anton had scheduled an interview for Univision with Pele. Anton called up to Pele's suite and Pele was on his way down to meet Anton.
I felt like a little child, filled with excitement and wonder, anticipating the great one's arrival. Not much later Julie came over to me and said, "Pele's in the VIP lounge with Anton." As nonchalantly as I could, I walked past the VIP lounge and spotted Pele and Anton talking. At first I was filled with a rush of emotions and I thought to myself, "He really is here. It's actually going to happen!" My next thought was that I expected him to be much taller. Pele is approximately 5'8" and standing next to Anton, 6'3", he did not look as tall as I had imagined.
Anton emerged from the lounge and said all was in order. We would proceed to his room for the Univision interview. The TV crew set up in Anton's room and I took a seat in the corner waiting for the King.
Pele made his way from his suite and along the way to Anton's room he greeted everyone, shook hands and signed autographs. He entered the room greeted everyone and then spotted me in the corner in an easy chair. His eyes got big and he jokingly asked what I was doing wearing a SC Corinthians jersey, didn't I know that the Corinthians and Santos FC were traditional rivals? ( I knew of the rivalry of the teams and Julie had warned me not to wear the jersey but it was the only Brazilian jersey I had. ) I sheepishly tried to explain that I had tried to get a Santos jersey but could only come up with the Corinthian jersey from my internet friend in Brazil. He said he understood and not to worry about it. Whew!!!
The interview started with the original Pele action painting by C. Michael Dudash as a backdrop. The interviewer asked Pele what brought him to Las Vegas and he stated he was here to sign and promote his limited edition lithographs. Pele also took the opportunity to say hello to the Hispanic community in Las Vegas. When asked what involvement if any Pele might have in France 98, he said he would be a commentator for Globo TV.
He was questioned about his take on Brazil's loss in the '96 Olympics when they had been favored. Pele said he had warned the Confedera??o Brasileira de Futebol, (CBF) not to take their match against Nigeria lightly as he had been witnessing the rise of the African game as a whole and knew the Nigerian Under 23 team had been very strong recently.
Pele was also asked his opinion of the MLS (Major League Soccer). He said he was pleased with the level of skill and play in the MLS. He further stated that he thought the MLS had done a smart thing to include the players from our collegiate ranks on the teams along with the limited number of foreign stars. Edson cited this as a major difference from the failed NASL (North American Soccer League) in the 70's which relied almost exclusively on foreign stars such as Giorgio Chinaglia, Franz Beckenbauer, Carlos Alberto and himself. The MLS was doing a better of job of building from within according to Edson.
He replied he had two "nenas" and one "baron", two daughters and a son, when asked if he had any children. His son Edhino is playing for Pele's Santos FC as the starting goal keeper. Pele commented on the irony of his fame and fortune being centered on his ability to annihilate goalies and his son turns out to be a goalie.
Asked about what advice he could give to the youth of today, Edson emphatically warned today?s children against the use of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. He commented he witnessed an untold number of talented people ruin themselves and their families behind these terrible vices.
This last question concluded the interview and Pele then graciously took the time to greet, shake hands and sign items for the Univision crew, some friends of Anton and even the hotel staff who had brought a couple of extra chairs to the room.
Conversation With Pele
We had setup a table with a stack of 100 of the 1282 lithographs for Pele to begin signing. Pele took pencil in hand and before starting to sign asked why he was signing in pencil and not ink? Anton explained that a pencil will leave a "grove" on the paper, can't be Xeroxed and that an ink signature can often not be distinguished from a printed signature. Given a choice of signing either "Pele" or "Edson Arantes do Nascimento" 1282 times, what do you think he chose?
Attacking the first stack of 100, Pele began signing the lithographs and we took the opportunity to engage him in dialogue. Sally, Anton's wife, asked Pele what it was like turning professional at the early age of 15. As Edson's father had also been a professional player, he would hang around his father's practice sites. The other players would play with him and soon told his father, "He's going to be good player". ( How right they were! ) Times were different back then Pele said, so many of today's normal trappings of professional sports didn't exist back then. Transportation was nothing like today. They rode old buses on terrible roads, not like today where travel is done by chartered jets. At the age of 17 he went to Sweden with the Brazilian national team for the '58 World Cup. This was the first time he had set foot out of Brazil and at this tender age he stated he was overwhelmed by the sheer magic of the World Cup and the fact that they had won it all.
Anton commented on Pele's willingness to gladly honor all requests for autographs and photos. Pele said he truly sensed he owed at least this to his fans. His willingness to honor endless request had led to some "interesting" situations when he was in the company of American celebrities. Many American celebrities have an army of guards and have rules about when and where they'll sign autographs. ( Pele traveled to Las Vegas with only his Vice President of Pele Sports Marketing and no entourage. ) It wasn't uncommon for Pele to honor a fan's request for an autograph during a meal with American celebrities only to be admonished by the Americans that their meal time was "sacred" and that Pele should refrain from honoring these requests because it would force them to sign autographs also. Pele did not understand their attitudes towards their fans and to this day honors all requests when possible.
I've received email from a net friend who said they met Pele in an Atlanta mall before the Olympics and he graciously agreed to sign all their autographs plus suggested that the group should take a photo with him. During my stay in Las Vegas, in each instance I witnessed Pele signing an autograph, he made eye contact, engaged the requester in conversation, signed the item and asked if they would like a photo taken. Pele will not say no unless his schedule absolutely prohibits him.
After knocking out a couple hundred lithographs Pele took a break and I took the opportunity to show him a hard copy printout of my Pele internet page. He took the seven pages and methodically read each page occasionally nodding his head and commenting that the information was accurate. When he was done he said I had done a very good job. :-) I told him I had searched the internet endlessly looking for an email id and asked if he had one. No, he didn't have an email id and that at that time he did not have any internet page that was officially his. However he did tell me he planned to have an official page out in November '96 and would advise of the page.
I apologized for the jersey again saying my internet friend had been unable to get me a Santos FC jersey. He told me not to worry about it and told me he would personally send me Santos FC jersey. :-)
Pele grabbed a piece of fruit, returned to signing the lithographs and we continued to learn more about Edson. I told him my page had many photos of him and that I had a photo of Vila Belmira/U. Caldeira, Santos stadium, but did not know why the stadium had two names. Pele explained that the stadium is named after U. Caldeira, a Santo FC founder, and that Vila Belmira is a neighborhood in Sao Paulo, Brazil, but that the fans have come just simply refer to the stadium as Vila Belmira.
I told him I also had a photo of him from another internet friend where he helped dedicate the new Santos FC training facility in Vila Belmira next to the stadium. Pele said it was unbelievable that a great team with a such a rich history such as Santos had not had an official training facility until this year 1996. Pele was very proud of being a driving force in the completion of this much needed facility.
When asked by Anton what was his most memorable game, Pele paused for a good while. He said he would have to select the final of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico City, Mexico. While the '58 final was special for the grandeur of it all the '70 final had more of a mental impact on him. Brazil as a country was undergoing much upheaval and unrest during this time. The President of Brazil had contacted him and told him Brazil must win the World Cup. The country needed a rallying point to unite under and ease the political situation. ( Talk about pressure! ) It's was now easy for me to understand the emotional outburst demonstrated by Pele after scoring in this World Cup where he leaps into the air and pumps his clenched fist in triumph.
I told Pele that I read he had actually stopped a war in Africa by his mere presence. He said that in 1972 his Santos FC was traveling in Africa when they landed for refueling in Senegal, which was engaged in a bitter war, and the plane was boarded by rebels who gave the team a choice. They could refuel and attempt to take off but that their forces nor the opposing military forces could guarantee the team's safety or they could decide to play a futbol game and be assured of a safe exit. Pele said it was an easy choice. The war was temporarily stopped for the game and the team made a hasty exit from the battle zone after the game.
Well it was time for another break in the signings. Now the photographer hired by Anton requested a little of Pele's time. Pele agreed to change his shirt and don the familiar yellow Brazilian jersey. Using the original oil painting as the background Pele took several photos alone, with Anton and Sally and myself and Julie. Originally it was just photos of Anton, Pele and myself but the ever gracious Pele insisted on having our wives in the photos and eventually convinced them to join us.
During a brief break in the photo shoot Edson took a soccer ball, gently grasped it in his fingers, moved it to his lips, kissed it and raising it to the heavens said in complete sincerity, "If not for God and this ball." Humility, from such a great athlete.
Greg the photographer wanted to take a portrait style photo where Pele would hold a soccer ball and told him just one more picture. I can clearly remember Pele saying, "It's never just one more." We all laughed heartily. Pele was right, Greg took at least a dozen shots.
Well, I and Julie had been fortunate enough to spend about four hours with Pele and he still had hundreds of lithographs to sign. We thanked Pele for his time and conversation. Anton said we would get together the next evening for actual initial sale of the lithos at the Grand Sports at the MGM. I left the MGM Grand floating on a cloud.
The next day I went and had our roll of film developed, 1 hour, so I could make sure my treasured photos of Pele were OK. The shots were beautiful, I had my memories preserved.
Lithographs and MGM Grand
That evening, 06:30 p.m., with three soccer ball in tow, we headed back to the MGM Grand, Grand Sports, for the 07:00 - 09:00 p.m. lithograph "kick off" sale. Well, the place was abuzz. A line, that snaked off into the distance, of Pele fans with autograph books, ball, jerseys, pennants and everything else imaginable had already assembled. The MGM staff had their hands full as the crowd continued to grow larger.
The individuals who purchased a lithograph were given priority in meeting with Pele. As the crowds pressed forward against the barricades Pele greeted each purchaser with a smile, handshake, conversation, personal inscription on the lithograph and multiple photographs. Over sixty lithographs were sold that evening barely leaving Pele enough time in the two hour session to accomplish the task. As Pele had not completed signing the lithos, he needed to return to Anton's room that evening to continue signing. A wall of security staff were assembled around Pele and he was rushed out the Grand Sport and to his suite.
Sally offered to take the three soccer balls up to the room and have Pele sign the balls for our three children. I quickly scribbled some inscriptions ideas for Pele to address each of the balls for the kids. We thanked Sally and returned to our hotel amazed at the spectacle we had witnessed. The faces of the crowd were etched in total awe of the King. People placed their children on their shoulders giving them a chance to see Pele. During the entire signing session camera clicks and flashes were going off along with the cries of everyone calling out to Pele hoping to meet him.
Last Day in Vegas
Sunday morning arrived and we started to get ready for our return flight. I called Anton and spoke with Sally. Pele was also leaving Sunday but had not finished signing the lithographs and subsequently had not had a chance to sign the soccer balls yet. Pele was to sign lithographs all morning and was scheduled to finish at 01:00 p.m., our departure time. Sally said she would make sure the balls would get signed and ship them to us in Elk Grove, Ca.
So we left Las Vegas with so much more than we bargained for. Julie and I had ventured to Glitter Gulch for the first time. We met in person our new friends Anton and Sally. I had photos of Pele and us. 3 autographed soccer balls for our children would soon be on their way to our children.
Those of us that are futbol/soccer fanatics know the LEGEND that is Pele.
Most importantly though, I met the MAN that is Pele.
A man not caught up in his own self adoration like so many other celebrities. A man who recognizes that he is a man exalted by the grace of God and a ball. A man conscious of his fellow man, caring enough to make those he meets feel like legends themselves.