Pele is the greatest footballer of all time and the legend made his final appearance in a testimonial match on this day in soccer history in 1977 at Giants Stadium. The Brazilian played the first half for the New York Cosmos and the second with Santos.
Pele scored for the Cosmos and the North American Soccer League side went on to win 2-1 in front of 76,000+ fans. After scoring his final goal, his 1,281th, Pele jumped into the arms of Werner Roth, the captain of the Cosmos at the time, to celebrate the goal before presenting his jersey to his father, Dondinho.
In looking back on the moment Roth said, "We felt like we were losing someone. I felt it. Players retire all the time. Players come and go. But Pele was a special player. It was almost a little bit like a funeral. We were celebrating something ultimately we would miss."
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Pele came close to scoring for Santos in the second half only to see a Santos player keep the ball from crossing the goal line. Mazzei, a longtime friend and Cosmos assistant asked of the near goal, “'Pele, why that goal not go in? It would be great that you scored a goal for the Cosmos and one for Santos in the second half. It would be perfect.' "
Pele replied, "Professor, it would be asking too much of God."
After the match, Pele presented his Santos jersey to Valdemar de Brito, his youth coach from Bauru.
The hype surrounding the game was incredible and well planned as Clive Toye, then the Cosmos' general manager, had the moment planned out in his mind since he convinced Pele to sign in 1974. Toye asked Pele to sign for three seasons rather than the two Pele wanted so that his final season would be in the newly completed Giants Stadium and that he would arrange the testimonial match against Santos and arrange for Pele to play a half with each team so he could finish his career in a Santos jersey.
The stadium was full of celebrities including President Jimmy Carter and Muhammad Ali, never one to give up the spotlight said on the occasion, “I don’t know if he’s a good player, but I’m definitely prettier than him.”
The game ended in the rain with Brazilian newspapers saying that even God was crying on that day. Pele's last game was televised to 40 countries and attracted 760 journalists from around the world.
"It seems that God brought me to Earth with a mission to unite people, never to separate them." Pele wrote these words in the New York Times after the 1977 season and they held ever so true in his final farewell.
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1962 – Paul Walsh, English footballer
1966 – George Weah, Liberian politician and footballer
1966 – Cuco Ziganda, Spanish footballer
1970 – Simon Davey, Barnsley football manager
1972 – Jean Paulo Fernandes, Brazilian footballer
1975 – Zoltán Sebescen, German footballer
1976 – Ümit Karan, Turkish footballer
1979 – Gilberto Martínez, Costa Rican footballer
1980 – Antonio Narciso, Italian footballer
1981 – Júlio Baptista, Brazilian footballer
1981 – Arnau Riera, Spanish footballer
1982 – Haruna Babangida, Nigerian footballer
1983 – Mirko Vučinić, Montenegrin footballer
1984 – Daniel Guillén, Spanish footballer
1985 – Tim Deasy, English footballer
1986 – Ricardo Vaz Tê, Portuguese footballer
1987 – Lionel Ainsworth, English footballer