Remembering the 'Professor'

Free-lance writer Dan Woog shares a memory of Julio Mazzei, who died on Sunday at the age of 78. Mazzei was best known as Pele's adviser during his New York Cosmos and later coached the Cosmos to the 1982 North American Soccer League title.

I'm surprised Professor Mazzei's death has not received more press coverage in the U.S.  He was one of a kind.

The Professor was always very kind to me, both with the Cosmos and afterward. But the ultimate story involved a trip to Brazil for the initial (and only) "Pele Cup."

There were four teams traveling and the Soccer America crew included publisher Lynn Berling-Manuel, columnist Paul Gardner and myself.

We all rendezvoused in Orlando; from there we flew to Miami (!), Jamaica (where we overnighted, unexpectedly, on a raucous Jamaican Independence Weekend); Manaus, Rio, and finally Sao Paulo.

It was an epic 48-hour journey.  By the time we got there, at something like 6 a.m., we were bedraggled, exhausted, smelly, angry, almost mutinous.

There to greet us was Professor Mazzei. He exuded hospitality. He wore a smile the size of a 747, and looked like he had not a care in the world. Judging by his demeanor, we'd taxied in a few minutes ahead of schedule.

"Welcome to Brazil!" he said, in that Portuguese-flavored accent that can make even the most mundane statement sound impossibly exotic. "Did you have a good flight?"

Somehow, from a man called "the professor," it sounded like the dumbest thing I ever heard. But we smiled, and all was right with the world.

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