Once In A Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story Of The New York Cosmos

Paul Crowder and John Dower's funky, freewheeling documentary chronicles the rocky rise and precipitous fall of the Cosmos, a New York-based soccer team bankrolled by Warner Communications mogul Steve Ross at a time — the early 1970s — when the average American cared more about competitive shuffleboard than the world's favorite game. Sportswriters were...read more

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Paul Crowder and John Dower's funky, freewheeling documentary chronicles the rocky rise and precipitous fall of the Cosmos, a New York-based soccer team bankrolled by Warner Communications mogul Steve Ross at a time — the early 1970s — when the average American cared more about competitive shuffleboard than the world's favorite game. Sportswriters were at best indifferent, at worst, like the New York Daily News' renowned legendary Dick Young, actively hostile to the "foreign football." But there was a North American Soccer League, founded in 1968, which supported five teams, and there were a handful of fans, including legendary, Turkish-born Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, his brother Nesuhi, and their friend, Ross, who joined forces to form a New York team. The first Cosmos (short for "Cosmopolitans") were a ragtag collection of part-timers who played in a litter-strewn field on Randall's Island, a lump of land between the Harlem and East rivers variously used as a potter's field, an insane asylum and a quarantine area. The first games were sparsely attended, and the team so publicity-starved that Bronx-born goalkeeper Shep Messing posed nude for Viva magazine — the fee was a welcome addition to his modest salary. Four dismal years later, Ross had a brainstorm: Buy international superstars to punch up the roster, starting with Brazil's Pele, who was lured from retirement with a then-unprecedented three-year, $4.5 million contract. Later high-profile acquisitions included Italy's grandstanding Giorgio Chinaglia, Brazil's Carlos Alberto, courtly Franz Beckenbauer of Germany and dozens of lesser luminaries from all over the world. Cosmos games began attracting fans and publicity; players became Studio 54-era nightlife celebrities and moved first to Yankee Stadium then to Giants Stadium in the newly-constructed Meadowlands complex in New Jersey. By 1977, New York's notorious "Summer of Sam," they were playing for more than 75,000 spectators. But behind-the-scenes backbiting — spearheaded, the film contends, by the Machiavellian Chinaglia — undermined the team from within. Ross sold him the team in 1984, and it folded, mid-season, a year later. Buoyed by '70s pop hits and a roster of colorful personalities, few of whom agree on any single aspect of the team's history, Crowder and Dower's film is a refreshing reminder that without Ross and the Erteguns, pundits would have had to coin an entirely different term to describe "soccer moms," since without the Cosmos' brief and shining moment in the sun, suburban soccer leagues would be as rare as collegiate boccie tournaments.

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  • Released: 2006
  • Rating: PG
  • Review: Paul Crowder and John Dower's funky, freewheeling documentary chronicles the rocky rise and precipitous fall of the Cosmos, a New York-based soccer team bankrolled by Warner Communications mogul Steve Ross at a time — the early 1970s — when the average Ame… (more)

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