On the field in Tulsa, where the temperature soared to more than 120° last Wednesday night, there was Seattle Goalkeeper Jack Brand, his big fist poised to split the lip of Tulsa General Manager Noel Lemon. At the same time, Sounder Coach Alan Hinton was stalking off, refusing to shake hands with anybody. And Referee Gordon Arrow-smith—a Toronto policeman—was getting writer's cramp recording 70 fouls, two ejections and five yellow cards in his game report.
The Sounders, the winningest team in the league, with an 18-2 record attributable to Brand's superb goalkeeping and a finely tuned English-style offense, had just beaten the Roughnecks, who lead their division at 10-7 and are the NASL's most feared team when playing at home, in one of the season's bitterest games.
The Roughnecks have committed more fouls than any club in the league—411 of them after Wednesday's clash—an average of 21.6 per game. When the Cosmos are scheduled to play in Tulsa, Giorgio Chinaglia feels a case of the flu coming on and pronounces himself a doubtful starter. Other strikers suddenly discover that they have aggravated old injuries. Defenders tell the trainer to pack extra Absorbine Jr. "We're tough, but with all our fouls we don't break legs or put guys out of action," claims Roughneck Goalkeeper Gene DuChateau. "We're just aggressive."
Adding to the visitor's problem is the field at Skelly Stadium, at 60 yards wide one of the two narrowest in the league—75 yards is barely adequate. Trying to play the game as it should be played on such a layout is like trying to stage The Nutcracker in a phone booth. Then there's the Tulsa crowd, a howling, rebel-yelling hard-hat contingent that, on the average, numbers 21,000 fans. And the heat.
Lemon, a former used-car salesman who resembles a beefy leprechaun, has carefully cultivated Tulsa's unsavory image. "We've only been in the league 2½ years and already half the teams hate us," he says. "Give me another two years and we'll have them all."
The antipathy is especially strong between the Sounders and the Roughnecks. Hinton was fired by Tulsa at the end of last season after leading the Roughnecks to a 14-16 record and a second-round playoff berth. Matters started to come to a head midway through the 1979 season, when Lemon traded Goalie Colin Boulton to Los Angeles over Hinton's strong objections. Hinton let it be known that he felt his contract, which supposedly gave him approval over player transactions, had been violated.
Hinton made things worse by going to bat for a number of players who hadn't received promised signing fees and other bonuses.
Finally, Hinton carried his protests over the heads of Lemon and General Managing Partner Tom Keeter to Ward Lay, the Texas potato-chip king and the Roughnecks' founder. When the season was over, Hinton was dismissed for insubordination. It wasn't a very popular move in Tulsa.
Even less popular was Lemon's decision over the winter to trade Brand and English Forward Roger Davies to Seattle, which in the meantime had hired Hinton as its coach. Brand has become the NASL's leading keeper with a 0.68 goals-against average and Davies the top goal-scorer, with 20 so far this year.
Before last week's game, the local press happily helped reopen the old wounds, by quoting Brand as saying, "I love Tulsa. There's only one thing wrong with the whole city. Noel Lemon."
Lemon: "I don't know who has more hot air in Washington, Mount St. Helens or Jack Brand."
Davies: "Our 18-2 record with Hinton shows what a great judge of character Noel Lemon is."
Hinton, who had maintained a nine-month silence on his troubles with Tulsa: "Noel Lemon is full of garbage and lies."
As gametime neared, Keith Walker, the NASL's head of officials, appeared at the stadium. Why? "Exactly why you think," he said grimly. Then Davies arrived and asked a local reporter where Lemon would be sitting. If he scored a goal, Davies said, he wanted to give Lemon a particular hand signal.
In the scoreless first half, Tulsa defender Kevin Eagan stayed so close to Davies they seemed to need only one pair of shoes. So frustrated was Davies that he amassed a Sounder-record 10 fouls and Eagan got seven.
The second half produced a profusion of yellow cards, players writhing in the heat and no score on the board. At the end of the scoreless 15-minute tie-breaker, both teams were exhausted by the heat. They had consumed almost 15 gallons of Gatorade. The players were all but sweated dry, and white salt lines rimmed their uniforms.
That left it to the shootout—players going one-on-one against the opposing goalie. After six rounds, the game was still deadlocked. In Round Seven, Davies got his chance and he beat Gene DuChateau cleanly.
If Brand could stop Tulsa Midfielder Alex Skotarek, Seattle would win. The ball came low and hard, toward the left post, glistening with sweat and the Vaseline players use to protect their legs on artificial turf, riding the superheated air like a torpedo. Brand dived to one side, bounced on the turf and came up with the ball.
Players, coaches, fans, policemen flooded onto the field. Brand headed toward the Tulsa bench, bearing down on Lemon. Then, a) Lemon, being a classy guy, said nothing and walked off (Lemon's version) or b) said a very discouraging word (Brand's version). Brand, his fists clenched, was pulled away by players from both teams. Considering the heat and the hot tempers, it was small wonder that Hinton would shake his head in the locker room and mutter repeatedly, "I'm so glad it's over."
An hour after the game, Brand was on the telephone in the lobby of his hotel, still wearing his game shorts and one sock. He suddenly remembered that he had broken a league record by getting his 13th shutout of the season. And he smiled as though he'd just swallowed a Lemon and found it sweet.