Late Sunday night, in the Cosmos locker room at Giants Stadium, while the people upstairs were still trying to figure out exactly how many North American Soccer League records he had just shattered, Giorgio Chinaglia, ankledeep in champagne bottles, wanted to know only one thing. "Any result in from Dallas yet?" he asked plaintively. "I started to worry about it already."
For at least an hour and a half there could be no news of whether Minnesota or Dallas would be the Cosmos' opponent in the second round of the NASL playoffs. The two teams were still fighting it out in Texas. But it was clear to everybody except Giorgio that whichever made it, a whole bundle of worrying would fall to its lot. Worrying about Giorgio.
He had just run off the field shirtless (having handed his to the hapless Tulsa Roughnecks defender who had spent a desperate second half trying to control him), but clutching the ball which he had sent no fewer than seven times into the Tulsa net in an 8-1 Cosmos victory so comprehensively crushing that, for everyone except Giorgio, it made the news from Texas of academic interest only.
Gorgeous George is the target man of the Cosmos, in both senses. "After the third goal," he said, "did you hear them clapping me?" The ritual booing of Giorgio as he runs out, always the last of his team, onto the Meadowlands AstroTurf at the start of a game has had something of a cruel edge to it. Even his scoring feats—he holds the career scoring record for the league—have been poor-mouthed often enough. A snapper-up of cheap goals, he's been labeled. Garbage-goal George, finishing off the efforts of players with greater skill and less egotism. An oldtime center-foreward, the kind that died out about 1940, a dino-sauric figure out of place in modern soccer. Only, somehow, it all happens to work. And never so magnificently as on Sunday night.
September 7, 1980
In the end, it turned out, he had broken as many playoff records as he had scored goals. Goals in a single playoff game, for a start, and there was a special zest in that. The old record stood at five, by Alan Willey of the Minnesota Kicks, who scored them against—who else?—the Cosmos, in their worst-ever drubbing, on Aug. 14, 1978. The score: 9-2. (Incidentally, Chinaglia's seven goals also broke the regular-season game record of five, held by many players.)
The next record was for the most goals in a half—five, surpassing that same Alan Willey's four. No. 3: the most points in a playoff game—15, two for each of his goals and an extra point for an assist. Strike out the old record of 10—by Alan Willey. No. 4: most points in one half, 10. (Stand aside, Alan, with your eight.) Fifth, the shortest time to score two goals—four minutes, 48 seconds. (Sorry, Alan, your old 5:37 won't do anymore.) And, finally, Giorgio extended two records that he already held anyway: Career goals in playoffs, from 22 to 29, and career playoff points, from 46 to 65.
All of which sounds somewhat indigestible, but on Sunday night at Giants Stadium it went down as sweet and smooth as fresh milk. Not that anyone besides Giorgio had any serious thoughts, after the Cosmos' 3-1 win at Tulsa on Thursday night in the first game of their home-and-home series, that the Roughnecks would turn out to be a threat on the Cosmos' own field.
After practice on Saturday morning, Chinaglia finished off his shave with a judicious dab of cologne and a quick check of each profile. He was wearing his blue, black and white bathrobe. (Not for Giorgio the wet towel twisted round the waist, which is locker room garb for lesser men.) After anointing himself, he said, "We must not underestimate the Roughnecks."
Giorgio didn't actually start making history until 21 minutes had gone by in a scoreless game. At that point, Wim Rijsbergen, whose mop of tow-colored hair had been bobbing up in constant raids from his own penalty area, started a movement that progressed to a Chinaglia pass to Vladislav Bogicevic, then a return, and then one of those simple little goals, tapped in right-footed from close range, that by their very simplicity earn Giorgio his garbage-goal reputation. It was no screaming, long-range shot, certainly. It was the culmination of intelligent positioning.
All right, so mark one up for Giorgio, a not unusual occurrence. Less than five minutes later Carlos Alberto broke through and fired in a shot that Tulsa's goalie, Gene DuChateau, could only push out feebly. Bogicevic moved fast onto the rebound, but Tulsa's David Robb was there to take his feet from under him, Bogicevic was sprawling and it was a clear penalty kick, an unimpeded shot from 12 yards out with the goalie unable to move until the ball had been struck.
Up steps Giorgio, and the ball is in the net. Two goals for Giorgio. Not bad. There is a flutter of interest. But there is a long time to go in the game yet, and Chinaglia looks hungry, hungry. He is even running back to forage for the ball himself.
But then there is neat little Billy Caskey from Northern Ireland making it 2-1 with a header from nowhere and, for 10 minutes anyway, Tulsa looks to be back in the game. Then Franz Beckenbauer spoils the symmetry of the evening by making it 3-1—with assists from Chinaglia and Bogicevic.
When the Cosmos' new winger from Belgium, Francois Van der Elst, is brought down heavily in the penalty box by Defender Barry Wallace, there is another penalty kick for Giorgio, another wrong-way dive by DuChateau. Four for the Cosmos, three for Giorgio. A hat trick. Nice, but not that uncommon.
Wait though. Five minutes later, Bogicevic takes a corner, the ball comes to Van der Elst, he chips it to Chinaglia, and that's four for the target man. It is misery for Tulsa now as Caskey, its most effective player, goes off with a charley horse.
With 15 minutes to go, there is a sweet solo run by Vander Elst, who gets it to Giorgio, who gets it into the net and who has now what the professionals call a nap hand. A nap hand is very remarkable. The record books are checked, and there is Willey's five. Eleven minutes left, and there is a huge groan as Giorgio puts one just a foot outside the far post, but the disappointment is scarcely over when Van der Elst is through again, centering the ball, and Giorgio is diving, stretched out at full length, to head the ball home for the record-breaking No. 6. "I thought I'd break my nose, not the record," he said later.
A minute and odd seconds left. Yet again Van der Elst is breaking through, and, scarcely credibly, Giorgio is hammering home No. 7, right under DuChateau's body. Chinaglia joins the immortals and the Cosmos lead 8-1, and that's how it is at the final whistle.
As the champagne flows in the Cosmos' locker room, just down the corridor young DuChateau sits with his head in his hands. "You try your best all the season," he says, "and it comes to this. Awesome, awesome."
"I never thought they'd just leave me one-on-one," Chinaglia says. "It is very dangerous to leave me one-on-one."
Much, much later, the news that Giorgio has awaited comes in. It would be Dallas. Something for Giorgio to worry about, but then they were hardly dancing in the streets in Dallas, either.