Last week, after game No. 1,363 and 22 years as a professional soccer player, Pelé once again became Edson Arantes do Nascimento, citizen of Baur√∫, Brazil. In the driving rain that raked Giants Stadium in New Jersey, the shirtless Pelé was hoisted to the shoulders of old teammates from the Santos Club of Brazil and fellow players on the NASL Cosmos. "Pe-lé! Pe-lé! Pe-le!" chanted the 76,000 fans who had come to say goodby to him.
As he was set down, there passed across Pelé's face a look so open and so affecting—an expression of loss and emptiness—one could hardly endure it. It was gone in a moment, his tears washed away by the rain, but Pelé had given a glimpse of himself and of his greatness, of his surpassing humanity.
Statistics: Pelé's 1,281 lifetime goals are twice the number of his nearest challenger; when he played with the Brazilian national team, it retired the World Cup with victories in 1958, '62 and '70, a feat no other nation has ever accomplished.
Some say that Pelé's feline grace made him king of soccer, some say it was his speed, his ball control, his sense of anticipation. Some talk of his "complete capabilities." Pelé was simply a genius, a marvelous union of brain and muscle.
Pelé, who will be 37 in a few weeks, played in 88 countries, visited with two Popes, five emperors, 10 kings and 108 other heads of state. Pelé became rich, a multimillionaire. In 1975 he was lured to the U.S. from retirement in Brazil by the challenge of popularizing soccer in this country, and in three seasons he may well have turned the trick.
At halftime of the game between Santos and the Cosmos, Pelé took off his Cosmos shirt and put on one of Santos', so that he could retire as a member of the team he began with in 1956. Posing for photos with the youthful Santos players, Pelé looked old, and lines from a poem he had written came to mind: Everything here is a game ... /What matters is what I've done/And what I'll leave behind...
An emotional Pelé was given a rough hug by Cosmos teammate Mike Dillon, played the second half in a Santos shirt and then was borne aloft through the rain.