He Still Gives a Shirt Dallas's high-scoring, jersey-doffing Tatu left Brazil for three months--19 years ago - Sports Illustrated Vault | SI.com
Publish date:

He Still Gives a Shirt Dallas's high-scoring, jersey-doffing Tatu left Brazil for three months--19 years ago

Tattoos stay with you forever. Apparently so, too, do Tatus.

At least that's true with Antonio Carlos Pecorari, a.k.a. Tatu,
who came to the U.S. from Mairinque, Brazil, 19 years ago for a
three-month tour of duty as an indoor soccer player and has been
here ever since. Tatu (the nickname, which is Portuguese for
armadillo, was passed down from his father) arrived in Tampa on
Dec. 17, 1981, with an apple, an orange, a can of Vienna sausages
and almost no knowledge of English. On his first night in the
country, the shy 19-year-old didn't want to embarrass himself by
trying to order dinner in a restaurant, so he stayed in his hotel
room and ate the fruit his mother had insisted he bring. Still
hungry, he picked up the can of Vienna sausages, but he didn't
have a can opener or the vocabulary to ask for one. Instead, he
threw the can until the lid split.

The next morning, rationless, Tatu decided to go to a restaurant.
One of the few phrases he recognized was orange juice, so he
ordered that. Then, figuring that this chili stuff must come from
Chile and, therefore, be akin to Brazilian fare, asked for that
as well. It wasn't exactly the kind of combination that sits well
in one's stomach, especially on the morning before one's first
indoor soccer game in a strange land. Unfazed, Tatu scored three
goals for the Tampa Bay Rowdies that night.

Though he hasn't eaten that lucky breakfast since, his goal
scoring hasn't suffered. Through Sunday, the 5'6" dynamo had
scored 923 times in 664 indoor games for the Rowdies and the
Dallas Sidekicks, the team he has played on for 16 years,
including the last three as player-coach. No indoor player has
surpassed his seven league MVP awards (Dallas currently plays in
the World Indoor Soccer League, its fourth league) or his knack
for attracting attention.

Short guys with thick accents named Tatu didn't need help getting
noticed in the early '80s. (The similarities between Tatu and Mr.
Roarke's Fantasy Island sidekick, Tattoo, came into focus in
1984, when Tatu also became a Sidekick.) But Tatu had already
found the spotlight in '83, after a Rowdies exec requested that
he toss his jersey into the stands after scoring. "I said, 'Look,
I've got no friends here, I don't speak the language, I'm not
going to be here long,'" recalls Tatu. "'I'll do it.'"

The ploy got the league desperately needed attention, much of it
from the distaff side. By 1987 more than half the Major Indoor
Soccer League's paying fans were women, and since then one of the
many mimickers of Tatu's move, which he continues to do at home
games, has been one Brandi Chastain. "We would play in Baltimore
and lose 10-3, and when you'd turn on the news there after the
game, if they showed anything they showed our goal because of
what followed it," says Gordon Jago, the WISL president, who
coached Tatu in Tampa and Dallas.

When Jago left the Sidekicks bench to take over as G.M. in 1998,
he named Tatu his successor. It was a gutsy call. Tatu was fiery,
and being a player-coach requires one to tread a delicate line
between peer and boss. Says Tatu, "They all thought, He's a time
bomb, he's going to explode, he's got South American blood, he's
half Italian."

Things have worked out fine. In Tatu's first year as coach Dallas
won the 1998 WISL championship, and last year it lost in the
final. This season the team is in second place with four games
remaining. Tatu has succeeded, to a certain extent, by including
his players in the decision-making process. "We're a family," the
coach says. "We have a lot of opinions. But the buck stops at my
lap." (It should be noted that as well as Tatu has mastered
English, he still occasionally flubs a figure of speech, such as
when he told the Sidekicks in practice recently that the measure
of a man is how he reacts when the "s--- hits the wall.")

Among the values Tatu preaches to his players is loyalty, and in
his case it's not hollow talk. He came to the States as part of
an exchange program between the Rowdies and the Sao Paulo club
that had signed him in 1979. Originally, the Rowdies, who played
in the NASL, were looking for outdoor players. But when Jago saw
Tatu playing a three-on-three game on a sandy field, he decided
the human pinball would be ideal for the brief indoor season NASL
teams played. "He is made for indoor soccer," says Jago.
"Everything about him. His low center of gravity, his tremendous
body strength, his leg power. He's got the ability to twist and
get shots off. He's very quick over two, three yards, but he's
not very quick over 15."

Tatu wasn't too keen on the idea of going to Tampa. "If you had
a soccer map, the U.S. is not on it," he says. But the prospect
of making a decent wage swayed him. He ended up staying with the
Rowdies until 1984, then went to the Sidekicks with Jago. Dallas
is where he became more acclimated to the States. His English
improved, and he met and married a local woman and started a
family. (He and his wife, Lene, have two sons--Andre, 10, and
Evan, eight--and a daughter, Sophia, 2 1/2.) Tatu's 16-year
tenure in Big D is the longest ever for a pro athlete in that
city. "When you're Brazilian, the goal is always to go back," he
says. "But the moment I got married, things changed."

So he's hung around, and he's in no hurry to pack away his
cleats. ("I want my 2 1/2-year-old to know I was a player," Tatu
says.) Once he retires, there's no guarantee he'll leave Dallas.
"When I came here it was the toughest part of my life," he says.
"It was like I was in jail. I knew I was going to be here for
three months, 90 days, and every day I'd mark down 89, 88. Now I
have a hard time going to Brazil. It's been three years. Before,
I couldn't wait to go. Now, I'm like, O.K., maybe next year."

COLOR PHOTO: DARREN CARROLL "He is made for indoor soccer--low center of gravity, tremendous body strength, leg power."

Tatu's 16-year tenure in Big D is the longest ever for a pro
athlete in that city.