Tony Meola never missed a game, serving as a ball boy for one season and was thrown out of Giants Stadium for attempting to scale a fence and sneak into training. Across the country, Chris Henderson also never missed a game, no matter where in Seattle it was played.
On the day before their home opener against the New England Revolution at Giants Stadium, the Red Bulls veterans were reminiscing fondly about the old North American Soccer League. Growing up in nearby Kearney, N.J., Meola was a Cosmos fan and it was his desire to see Hubert Birkenmejer practice that got him tossed from Giants Stadium.
"We took the bus over here and I got kicked out of the stadium," Meola said. "I would have done anything to see him train."
"I remember the Chicago Sting coming in and Karl-Heinz Granitza and all the guys we hated," he added. "Those were fun times."
Henderson, whose hometown is Everett, Wash., was a Seattle Sounders fan and saw all the greats play -- George Best, Johan Cruyff and oh yes, Pele, Giorgio Chinaglia and Franz Beckenbauer of the Cosmos. Having just completed his move, Henderson pulled out an old Cosmos pennant out of a box in hopes of having it signed by some of his childhood heroes Saturday.
"I went to every game of the Sounders, from when I was barely walking," Henderson said. "The fans all came out to the games, they're still there. Those fans are older now but they're still there."
As part of the massive hoopla surrounding the Red Bulls' home opener, the club will honor some of the greats who have played at Giants Stadium in a pre-game ceremony. Among those expected to appear are Beckenbauer, Chinaglia, Vladislav Bogicevic, Carlos Alberto Torres and Werner Roth.
"There will be certain Cosmos fans here just for them," Red Bulls coach Mo Johnston said. "They had a wonderful team and you can never take that away from them."
But the biggest draw is Pele, who was born Edson Arantes de Nascimento and is the namesake for newly-acquired Red Bulls forward Edson Buddle.
"Anytime I meet someone they say Edson is a unique name, it's not common," said Buddle, whose father took a picture with the Brazilian great. "I think meeting him, I'm real excited. With him being here you want to have your best performance and have him say some good things about you."
"He's the Mohammed Ali of our sport," added Meola. "He's one of very few guys whose name is known no matter where you go."
While veterans like Meola and Henderson got to see the old NASL players in person, younger Red Bulls like Seth Stammler have only seem them on tape. There is another draw Saturday, namely Shakira, which begged the question: Who is Stammler more excited about seeing, Pele or Shakira?
"Wow, I don't know," Stammler said with a laugh. "I better say Pele."
Said Buddle: "Shakira's nice, but I've liked Pele for a long time."
Dylan Butler is a contributor to MLSnet.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Soccer or its clubs.