“They say life's what happens when you're busy making other plans. But sometimes in New York, life is what happens when you're waiting for a table.”—Carrie Bradshaw; Sex and the City
One thing I love and appreciate about living in New York City are the diners. Along with the diversity of it's patrons and staff, the beautiful thing about diners is the no thrill no frills philosophy. It's the one place where I go to understand the rhythm of the city and it's people. It's also the place where one finds information that you'll never find anywhere else.
As a writer who covers soccer, diners have been my invaluable resource. No matter the time of day/night, there's always someone who I can talk too about soccer. Over the years, the soccer history (both locally & globally) that I've learned has given me a better understanding of the game and the impact it has in people's lives.
In the case of the New York Cosmos, I regularly talk with their older fans. These are the fans who were with the team from the beginning till the end. During our conversations, I give them an update of the organization while giving them a copy of my recent Cosmos article. In exchange, I get to hear the memories of the Cosmos and the impact the team had on their lives.
Recently, I was having my usual blueberry pie and coffee at one of my favorite diners, and the manager there informed me that his doctor, Dr. John L. Xethalis, M.D., was the Team Doctor of the New York Cosmos. Without missing a beat, he provided me with Dr. Xethalis' information and suggested that I should contact him.
Fueled with enthusiasm and amazement, I emailed my contacts from the New York Cosmos that evening, informed them of my potential interview and asked if they had any questions for Dr. Xethalis. The next day I received their questions and from there I went to Dr. Xethalis office.
Entering his waiting room, I immediately saw four New York Cosmos photos. After briefly talking with his Administrative Assistant, she introduced me to the good doctor. In less than 90 seconds from our introduction, Dr. Xethalis agreed to be interviewed. He told me to return in 45 minutes and here's the interview:
How did you get involved with the New York Cosmos?
The Cosmos has employed the Institute of Sports Medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital to cover the team's medical injuries. At the time, I was an attendee and because I was coming from Greece and soccer being popular there, I took control of the team's medical care.
How long were you the Team's Doctor?
For about 5-6 years until they folded...
How was being the Cosmos Team Doctor different from your regular practice?
They were world-renowned players. You had Beckenbauer from Germany, Neeskens from Holland, Chinaglia from Italy, Carlos Alberto from Brazil and of course Pelé (who was already retired from the team).
What was your favorite memory of the New York Cosmos?
The friendship between the players and the enthusiasm of the crowd. The international crowd that we attracted...South Americans, Italians, Greeks, Turks, Brazilians, and Argentinians.
Who you consider to be have been the toughest opponents of the New York Cosmos?
The National Team of Argentina and their Argentinian fans. It was the only time that I felt the Meadowlands was not our home. We were afraid to get into the field because the fans made it feel like we were in Buenos Aires. The Argentinian fans overpowered us and it was an unbelievable experience. I was 30 minutes late to game because it seemed as if the entire Argentinian community in New York went to the game.
Worst injury you've dealt with?
ACL injuries were horrible but the worst injury was when Roberto Cabanas, the Cosmos talented forward suffered a forearm injury...horrific.
Most health-conscious athlete?
Franz Beckenbauer who I consider the true "Aristocrat" of the New York Cosmos. He was very religious with his stretching exercises. His diet was fantastic and I would always tell the younger players that if they took care of their body like Beckenbauer...they would be ahead.
Player with the most interesting philosophy on health?
Vladislav Bogicevic from Yugoslavia. He was an excellent player that Rudolf Nureyev, the ballet dancer enjoyed watching him and Beckenbauer play because he considered them to be ballet dancers who gracefully played soccer.
Which player(s) was most definitely built for soccer?
Definitely Pelé...Julio Cesar Romero was another player because he would run for 2-3 hours and he never got tired. He was an unbelievable as he outran everyone. Another player is Johan Neeskens. He is one player who always gave it 120%. He would lose 5-6 lbs a game.
Who did you consider to be the most intelligent player(s) on the team?
Beckenbauer, Pelé, Carlos Alberto, and Neeskens. Beckenbauer as I stated earlier was the "Artistocrat" of the team who I believed lead by example. Pelé had a fantastic memory and it's amazing how he remembered the people he's interacted with in the past. Not once in my presence that he appeared to have forgotten an individual and their name.
Carlos Alberto was an intelligent player who played injured but he was so smart at positioning himself that he didn't show it. However, since I was his doctor, I knew the amount of pain he was in and how severe was his injury. Neeskens was the only individual I knew who analyzed the game from so many different angles. He was also the only one could explain the game to Steve Ross without confusing him.
Did you ever treat any of the players for a hangover?
Yes, during Spring Training at the Bahamas. Many times we had players who were hungover. I will not mention any names but many of them...many of them...
How was preseason in the Caribbean?
It was nice. We stayed at a first class hotel. We practiced in the morning and afternoon, and ate a nice healthy meal in between. I would bring my wife and children for company. At the end of Spring Training we played the National Team of Bahamas. We also had lunch with the island's government leaders.
Ironically, this was also the scariest trip I ever took. We flew to the Bahamas in a jet. Coming back, we're in a propeller airplane. We hit this big storm and the plane is really shaking. At one moment, I'm sitting next to Giorgio Chinaglia and he says, "Dr. X, we are on the Bermuda Triangle and last year one of the girls who worked Public Relations for hotel died as her plane went down." That was the scariest thing I've ever heard.
How was Steve Ross?
Steve Ross was one of the most fascinating and talented man I've ever met in my life. He introduced me to a lot of good things including expensive wines. Every time we would go out, he'll order a very expensive bottle of wine. He was a good owner who was friendly with everybody and he made people give 100% of their efforts.
How were the managers like?
They were fine...you have to understand that the Cosmos coaching position was a glamorous position to have and Steve Ross was a guy who didn't want to lose. So he would always try to find somebody better to give him more victories.
Did you ever party with the Team?
Oh yeah...two of my best vacations were in 1981 & 1982 when we played for the Soccer Bowl Championship. During this time (1980 - 1982), the Cosmos had reached the Soccer Bowl three times. We won two of the three Soccer Bowls and as a result, I own two Soccer Bowl rings which I leave for my sons. If you were part of the Cosmos, you were always entertained first class.
Cesar, I'm surprised that you haven't asked me about my favorite Cosmos player, Pelé...
I wasn't sure if you wanted to hear the question but since you mentioned it...How was Pelé?
As his doctor, I've operated on Pelé four times and I still see he him twice a year. To this day, he still calls me "Medical."
Pelé, I would say is the most proper human being to become famous because he enjoyed meeting fans and was very good with the Press. He had this talent of making people feel important. If someone (fan/reporter) would ask him a question, he's heard 1000 times before, he would look at him/her with his beautiful eyes and kindly answer their question.
When we went to Toronto for the Soccer Bowl, I took my children and my maid, Gloria, to the Soccer Bowl. My wife, Martha, was ill and unable to make the trip. Pelé was there with 100 reporters and he took a moment to take a photo with Gloria and he ended up relieving Gloria for a few hours by watching my children. He knew my wife was sick and Gloria was doing a marvelous job watching my children.
That's how good Pelé is, a down to Earth guy...unbelievable...
This concludes my interview with Dr. Xethalis and what a fantastic experience! While he may have never scored a goal or recorded an assist for the Cosmos, he was and is still part of the New York Cosmos.
While many of us may know the New York Cosmos history, I'm enjoying and consider myself fortunate that I'm learning the People's History of the New York Cosmos. Without their stories and recollections of the New York Cosmos, none of this would be possible.
So my thanks goes out to my friend, the diner manager for making this interview possible. In addition, I want to thank the New York Cosmos for giving me their questions. Plus, I want to point out and be clear that I always appreciate their offer to assist me in any way possible whenever I'm working on a New York Cosmos article.
Cesar Diaz covers Soccer for Latino Sports. You may follow him on Facebook at Covering Soccer and at Twitter at @CoveringSoccer and @LatinoSports143. Please email your questions and comments to Cesar at firstname.lastname@example.org.