Time brings everything into perspective. It is only with time that we can look back and see the moments that have shaped us. Deciphering which moments will be truly important as they happen can be almost impossible. It is amazing to think that a chance meeting from my childhood started me down a path that I follow to this day. Even more surprising is that another encounter with that same person gave me more inspiration in my present day life.
Ricky Davis was a member of the New York Cosmos in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. He was a young American player on a team of international superstars. It was during this time that he was invited to attend a block party by a fan, Tony Gonsalvez. I was a seven year old kid at the party who knew nothing about soccer. However when Ricky started kicking the ball around with a group of kids, I was happy to jump in. That is my first memory of kicking a soccer ball, it changed my life and I’ve never forgotten it.
At the National Soccer Coaches Association of America’s annual Convention, I got the chance to sit down with Rick and talk about some of his experiences and beliefs about soccer both then and now.
Q: Did you view yourself as a trailblazer or pioneer for soccer in America while playing for the Cosmos?
We didn’t look at ourselves as trailblazers or pioneers. We felt extremely fortunate to play with an awesome team and for an awesome organization. Reflecting back now it’s easier to see how things have developed but at the time, we just felt fortunate. It’s awesome to look back and say “I played a part in that” but at the time it was hard not to think how lucky we were to be playing for that team.
Q: What do you think about your legacy? How does it feel to have players like myself say that you were the reason we started playing?
It feels great! It’s part of the evolution of the game in this country. I came into the situation with possibly a naive perspective because I believed that professional athletes were the closest thing there was to perfect human beings. They didn’t drink or smoke. Doing things to help keep themselves fit were all part of a value system that I brought with me when I came to the team. In many ways I learned that wasn’t the case but did that mean that I needed to change? I feel that I’ve got this debt to the game. I was fortunate to have all of these experiences and memories and now I’m just trying to pay it back. Much of what I did was to invest in the game and the community because I wanted people to love the game that I loved.
Q: What were some of your attributes and life experiences that allowed you to be successful at that time?
It started because I had a good family. My parents were actively involved. Much of my values came from my parents. My dad used to joke that everybody should work a solid half day (12 hours). When there was extra stuff to be done, the clinics, public appearances and other things were part of that twelve hours. Whether I needed to work on my own or do those other things, I needed to give 100%. I was raised with a strong work ethic. Also had great influencers within the team, Pele, Franz Beckenbauer, Johan Neeskens, I couldn’t be them but I could learn from them. My belief was that I could learn from anybody. After the games, I would go into the parking lot and talked to fans. They would give suggestions and there were gems there for me to take. If nothing else, I heard things that were important to them. These were things that I took from my parents and tried to pass onto my own kids. It’s not what you want to get out of it, it’s what you put into it and you’ll get back.
Q: What do you believe is special about this game?
It’s a game for everybody. Almost anyone can get involved unlike many of the traditional American sports. The reality is that a kid can be a part of something regardless of their size or ability and they’re equally part of the team. You can be small like Messi or Maradona. You can be big like Ibrahimovic. Soccer is truly the game of the people.
Q: Where are we going as a soccer nation?
As a nation we’re going in a great direction. When I see soccer touching our little part of Kansas, it makes me believe that soccer is taking strides forward. Soccer is becoming part of America’s fiber. Was the NASL a bad thing? No, it was a part of our evolution. I see a national team that is way more competitive than my generation was. The public is much more accepting of the sport. The Cosmos was unique. Even though many of our players were in the twilight of their careers, we were able to play with almost any team in the world. Set the Cosmos aside though. If you look at the teams now, they are drawing good sized crowds. Soccer specific stadiums are huge. The people investing in soccer in this country, it obvious that it’s a long term commitment to the sport.
Q: What is your involvement in Futpong?
The idea is not new. We played similar games with the Cosmos. If you thought the games on the field were intense, you should have seen these games. The games used to be very improvised but we’ve now standardized it with a small net and a small ball. Futpong is designed to develop their touch and fine motor skills. Our hope is that this will help develop the touch and control. We want it to be fun and stimulating.
It was a great treat for me to be able to sit down with Rick. The nostalgia factor would have been enough for me in this interview but our discussion made me respect the man behind the memory even more. His commitment to family, hard-work and openness to learning from anyone were all examples of why my respect for him has grown. Anyone who has read my material long enough knows that I don’t truly believe in heroes because we should strive to be our own hero. However I do believe in role models. Even though I didn’t know it as a 7 year old, I chose a very good role model and learned a few things from him as a 40 year old. The game does not make us who we are but rather draws out that which is already inside of us. I’m glad that the game brought Rick and I together twice.