Eusebio’s sublime legacy left imprint close to home

It was the summer before last, before Manchester United played a friendly soccer match at Sam Boyd Stadium, when I was chatting with Dick Calvert about The Beautiful Game.

Before Calvert became the public address announcer for UNLV sports, he was the play-by-play voice of the Las Vegas Quicksilvers of the defunct North American Soccer League. He is a man well versed in corner kicks, the 4-4-2 formation, the 18-yard box.

He sent over an envelope that had two glossy 8-by-10 black and white photos inside.

One was of him and Pele. Dick Calvert, now 77, looks young in the photo. Pele looks mostly like he does in the Subway commercials.

In the second photo, the first things you notice are the length of Dick’s sideburns and the size of his tape recorder. He’s interviewing whom I assume to be another soccer player of some repute.

Wait a minute — is that Eusebio?

It is Eusebio.

If Pele was the greatest soccer player who ever lived, then Eusebio wasn’t far behind. He was from Mozambique, but he made his name in Portugal.

Eusebio. The Black Panther. Exclusive pace, deceptive ability, enduring icon. That’s what the soccer announcers said in their British accents.

Even if you followed soccer only from a distance, you knew the name. You knew who Eusebio was.

During an illustrious career spanning three decades, Eusebio scored 733 goals in 745 matches. In one memorable match, against North Korea in the 1966 World Cup, he scored four goals, seemingly in a matter of minutes — and assisted on a fifth — to erase the upstart Koreans’ 3-0 lead. Soccer people still talk about that game.

And soccer people still talk about how Eusebio dominated that World Cup. He scored nine goals in the ’66 Cup, played on British soil. In soccer, that’s a lot of goals. That’s a career for a lot of guys.

Eusebio scored just two goals in 17 matches for the Quicksilvers during the 1977 NASL season. He had gotten old by then, and he often was injured.

His skills ravaged by time and by hard tackles in the 18-yard box, it must have been like watching Willie Mays play center field for the Mets at the end.

This, from one of the many biographies on Eusebio: “This was to be a very disappointing end to Eusebio’s career. By this time, injuries had taken their toll on the Black Panther, and he was constantly receiving medical treatment whilst playing for the Quicksilvers. During the season he only managed to score two goals.”

It didn’t matter that he scored only two goals for Las Vegas. He still was a legend. That’s why Dick Calvert kept that photo from Eusebio’s introductory news conference, and why he had Eusie, which is what everybody called him here, autograph it.

It’s hard to make out the inscription, which is mostly in Portuguese, but Eusebio wrote that he and “Deek” were amigos.

The great Eusebio — Eusebio da Silva Ferreira, the Black Panther, died last Sunday of a heart attack, according to his club team, Benfica of Lisbon. He was 71.

“May God receive him with open arms,” Pele said.

The Portuguese government declared three national days of mourning.

Dick Calvert said one of the things he remembered most about Eusebio is that for a man of his stature, he was extremely approachable. Quick with his feet, quick with a smile. He was popular with Quicksilvers far less famous, Calvert said. Sometimes his teammates even would make him the butt of their jokes.

He also recalled that Eusebio once had to call an assistant coach to help him turn on lights at his apartment. “At Benfica, he probably had three guys to do that for him,” Calvert said.

Calvert remembers walking into the training room one day when the sun was scorching the artificial turf at what then was the Silver Bowl, and Eusebio was getting treatment on his feet. Calvert said he never had seen feet as ugly and as mangled as Eusebio’s.

“Jimmy Fryatt, the assistant coach, said he must have walked from Mozambique to Portugal,” Calvert said.

I asked Calvert if he remembered what he and Eusebio were talking about in that 8-by-10 photo. He did not. Perhaps they were discussing podiatry.

The reason Calvert sent over those photos was that I had mentioned I might write about the history of professional soccer in Las Vegas before Manchester United arrived. I never got around to it.

When I would see Dick Calvert after that, at a 51s game or wherever, he would ask if I still had those photos of him and Pele, and of him and Eusebio, and he gently would remind me that he would like to have them back.

Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ron Kantowski can be reached at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow him on Twitter: @ronkantowski.