A Coruja: Dispatch from Brazil – Pelé Eterno

Image credit: Confederação Brasileira de Futebol

The Owl (“a coruja” in Portuguese) is at her southern home in Guaecá, which is just about her favorite place on the planet. A Coruja is taking over the Owl for a week or so to give readers a look at something other than New England. Scroll on by if you have no interest.


The flags here in Brazil are at half-staff today. Not for a former or sitting government official but for the only superhero native to Brazil: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, or to most of the world, Pelé. You cannot turn on the TV without seeing old videos and photos of Pelé at Santos, at the World Cups, as minister of sports. Just as when a natural disaster in the US takes over the airwaves, so has this news of Pelé’s death swept the country, with no room for any other occurences.

When the news was announced in Brazil yesterday afternoon, the Owl family was at our beach home, the news spreading quietly among the community. Mr. Owl. Brazilian to the core, watched some of the news show and then, brushing away tears, headed out to seek solace in watching the ocean waves. We are just up the coastline from where Pelé played for Santos Futebol Club.

It is hard to write about Pelé, a person who is so deeply in the soul of every Brazilian. There is no equivalent for Americans. Do not even say Michael Jordan or the dark cloud of vingança will appear over you. What has happened over the past 24 or so hours has been an outpouring of personal stories and moving tributes to the King of Futebol, Football and Soccer, too. Not only the Joe Bidens, and Barack Obamas and Cristiano Ronaldos. A friend posted about meeting him as a 15 year old in Connecticut, when Pele played for the New York Cosmos at Giants Stadium. Humble, quiet and friendly was how he was described. Mr. Owl, though not posting publicly, met Pele at a corporate event maybe 15 years ago, and has a signed jersey that hangs in our house.

I also have my Pelé stories. When I grew up in Westchester County, New York, my dad worked for a large corporation that had an event with Pelé. A signed soccer ball came home, which has since disappeared (to our everlasting sorrow). In my childhood, I had no idea that Pelé was not American–to me, anyone who played in New York was American. That world view makes me cringe a bit now.

When we lived in Brazil from 2008-2014, we dined at the same restaurant as Pelé one night. I would like to say that he dined at our restaurant–the Portuguese restaurant Antiquarius was my absolute favorite restaurant in Brazil. Pelé and several compatriots were sitting in the bar area trading stories and laughing– none of us had the temerity to interrupt.

As we left the restaurant, one of our friends told a story about a recent holdup in Rio de Janeiro, where all cars entering a tunnel were stopped by a criminal gang, and forced to hand over all of the occupants’ money and jewelry. Pele was in one of the cars that was stopped that night–and in spite of wearing more than a fair share of expensive watches and jewelry was waved on by the robbers. No one touches the king of soccer. He was beyond beloved.

If there was anyone meant to be eternal, to be immortal, it was Pelé. While everyone knew the cancer was beyond control and that the point had been reached of pain management only, somehow there was hope. After all, Pelé’s mom Celeste turned 100 in November. How could her son go first at 82? Instead, the funeral cortege will pass her house in Santos, on the way to a public viewing of his casket at the Santos Football Stadium.

While I am not a fan of Neymar, the current star of Brazil (and another alumnus of Santos), no one could have put it better than in his post that was released less than an hour after Pelé’s death was publicly announced:


My amateur translation makes this:

Before Pele, 10 was just a number. I read that somewhere, at some moment in my life. But that phrase, though beautiful, is incomplete. I would add that before Pelé, football was just a sport. Pelé changed everything. He changed football into art, into entertainment. He gave a voice to the poor, to the blacks, and most of all gave visibility to Brazil. Football and Brazil grew in status because of the King. He has left us, but his magic will stay forever. Pelé is eternal.”

Rest in peace, Edson Arantes do Nascimento. And thank you for bringing us the beautiful game so beautifully.


  • I was lucky to see him play with Santos in NY vs Eusebio’s team. Eusebio (portuguese player)had won the award for most goals the previous World Cup in 1970 something…Game played in Randall Island old stadium. I remember Edu, young new Brasilian player was on that team. Santos won 4 -0. Pele made one goal, Edu made 2. Low fence between field and stands. At minute 80, Pele left the field. The fans jumped on the field at end of game and mobbed Eusebio and others.

  • Pele’s amazing skill, strength and grace on the soccer field and in his life are an inspiration to millions of his devoted fans not only in Brazil, but around the world. He will always be remembered as a heroic and beautiful soul.

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