By Michelangelo Deodato, an Italian from Vienna,
Administraor of Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/elhombredelpartido/
The ties that bind: the story of the only match played
by 1982 World Cup Hero Paolo Rossi as player of the indoor soccer team Buffalo
Stallions in the Major Indoor Soccer League in 1980. The only game he played
during his two years suspension.
I was searching in
Google for a new image to be added in my Facebook Group dedicated to him and
called: "Paolo Rossi: el hombre del partido", the way the football
scoreboard named him after the 1982 World Cup semifinal Italy - Poland. Probably
it was the first time FIFA decided to name the MVP of a football match live,
right after the end of the game. And he would have deserved it also in the
previous game when he scored three goals against Brazil. For me he remains the
"hombre del partido", man of the match as metaphor of "man of
So, I was looking for a new interesting image. I knew all of them but then I
started clicking on some, others opened, and I don't know how, I landed in a
wonderful picture: Paolo Rossi with an unknown jersey (unknown for me) and an
indoor soccer player. I could not even understand what kind of game it could
have been. A football match? A training? A visit somewhere?
I felt very attracted by this picture. It made me curious. It reminded me of
his picture with Perugia jersey not long before this picture was taken. But
this time the jersey was dark. It was a indoor stadium and not an Italian
stadium. The player close to him was unknown to me. The man behind them, the
one smiling, was also unknown to me. But why was he smiling in their direction?
I used the picture in different search engines and I found a first answer: an
article (one of the only two or three in Internet) where there was the story of
Paolo Rossi training some weeks with Buffalo and playing one exhibition game. I
have read many Italian names so I decided to look directly for the one on the
Pat Occhiuto, sounds Italian, must be Italian, I thought. I found him in
Facebook and the proof was his name, his city and his pictures of indoor soccer,
similar pictures to the one with Paolo Rossi. I wrote him and I asked him if it
was him the one who took the picture with Paolo and if he has time to write
to me and join our group. Almost immediately he gave me his complete
availability and I decided to have an interview and collect as much information
Before inteviewing I searched for further information and found a radio
programme in a website called "Soccer is a kick in the grass" where
people told the story about De Rosa and Paolo Rossi's game with Buffalo.
My interview with Pat Occhiuto is available at a Youtube link which I will add
at the end of this article. Now, without looking for every precise word, I prefer
to write the summary of this story as it is in my mind. I will be glad if you
will read it and if you will also watch the interview.
Why was Paolo Rossi in the United States? What was he doing there? I had just
read that he played on October 30, 1980. So, it had to be during the
I recalled in my memory that once I heard in an interview that Paolo Rossi said
that, as he was very decpressed by Italian football, he was thinking to join the
soccer tournament in the United States. But I could never recall something like
a real attempt made by him.
Pat Occhiuto, during my interview on March 7, 2021 in Zoom, told me his story,
how he experienced it. He was a successful indoor soccer player of Buffalo
Stallions and during his career he played in many leagues, also outdoor soccer
included ASL in Canada, if I well remember.
He started his career at high school, registering the
record of goals scored in one season, he continued at the Erie Community
College (he was included in the Hall of Fame of the college in 1998) and then
at Fredonia (Hall of Fame in 1989).
At Buffalo Stallions he had the chance to play with Portuguese star Eusebio and
then also with Stan Karasi, Yugoslavian national football team player at World
Cup 1974 and many other famous players.
The team was managed by Italian manager Salvatore De Rosa. He was from Naples,
a former football player and he was a real business man, always busy with his
business. But in 1970 he was the manager of Ronchester Lancers and he won the
NASL title. In Buffalo he was manager and vice-President.
The assistant coach was from Ghana at the first season and then, in the second
season, it was former Juventus player Adolfo Gori. He played with Juventus from
1963 until 1968. The scout was Carlo Del Monte.
Salvatore De Rosa or, how they used to call him, just Sal,
used to know many important people. Pat Occhiuto could even recall when he was
guest at lunch at Sal's home. When he arrived and entered the house, there was
an unexpected surprise: also Claudia Cardinale was there.
This just to say that this entrepreneurial man was able to meet many people and
create great projects, included the indoor soccer team project and training
Pat Occhiuto was not the only Italian-American in the team. There were at least
3-4 Italians, included Pat Ercoli, a great player whose father came from
Civitanova Marche while he was born in Toronto. Occhiuto came from Cortale, in
the region called Calabria, a region in South Italy, very close to Sicily and
divided from Sicily only by the "Stretto di Messina".
Pat could not remember if Paolo joined Buffalo with
the thought to play and if he wanted to remain or not. He thought it was not
the case because there was another friend of Paolo, called Maurizio, who was
also there but mainly for business.
As I discovered the day after my interview, Pat was right: Paolo was in the
United States with the intention to better know American soccer (indoor and
outdoor) and to talk to Cosmos about the possibility to launch football shoes
Lancer in North America. And also to talk about the possibility to play for New
York Cosmos but this was not his first thought.
He needed also to leave Italy for a while after the hard months he experienced
during the investigations made by the sports trials which condamned him for a 3
years suspension. The president of Lanerossi Vicenza wanted the best for him as
always and it was him to push him to go abroad and relax for some weeks.
Pat Occhiuto also found an article from the Sports News Magazine of November 1,
1980. The day before Buffalo Stallions defeated Philadelphia Fever:
"Stallions cool Fever".
Paolo Rossi played for his first time in indoor
soccer. The boards along the playing field ensured that the ball was always in
play, this meaning less breaks, less opportunity to breath and find new energy.
Fast and frequent substitutions, fast play, tough carpet above hockey playing
Paolo Rossi managed to score one goal in the second
quarter and to play a good game. The final result was 9-8 for Buffalo. As he
also wrote later in a book, it was a great experience for him.
Pat Occhiuto: "It was a totally different game for Rossi but it was as if he always played indoor, no big deal. Quick one, two, not
holding on to the ball. You could tell he was a world class player". These are the words Pat said in another interview.
Back to De Rosa. Occhiuto told me that one day he went to his training session
and De Rosa asked him: "What do you think if you have Paolo Rossi as team
mate in the next game?". Occhiuto thought it was a joke. He knew that De
Rosa had many important contacts, but could he just invite to Buffalo the
second best player overall (and the best young player) of the World Cup 1978?
He did. And Paolo Rossi kept his word. He trained in
Buffalo and played the exhibition game. As he wrote then in his book, it was an
important period for him. He could tank new energy, live normally, walk without
being recognized, although many people recognized him anyway because of the
promotion made by De Rosa. People saw him and thought: "the economic value
of that guy is much higher of any American football or baseball player".
He ate cheeseburgers, visited the Niagara Falls, visited New York.
As Pat Occhiuto said to me, Paolo Rossi enjoyed above all being together with
his new team mates, training with them, having fun, focusing on the game and
again being with his mates. They went to the mall and had walks together. The
last night they all went to a disco called Mullingan's and had fun. And before
leaving, at 11:00 AM, he visited his team again before the training session and
brought champagne for all. They drank a glass all together wishing him the best
for his return to Italy and for his future.
They knew from the beginning who was Paolo Rossi, an Italian football champion.
When he left, they saw only a good guy who impressed them for his humility, for
being down to earth, simple, friendly and "simpatico" as we say in
Italian. As another great man with Italian origin would sing, I dont need to
write his name, these are "the ties that bind". Paolo Rossi had to go
back to Italy. Yes, he could have played somewhere else without missing 3 (then
became 2) years of his career. But his inner contract brought him back to
Italy. He wanted to face that negative moment and come back from a historical
injustice. It had been condamned for having done nothing.
Back to Italy, the trials confirmed that he was not guilty, as there were no
proofs of him being guilty, just the words said by a dishonest man who needed
to accuse honest players like Rossi in order to have more hope to show that
they are the less dishonest of all.
It was also confirmed by the two accusing men: both confirmed some years later,
that Rossi had nothing to do with it.
Even so, the sports institutions did not decide to reopen the sports trial and
the accused people and teams remained guilty for them. So Rossi, who spent 2
years without playing. He trained with Juventus, played three games in Serie A
in 1982 and after one month he won the World Cup and became the top scorer of
the most important football competition.
The day when Italy defeated Brazil, De Rosa, Occhiuto,
Ercoli, Del Monte and all Buffalo players were at De Rosa's house. They hoped
for a comeback of Rossi who was not to be seen in the first four games of the
World Cup between Italy and Poland first, and then Peru, Cameroon and
He scored the first, 1-0 for Italy. Here there was a
great joy for everyone. At least, should Italy be eliminated, Rossi has made an
historical goal. 1-1 Brazil. 2-1 Rossi, here again, this can be his day. 2-2
Brazil. And again: Rossi, 3-2. Everybody went nuts. De Rosa wore Paolo's jersey
used when he played for Buffalo.
Their friend won then the World Cup and they were all very proud of him and of
One year later Pat Occhiuto went to Toronto and
watched the friendly game between Toronto Blizzard and Juventus. At the end of
the game he wanted to see Paolo Rossi but the security did not allow him to
enter to the locker rooms. He gave his photo with Paolo to a security and the
man disappeared. He wanted to show him that he knows Paolo. Nothing happened
for 15 minutes.
After 15 minutes, Paolo Rossi joined his friend Pat Occhiuto and gave him a big
hug. He had not forgotten him. He did not forget his team mate from Buffalo. The
ties that bind.
At the end of my interview with Pat Occhiuto, I asked him when has his family
moved to USA from Italy.
His answer: today, 51 years ago. On March 7, 1970.
And I replied to him: and today, March 7, 2021, you are back to Italy because
now you have many new friends.
We will meet in Italy for an event dedicated to Paolo Rossi one day. Or I will
visit him in Buffalo.
These are the ties that bind.
Nobody can break the ties that bind.
March 10, 2021
Youtube link of interview: