This Day In 1981 : Soccer Bowl Edition

FireStingDoug wraps up his look back at the 1981 Chicago Sting with the SoccerBowl against the New York Cosmos….

“In a sign of times, the Soccer Bowl was televised on tape delay because ABC insisted on showing a Love  Boat rerun. The Sting had many great chances in the first half but couldn’t break through while the Cosmos had only one good chance coming  from a dead ball situation. The Chicago Sting contolled the run of play after a scoreless first forty five minutes. 

Things evened out in the second half as both teams had good chances but neither side was able to score. Once again an overtime period provided no winner and the champion was to be decided in a shootout. 

All three games between the Sting and Cosmos in 1981 needed extra time and this one was no exception.  Pato Margetic and Seninho both failed to score in round one of the shootout while Derek Spalding and Giorgio Chinaglia both sent their shots wide left in the second stanza.  

In round three Ingo Peter was stopped by Hubert Birkenmeier but the Cosmos finally broke through when Vladislav Bogicevic hit a high shot over Ferner to give the New York the lead.  Karl-Heinz Granitza was entrusted with the Sting’s fourth attempt and the player who had been clutch all year (and for his career for that matter) delivered again by hitting a low shot to the left of Birkenmeier into the net.  Ivan Buljan then tried a chip a shot over Ferner but the Sting keeper make a great athletic move to take the ball out of the air.

Round five would decide the champion as Rudy Glenn stepped up to take the shot for the Sting.  The defender had previously beaten Birkenmeier in Chicago with a shot to the keeper’s right during the regular season.  During a conversation I had with Glenn in the summer of 2004, he told me that he truly believed that Birkenmeier would be expecting him to try beating him in the same manner again so he decided to shoot at Birkenmeier’s left. The plan worked like a charm as the keeper managed to get an outstretched hand on the ball but Glenn’s shot was past him and went into the net to give the Sting a 2-1 shootout lead.

With the Sting leading 2-1, all Ferner has to do was stop the Cosmos’ Bob Iarusci and the team would win the soccer bowl.  The moment of truth was here and as Ferner came out of the net  Howard Balson’s radio call described the action.  “Stop!  It’s over!  The Sting has won the soccer bowl!  Chicago, you have a champion!  Chicago, you have a champion!  The Sting has won the soccer bowl!  Dieter Ferner has done it, he has done it!  He has stopped Iarusci!”

Listening to the radio call and watching the game later was exciting and emotional with the adrenaline of an overtime win and a feeling of disbelief that a Chicago team finally won a championship all rolled into one night of soccer.

Within seconds of Ferner’s stop Sting fans poured onto the field to celebrate with the team.  It was time to make the championship official as Sting captains Derek Spalding and Ingo Peter accepted the trophy. The two teams then   traded jerseys during one of my proudest moments as a sports fan.

Later that week, Mayor Jane Byrne and the City of Chicago honored the Sting with an outstanding ticker tape parade.  Mayor Byrne rode in an antique car with Sting owner Lee Stern as the City celebrated a victory over the world famous New York Cosmos.

Here’s the roster for that great 1981 Chicago Sting team.       

Willy Roy, head coach  

1. Phil Parkes  

2. Ivan Miljkovic 

3. Greg Ryan      

4. Derek Spalding  

5. Paul Hahn  

6. Arno Steffenhagen  

7. Franz Mathieu  

8. Rudy Glenn  

9. Charlie Fajkus

10  Pato Margetic

11. Mark Simanton

12. Karl Heinz Granitza

13. Tasso Koutsoukos

14. Ingo Peter

16. Dave Huson

17. Steve Long

18. John Tyma

20. Paul Coffee

22. Dieter Ferner

23. Brett Hall  

Chicago Sting. 1981 Soccer Bowl Champions


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  • Can't say that I saw it the first time around, but thanks for the recap. We have a final coming up, and here's hoping for another Chi soccer title! (Needless to say, I'm not holding my breath, particularly considering the Grazzini injury.)

  • That 1981 team is the reason I started watching soccer as a youngster.

    Grazzini had an MRI today on his hamstring. He's out of the RSL game on Wednesday and probably out on Saturday in Houston since Klopas says he wants him healthy for the USOC final a week from tomorrow.

  • Here's my random memory from that championship. In an interview, Derek "Scotty" Spaulding was asked how he would celebrate the trophy and he mentioned something about going to Skokie. So, the town had some parade for him and gave him a key to the city.

  • Despite what was reported ... ABC did not choose to telecast the "Love Boat" rather than Soccer Bowl. Instead, it elected not to pre-empt a college football game between Oklahoma and USC ... a decision which meant there wasn't enough national broadcast time to broadcast Soccer Bowl.

    FCC rules stipulated that the national network was allowed only three hours of programnming between 6 PM and 10 PM. With the football game using one hour of the time, there wasn't enough time to broadcast a 2.5 to 3 hour Soccer Bowl. As a result, ABC went with what they deemed a typical Saturday evening schedule - which just so happened to include a Love Boat re-run.

    The decision to broadcast the game a day later was made months before the game was played.

    While Rudy Glenn was knocking in the deciding shootout goal, Channel 7 was broadcasting "Caution: Babies Under Construction" - a locally produced hour-long show (between 9 and 10 pm).

  • The Soccer Bowl win was tempered by the death of long-time WBBM sportscaster Bruce Roberts.

    Roberts had completed a story on the Sting's win and had gone back to his office at the station feeling tired. A short time later he was found unconscious at his desk. Attempts to revive him were unsuccessful.

  • In reply to Lewis26:

    I remember to this day the excitement that Bruce Roberts was showing when the Sting won and he was normally a low key guy and the talk was that the pure emotion of the moment may have been too much .

  • Thanks for these updates and stories all season, Doug. They've been interesting and a nice glimpse in to the past of our Chicago soccer.

  • In reply to RedLine55:

    You guys are all welcome , it has been alot of fun reliving all of this. It is amzing how we can still feel the emotion that was felt 30 years ago.
    Now , let's have one last tribute to that Sting team with the Fire winning the US open cup.

  • I second RedLin55's comments Doug. It's been great re-living such an exciting time in Chicago soccer.

  • In reply to Lewis26:

    Thank you.
    You guys may remember that the Sting had one exciting indoor season coming with the 1981-82 season, it did not result in a championship but there were many amazing comebacks including a game against Tampa in the finale where they came from way back in the 4th to win the division and the league's best record , from time to time I will touch on some of the key games.

  • A loss to Edmonton in the 1980 indoor championship followed the 1981 Soccer Bowl title. Then an incredible '81-'82 indoor season including the come-back against Tampa only to lose to Tulsa in the playoffs. It was exciting for fans, but exhausting for the players - it was no shock they Sting suffered through a frustrating '82 season.

  • I'll add my thanks as well, FireStingDoug! You've tweaked some great memories for me of a long ago season and time when soccer was truly exciting in Chicago. I attended most outdoor home games and had a block of five 6th row, mid-court seats at the indoor games for a couple of years. Hard to believe that was all 30 years ago when I was just 30. I feel like I could still go over the outfield wall at old Comiskey today. But that may be just an adrenaline rush from reading your column and feeling the excitement again. Think I best continue to limit myself to ice skating with the grandkids on the weekends. Thanks again for the memories. Any further nuggets are welcome!

  • In reply to Arklow:

    You are welcome .Those were great times.

  • I saw on SportsCentral (while waiting for the Fire highlights) that the White Sox honored the 1981 Soccer Bowl Champs at the Cell on Sunday. Not sure who all was there but they had interviews with Lee Stern and Margetic.

  • great recap and loved the video! thanks firestingdoug, well done on your "have your say" entries!

  • In reply to Drew:

    I am glad you enjoyed it all

  • Thanks to FireStingDoug for all of the Sting recaps this season. I'm also sending a shout out to Lewis26....both of you guys have me wondering, "How the hell did they remember that?"

  • Oh yes , I thank everyone who reponded and added to the memories.
    It was great to have the video posted.

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