Rowdies Replay: Cosmic Significance

The intense rivalry between the original Tampa Bay Rowdies and New York Cosmos in the old North American Soccer League was more intense than actual rivalry, truth be told. A real rivalry has give and take, with combatants equally likely to get the upper hand on a given day. But the Cosmos – outside of a handful of games we’ll get to in a minute – had the better of the series with the Rowdies during the 10 years they both played in the NASL. Team Warner Communications won 17 of the 26 all-time outdoor matchups1They also split six indoor matchups in 1983-84..

It had the appearance of a rivalry largely because of a handful of matches, all played in Tampa and all prior to 1981 (around the time the Rowdies fell off a cliff). They were:

How many of the 2,000 t-shirts like the one in this (uncredited) photo from a 1978 Tampa Tribune story still exist is anyone’s guess.

  1. June 6, 1976: – The first visit by Pele to Tampa in a Cosmos shirt brought a then-NASL-record 42,611 fans out and they saw Derek Smethurst score three times in a 5-1 Tampa Bay rout.
  2. August, 20, 1976: Atlantic Conference Semifinal – After the teams had split two regular-season meetings, this playoff match would decide the season series and who would move one step closer to Soccer Bowl ’76. And a key sequence early in the second half – in which Pele collided with the Rowdies’ Tommy Smith without a foul call, leading directly to Tampa Bay’s tie-breaking goal – was the controversial difference. “My players didn’t lose the game – the referee took it from us,” said Cosmos coach Gordon Bradley after the 3-1 Rowdies win2The 1976 Rowdies were actually a better team than the expansion side that had won the Soccer Bowl the year before, but they ran into a hot Toronto team, which went on to win the championship.. Legend has it that Pele and Giorgio Chinaglia might have been less than their best because Tampa Bay management, in a bit of gamesmanship, had the duo picked up at the airport in a limousine, complete with two blondes, and taken out for a night on the town3I know what you’re thinking – how much of a night on the town could you have in Tampa, Fla. in 1976? I hear ya..
  3. May 29, 1977 – All eyes were on Tampa Stadium for this nationally televised match because it marked the debut of Franz Beckenbauer42024 update: Beckenbauer passed away Jan. 7, 2024 at 78. in a Cosmos shirt. The Rowdies won, 4-2 (Der Kaiser scored a goal) and afterwards, Pele blamed the disruption of defensive chemistry on Beckenbauer’s insertion into the lineup5Yes, really. “Beckenbauer good player, but we don’t need to change the old team,” the Black Pearl said..
  4. April 30, 1978 – The Cosmos were the defending champions (having knocked the Rowdies out along the way), but what really made this match must-see TV was the return of Eddie Firmani to Tampa Stadium. He’d flown the coop as the Rowdies’ boss the previous June in a dispute with management6Firmani later claimed he was “20 minutes away from going back to the Rowdies” when GM and co-owner Beau Rogers phoned to tell him they were releasing him to go to the Cosmos – for $125,000 in compensation. Everyone has their price., only to alight in New York weeks later. The bad blood spawned fan-made “Turkey Shoot” t-shirts (right) that played off Firmani’s “Golden Turkey” nickname7I have no idea, either.. I’m a firm believer that one of the things you have to have in a rivalry is a villain (or two) and Firmani filled the bill perfectly for a market that was still new to this whole “big-time sports” thing.
  5. May 12, 1979 – A rematch of Soccer Bowl ’78 marked the debut of the NASL on ABC. Peter Baralic scored twice as the Rowdies got some measure of revenge with a 3-2 win over the Cosmos.The expected meeting in Soccer Bowl ’79 four months later didn’t pan out because the Vancouver Whitecaps ousted the Cosmos in the conference finals.
  6. June 14, 1980 – Tampa Bay’s Mike Connell was the only one of 10 shooters in the NASL’s tiebreaking Shootout to score, and it was enough to give the Rowdies a 4-38The NASL – as MLS did from 1996-99 – listed the final score of a match decided in the Shootout as if winning the tiebreaker resulted in an actual “goal.” win over the Cosmos in front of 54,247 fans9A crowd they topped three weeks later when 56,389 – myself included – saw an Independence Day loss to the California Surf.. This one also included a re-taken penalty (you gotta have controversy to have a real rivalry, too) and late drama (ditto), as the Cosmos equalized with 47 seconds left.

Tampa Bay won all but one of those matches, but the rivalry was never quite the same afterwards (the Cosmos claimed nine of the subsequent 12 encounters) as the Rowdies, the NASL, and, eventually, the Cosmos went into decline.

The one Cosmos win is where we find ourselves at this stage in my APBA replay of the Rowdies’ 1978 season. Tampa Bay has lost three of its first four (a mirror image of their 3-1 mark in real life going into the first Cosmos match) and are riding a 274-minute scoreless streak. Below is the game story.

Cosmos Roast Rowdies, 3-0

Tampa, Fla. (April 30, 1978) – In the end, the turkey did all the gobbling.

Cosmos coach Eddie Firmani (right) consoles Rowdies’ head man Gordon Jago after New York’s 3-0 win on April 30, 1978. Tampa Tribune photo by Eric Mencher.
The return of Eddie Firmani – aka “The Golden Turkey” – to Tampa Stadium was much-hyped, but ultimately a letdown for 41,888 fans and a national television audience as Firmani’s current team routed his old one 3-0 on Sunday afternoon.

“Sweet, sweet, sweet,” said Firmani afterwards. “Triple sweet10Actual quotes..”

The Fannies – still holding a grudge over what they perceive as Firmani’s abandonment of them last June as a prelude to taking over the Cosmos’ head coaching job – booed Firmani for a full 20 seconds at the start. By the end, they had turned their ire on the home team, which managed just 12 shots (five on goal) and extended its goalless streak to 274 minutes.

Giorgio Chinaglia and Steve Hunt scored first-half goals for the Cosmos, and Dennis Tueart salted the game away with a strike 10 minutes from the end as New York won for the first time in five tries in Tampa dating back to 1975.

Carlos Alberto curled a free kick into the box that Chinaglia headed in at 25:07 for a 1-0 lead for the visitors. Seven minutes later, Hunt one-timed a Vladislav Bogicevic corner kick into the net past Paul Hammond for a 2-0 halftime advantage.

Rowdies coach Gordon Jago inserted Derek Smethurst into the lineup in the second half in search of offense, but the South African, still not 100 percent after a hamstring injury, was ineffective. When Tueart headed home a Hunt corner kick at 80:22, the Rowdies were done and “the Turkey” saw his team serve up a satisfying win.

“We won this game and, as always, the players did the talking for me,” Firmani said.

“They’ve got the best players in the league,” said Rowdies captain Rodney Marsh, who is still in search of his first goal of the season. “They are the best team in the league. No one can stop them.”

No one has to this point, but the Rowdies will get another shot at the Cosmos, on July 30 at Giants Stadium. The possibility of a third meeting, in Soccer Bowl ’78, seems very remote indeed after the Rowdies dropped to 1-4.

		1  2 - F
Cosmos		2  1 - 3
Tampa Bay	0  0 - 0
NY – Chinaglia (Alberto)	25:07
NY – Hunt (Bogicevic)		32:08
NY – Tueart (Hunt)		80:22
 3	Goals	   0
14	Shots	  12
 9	SOG	   5
 5	Saves	   6
 3	Corners    3
 9	Fouls	   8
 1	Offsides   1
Cautions – Smith (NY) 21:52, Hunt (NY) 36:39, Tueart (NY) 47:33
Cosmos – Yasin, Smith, Roth, Alberto, Morais, Garbett, Beckenbauer, 
Bogicevic, Tueart, Chinaglia, Hunt
Tampa Bay – Hammond, Eagan, Papandrea (St. Lot 80:20), Connell, 
Auguste, McLeod, McGuire (Smethurst 45:00), Paddon, Wegerle, 
Robb, Marsh
A – 41,888
Kenn Tomasch

Kenn Tomasch