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Latinx Heritage Month

On this day in Latinx history: Soccer great Pelé retires

Brazilian legend departed after 1,281 career goals

Many expected Pelé to come out with a few minutes to spare when his New York Cosmos played his former team, Brazil’s Santos.

But the soccer legend played the entire game, scored the Cosmos’ first goal — the 1,281st of his career — with 2:34 remaining in the first half and dazzled the 75,646 fans who came out to East Rutherford, New Jersey, to see his final professional soccer match on Oct. 1, 1977.

Muhammad Ali, Mick Jagger, Henry Kissinger, Claudette Colbert, President Jimmy Carter’s son Jeff were among those in attendance when Pelé retired from the game.

The exhibition match between Santos, the team with whom Pelé played for most of his career, and the Cosmos was set up by Warner Communications, which owned the New York team.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the 36-year-old said during a pregame ceremony, “I am very happy to be here with you in this greatest moment of my life. I want to thank you all, every single one of you. I want to take this opportunity to ask you to pay attention to the young of the world, the children, the kids.”

Pelé played the first half with the Cosmos, scoring on a free kick, and then switched sides to play with Santos in the second half.

Pelé had five shots, two on goal, but could not find the back of the net for Santos. The Cosmos won 2-1.

“I die a little bit today,” Pelé told The New York Times. “Now, I am born again to another life. You see, I stop playing soccer because I want to stop, and that is important.”

Nearly 20 years earlier, Edson Arantes do Nascimento took the international soccer scene by storm as a 17-year-old, helping Brazil win its first World Cup in 1958 with two goals in a 5-2 win over Sweden.

In the next World Cup, Pelé was injured in group play, but Brazil managed to defend its title, beating Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final in Chile. Then came the 1970 Mexico World Cup, the first to be broadcast in color worldwide, in which Pelé ignited the scoring in the final with his header in the 18th minute of the match, which Brazil won 4-1 over Italy.

From 1956-74, Pelé played his club football for Santos. Thirteen years after beginning his career with the team, he scored his 1,000th career goal at the Maracanã.

He is Brazil’s all-time leading scorer with 77 goals in 92 games for the national team. He is also the lone footballer to appear in three World Cup finals. To expand the “beautiful game” to the United States, Pelé came out of retirement and joined the New York Cosmos in 1975.

“This is life. You can’t play one game all your life,” Pelé told the Times. “Someday you have to stop. If I can’t start all over my life again, I prefer to say goodbye.”

Rhiannon Walker is an associate editor at The Undefeated. She is a drinker of Sassy Cow Creamery chocolate milk, an owner of an extensive Disney VHS collection, and she might have a heart attack if Frank Ocean doesn't drop his second album.