1987 – Around the World and Close to Home
The Iran-Contra hearings in Congress expose the illegal sale of arms to aid Nicaraguan rebels, the summit between President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev ends with the signing of a nuclear missile treaty, and Black Monday sees the worldwide stock market crash, resulting in $1.7 trillion in losses. A five-month drought yields only two inches of rain in Puget Sound from June through October with HIV/AIDS deaths rising to over 40,000 nationwide, the University of Washington is granted permission to test a vaccine, Husky Stadium’s new south upper deck, under construction, collapses in February but is completed in time for the opening game in September and Vice President George H.W. Bush cuts the ceremonial ribbon on Tukwila’s new Museum of Flight. In sports, Martina Navratilova reaches all four Grand Slam finals, winning Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, Seattle hosts the NBA All-Star Game before 34,000 in the Kingdome, the Sonics’ Tom Chambers is voted MVP, and Seahawks flashy rookie linebacker Brian Bosworth is run over by the Raiders’ Bo Jackson before a national TV audience.
High Tide in Tacoma
It had been nearly five years since the soccer community had been brought to a boil, but the Tacoma Stars truly took the fans to the brink on the final spring day of 1987. Club owners spared no expense in transforming the team from bottom feeder to man-eating shark. They won the crowd. They killed the kings. But in the end, sadly, it was not to be.
Two years and 27 games into their existence, the Stars had provided the MISL requisite pregame theatrics of fog, lasers and thumping music. However, performance was only so-so and attendance was sagging. The owners then decided to go for broke. (Literally, as it turned out.) Fifteen months later, Tacoma was atop the league, with one hand on the trophy.
Around the Sound, there was a buzz people were talking about the prolific tandem of Steve Zungul and Preki, about the backflips of Gregg Blasingame, and about what coach Alan Hinton just said about this or that. Tacoma went wire-to-wire, winning the West by seven games and claiming the league’s best mark at 35-17. Only San Diego had ever won more games, and in early June those Sockers would meet their match.
The Stars ended San Diego’s run of five straight championships (NASL and MISL). To do so, they won Game 6 in San Diego and Game 7 at home on the strength of Preki’s hat trick. For that deciding game, Tacoma attracted over 16,000. Hinton’s rhetoric went from 10 to 11 on the dial for the finals versus Dallas.
By Game 5, with some fans traveling from two counties away, the crowd swelled to over 20,000, an MISL record. “It was so loud in there,” said captain Neil Megson, “and the atmosphere was absolutely brilliant.”
Tacoma appeared to be on the verge of clinching the title in Dallas. In overtime of Game 6, Preki was 1-on-1 with the keeper with Zungul wide open on the left Preki chose to shoot – and missed. The Sidekicks staved off elimination in double overtime.
For Game 7, another record MISL crowd, now a sellout of 21,728, filled the Tacoma Dome. Two goals from Gary Heale put the Stars in front, 3-1, with 2:48 remaining. It was pandemonium. Foot thunder was rocking The Woodshed as never before.
Desperate, Dallas pulled its keeper and scored. Zungul grumbled about taking his normal shift on defensive power play, and Sidekicks then equalized late, sending it to overtime. In the extra session, the Stars’ Gerry Gray nearly won it when his shot caromed off the frame. Then Dallas countered and scored. Tacoma’s dream of a title had been cruelly dashed. The Stars and their fans were stunned.
“The place was like a morgue it was silent,” Megson remembers. “There’s no way we should’ve lost that championship. It’s the sickest I’ve ever felt on the soccer field.”
As it turned out, that was Tacoma’s moment. Eight months later, with the Stars underperforming and under .500, Hinton was fired. After the season, Zungul was released, and the owners opted out. They had given it their all.