By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"Gordon's retirement is very difficult," Tatu says. "I think each one of us has different feelings. To me, it's the end of an era."
The good days of which Tatu speaks came in 1987, when the team captured the MISL title against Tacoma in a series that drew 13,000 for one game at Reunion. The good days came again in 1993, when the MISL became the Continental Indoor Soccer League and the Sidekicks captured the new league's inaugural championship. And they came again just last year, when Tatu passed Steve Zungal to set career records for most goals (740), assists (556), and combined points (1,296) in the history of indoor soccer.
"There's been more joy than sorrow," Jago says now. But for the coach--and for his Sidekicks--the bad days have visited far too often.
Jago has struggled almost from the beginning to keep the Dallas Sidekicks alive. The team, which is worth between $500,000 and $1 million, has changed hands more often than Liz Taylor: Current owners Gretchen and J.L "Sonny" Williams (she's co-chair of the board of directors of Minyard Food Stores, Inc., and he's the president) and Don and Linda Carter are the seventh group of investors to own the team. (That is, if you count the four times Carter has owned or co-owned the team over 13 years.)
Some have owned the team out of love for the sport, because there are rich people out there with kids who love soccer and have the money to burn. Others have owned the team because they believed the Sidekicks, which has a team payroll of $250,000 and little overhead compared to the other pro sports, could actually make money. (Jago figures it breaks even these days.) And others have owned the team simply because they could not bear to see it die.
After the 1986 season, with attendance hovering around 6,600 during home games, Carter tried to unload the team--"and rightly so," Jago says--but found no willing buyers. Jago was informed by the team's general manager that the club was folding. Though the team had managed to put together a winning season, finishing 25-23, Carter was losing millions. The Sidekicks were on the verge of becoming yet another corpse on the American soccer field, and Jago was about to lose his job.
"So I got home, and I'm naturally concerned: Oh, well, it's gone," Jago recalls. "And then, in the early hours of the morning, I got a telephone call to inform me my father was seriously ill in England and had been rushed to hospital. A doctor got on the line and said he felt I should get home as soon as possible. I sat there, and I can remember feeling really sorry for myself: Oh, damn, the soccer team's gone, my father's in deep trouble, and the woes of the world are upon my shoulders. It's wrong, but I suppose sometimes it's a natural reaction.
"Then something said, Hey, your father wouldn't want you to act this way. He'd want you to fight it and at least give it your best. So Mr. Carter was going to announce that morning that the team was closed. So as soon as 8 o'clock came, I called his office and said it was important I spoke to him. Eventually I got to him and said, 'Would you give me the rest of the day to try and put this together before you eventually let it go?'"
Jago knew there was one person who could save his team--a self-proclaimed soccer mom named Jan Rogers, who also happened to be Mary Kay Ash's daughter-in-law. Jago phoned her at home and reached her moments before she was to leave for D/FW Airport. Rogers, with two other key investors and 34 others, hurriedly raised the money and bought the team from Carter. They called themselves Sidekicks I Ltd. and would own the team for two years.
As soon as Jago found the money, he left for England to visit his father. When Jago returned to Dallas 10 days later, his father died.
Gordon Jago resigned as Dallas Sidekicks head coach once before.
At the end of the 1989-'90 season, Billy Phillips, a goaltender with the Sidekicks since the team's first season, assumed the title of coach. Jago left to concentrate on raising money once more to keep the team solvent. He became team president, though it was no promotion: He put his love for the team over his love for coaching and went out literally to beg for money. When he found enough for the short term, he returned to the sidelines as coach only to discover that once more, the Sidekicks were on the verge of collapse if he couldn't raise $350,000 to pay off a letter of credit.
Jago is not explicit when he talks about why the team has been in an almost perpetual state of financial chaos since 1986. He hints that there was embezzlement going on among some of the team's middle managers. "It was never the owners or players," he insists. He mentions schemes involving airline tickets being refunded for cash and other hustles. Yet Jago doesn't mention names. "That's for the book," he says, grinning.