The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.
November 19, 1989 was the day US Soccer was born.
As we all teach our children, that was the day when an unknown American kid named Paul Caligiuri stunned the soccer universe with "The Shot Heard Round the World" down in Port of Spain Trinidad, putting the US into the World Cup for the first time in 40 years.
But as big as Caligiuris' improbable goal was, two other significant things happened that day which had an equal, or even greater, influence on the future of the sport in the US and the world.
The first came about when little-known T&TFA President Jack Warner, noting the huge demand for tickets to the game, ordered the printer to fire up the Linotype machines and crank out another 20,000 ducats in addition to the 35,000 already ordered which, not unreasonably, was the capacity of old National Stadium.
The extra tickets were eagerly snatched up by local fans who then ended up standing outside the stadium at kickoff. It was the first recorded large scale open theft orchestrated by Uncle Jack, a prelude, if you will, to bigger things to come.
Yet neither incident can match the long term significance of what happened after the match, when an obscure USSF Vice President named Chuck Blazer drove his rental car over to Warner's house for a meeting which, reportedly, lasted well into the wee hours.
At that meeting, Blazer laid out a plan through which Warner could become President of CONCACAF, something which he apparently had never seriously considered. The President at the time was Mexico's Joaquin Soria Terrazas, who had held the job for 20 years and seemed a shoe in for re-election at the Congress scheduled for the following year.
Blazer was the first person to recognize the power that a motley collection of Caribbean FA's - some of whose existence was more or less notional at best - could exercise over the North and Central Americans who figured CONCACAF belonged to them.
Terrazas was as shocked as anyone when Warner and Blazer strode into the hall, announced Jack's candidacy, handily won the election and proceeded to take over the Confederation, a dominance which lasted until the day Blazer got a phone call in his Trump Tower office from a Caribbean FA President about an envelope with $40,000 in it.
Which in turn began the slow motion downfall of not just Warner and Blazer but virtually all of the FIFA power structure; there's a straight line between the sandbagging of Terrazas and the paddy wagon outside the Baur au Lac Hotel, and that line is Charles Gordon "Chuck" Blazer.
Last year, a couple of cheap hack tabloid writers from New York put out a book titled American Huckster, which purports to be the definitive dirt-dishing on Blazer and his nefarious career. As your faithful servant, as was the case when FIFA finally released the 450 page pile of rubbish known as The Garcia Report, I dutifully read every stinking word of it.
As bad as Garcia is - and it's utter crap - it pales next to Huckster.
First of all, a "huckster" is defined as a peddler of small things, a guy going door-to-door with a sack full of questionable goods to sell to the unsophisticated. Which is exactly the opposite of what Chuck Blazer was. The man dealt in big concepts, big ideas and big money.
Secondly, the book itself consists of a) a bunch of stuff which is widely known not the least because I myself have written about it all repeatedly, b) a long, not particularly intelligent retelling of all the tales of FIFA corruption for the last 30 years, the vast majority of which has nothing to do with Blazer at all and c) a bunch of embarrassing personal details provided by his long time live-in girlfriend, failed actress Mary Lynn Blanks.
To the latter I can only say that if all the nasty details of caring for the personal hygiene needs of a 450 pound man were so repulsive to you, you should have left. Except that you loved the private planes, the 5 star hotels, the clothes, the jewels and the hobnobbing with the rich and famous. The only problem is that the gravy train stopped and you had to get off, so you ran off to a tabloid reporter in an effort to purge your conscience.
I only bring up this piece of trash because Huckster represents the picture of Chuck Blazer that will surely persist long after everything else is forgotten.
Over the years, your faithful correspondent has been accused of soft-peddling the various misdeeds of the enigma that was Chuck Blazer. I can only respond that pointing out the good along with the bad isn't bias, it's just telling the truth.
And the truth is that the current success of soccer in the US is due, in large part, to Chuck Blazer.
When Warner and Blazer took over CONCACAF in 1990, it consisted of one long folding table, some folding chairs and a telephone in a cheap rented office space. There was less than $40,000 in the bank.
CONCACAF didn't even have a qualifying process; they used the Confederation Championship tournament to select the 2 teams for the World Cup (Caligiuris' goal put the US into second place behind winner Costa Rica).
So Warner went to work stealing while Blazer set out to build CONCACAF into a world soccer power. It's worth noting that when it all came crashing down some 20 years later, CONCACAF was a $40 million a year enterprise.
The Gold Cup, the Hex and the Champions League were all Blazer's creations, along with much, much else.
Yet as large as those contributions were, they pale in comparison to his contribution to making MLS what it is today.
At an ExCo meeting in Zurich in 2005, the Media Committee presented for approval a contract with NBC for US TV rights for the next 2 World Cups. The hundreds of millions of dollars offered was more than that bunch of greedy thugs had ever dreamed of gleaning from American TV and they were anxious to grab it.
Blazer asked them to table it, saying that he could do better. Somewhat reluctantly, they agreed, mostly because they knew he was both a brilliant negotiator and a man of his word.
So Chuck flew back to New York, sat down with John Skipper at ESPN and put together a deal which included the hitherto unsellable MLS broadcast rights in the deal.
It got MLS on national TV, put millions of dollars into the pockets of a league which was still struggling financially and made everybody a fortune. At the next MLS Board of Governors meeting, Blazer was given a standing ovation and the Commissioners Award. It's not an exaggeration that this one act pushed MLS ahead by at least ten years, laid the groundwork for SUM and started the league down the road to it's current explosive growth.
You might also note that there wasn't a single dime in it for him personally. When it came to US Soccer, there never was.
That the man played fast and loose with world footballs' money is beyond dispute. Everybody was grabbing and he grabbed too.
Still, as I have written many times in the past, unlike the rest of FIFA's crooks, no one can point to a single time when he took a bribe from anyone for anything. Rather, Blazer maintained a thin veneer of legality for everything he did by claiming that his contract gave him 10% of everything CONCACAF did.
Which was a good and valid concept when CONCACAF was doing $40,000 a year out of a cheesy office in Central America. They couldn't afford a salary anyway. A commission was the only way to pay him and 10% was, if anything, a little light.
20 years on, with the Confederation clipping along at $40,000,000 a year, it was ludicrous. He took advantage, he tried to stash the money in shell corporations, he monumentally abused his unlimited and unmonitored expense account and he piled on personal perks - cars, apartments, even a vacation place in Aruba - well past the point of decency.
It was gluttony of the worst kind, entirely in keeping with a 450 pound man who lavishly entertained nightly at Manhattans most exclusive and elegant eateries, which he reached while riding a mobility scooter because he was too fat to walk.
That's the enigma of Chuck Blazer; the larger than life Falstaffian character whose warmth, charm and personal charisma, combined with a brilliant business mind and a keen eye for the main chance who for years flew with the famous and the great and the noble, basking in great wealth and power, but who died an ugly, painful, lonely death in a hospital in New Jersey, broke, virtually friendless and certain that the good and positive things he accomplished along the way are buried under the stories of an apartment for some cats and a sleazy tell-all betrayal from the woman he loved.
I'm not making excuses for the man. He was who he was and the facts speak for themselves. He didn't apologize and I'm not going to do it for him. He was a complicated man who made his choices.
But, like it or not, Chuck Blazer was utterly loyal to soccer in the US and contributed as much or more to it's progress than anyone else living or dead.
And I don't mind at all being the one person today who's willing to say "Thanks Chuck".