Brazil mourns Pelé, who made every part of the country proud

Dec 29, 2022, 11:21 PM | Updated: Dec 30, 2022, 1:25 pm
A man walks his dog past a mural of Brazilian soccer stars Pele, left, and Garrincha in Rio de Jane...

A man walks his dog past a mural of Brazilian soccer stars Pele, left, and Garrincha in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known to the world as Pele, died in Sao Paulo Thursday at the age of 82. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)

(AP Photo/Bruna Prado)

              A girl walks among a floral arrangement for the late Brazilian soccer star Pele at the City Hall in Santos, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Pele, who played most of his career with Santos FC, died in Sao Paulo Thursday at the age of 82. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
            
              A man sits next to a statue of the Brazilian soccer star Pele in Santos, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 30, 2022, the day after he died in São Paulo at the age of 82. (AP Photo/Matias Delacroix)
            
              Antonio da Paz, left, and Renato Souza stand in front of the Albert Einstein Hospital holding memorabilia honoring Brazilian soccer star Pele, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known to the world as Pele, died at the hospital Thursday at the age of 82. (AP Photo/Marcelo Chello)
            
              A man walks his dog past a mural of Brazilian soccer stars Pele, left, and Garrincha in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, Friday, Dec. 30, 2022. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, known to the world as Pele, died in Sao Paulo Thursday at the age of 82. (AP Photo/Bruna Prado)

Bocaina de Minas, BRAZIL (AP) — Down a dirt road in the mountains of Minas Gerais, Pelé’s home state, Jorge Tavares received the news of the star’s death from a 4 a.m. newscast.

As a boy, Tavares and his cousins listened to Pelé’s World Cup games on the radio. His dazzling performance inspired them to play a game they had never seen, at first using a ball of socks and string.

“He leaves a legacy, a person of color who was crowned king of soccer, and he also brought a lot of peace outside Brazil,” Tavares, a 67-year-old school-van driver, said at the barbed-wire fence outside his home. “He represented Brazil to everyone abroad.”

With Pelé’s death, Brazilians have lost a piece of their hearts.

On Rio de Janeiro’s Ipanema beach, the news broke when Paulo Vinicius was playing soccer with his 9-year-old nephew.

“Pelé represents the best of Brazil: its people, its working class,” said Vinicius, 38, a physical-education instructor. “Pelé gives a sense of identity to the Brazilian people.”

Roseli Augusto, 55, was at her little bar in the mountains of Minas Gerais when she heard the news.

“Pelé is an idol, the best player in the world,” said Augusto. She recalls her father taking a bus to the coastal city of Santos to watch Pelé play. “Many kids, many players, were inspired by him. He is our biggest sports idol.”

As a girl, Lucia Cunha listened to Pelé’s World Cup exploits while huddled around a radio with her siblings. She read about him in newspapers used to wrap bread.

“He was a symbol of soccer, a great player, a simple, humble person, a person of God, a good person, who did everything that he could,” Cunha said.

In Santos, Nicolas Oliveira, 18, was outside the stadium along with about 200 other people. Oliveira said that even replays of Pelé’s sensational playing make him swell with emotion.

“Pelé is a Black man from the interior of Minas Gerais state,” Oliveira said. “I’m here because of what he did, for the soccer he played, for the soccer he improved and for the future players he helped mold and inspire.”

Everton Luz, a 41-year-old lawyer, was crying outside the hospital with a Santos club flag wrapped around him. He had come directly from work to pay tribute to the player whose performances had electrified his own dad, and prompted decades of stories.

Luz recounts those stories to his own two children, and shows them videos of the idol. He recalled seeing Pelé in person once, watching a game at a stadium.

“We managed to get close to his box, and he waved goodbye,” Luz said. “He was an example of the Brazilian, of what we could become.”

___

Biller reported from Minas Gerais state. AP writer Carla Bridi contributed from Sao Paulo.

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Brazil mourns Pelé, who made every part of the country proud