1972 Olympic Games : Goalkeeper Guarded After Munich Massacre


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Brazilian World Cup superstar PELE (10) and United States international goalkeeper SHEP MESSING (1) of the world-renowned New York Cosmos emerge from the tunnel at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, just prior to a match in the old North American Soccer League during the club’s meteoric rise to popularity in the mid-1970s.
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“I was woken up by a big German in a leather trench coat one afternoon. He said, ‘Are you Jewish? Come with me.’ It was the first time I’d ever felt my Jewishness so immediately. Of course, the idea was to protect all the Jewish athletes in the Village while the Israeli team was being held hostage.” ——— SHEP MESSING, United States Olympic team member

The murderous incident involving the militant Palestinian terrorists at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich had an immediate impact on the entire Olympic competition to be certain.

The entry of the United States had already been eliminated from the football tournament at the Summer Games in Munich when the fateful evening of September 4th arrived. The one-sided 7-0 loss to host nation West Germany, powered by four goals from Eintracht Frankfurt forward BERND NICKEL, had been the Americans’ final Olympic match. A draw in the first round opener and two successive defeats thereafter doomed the U.S.A., who all the while failed to score but a single goal, to last place in Group A.

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With a pair of football’s genuine all-time greats in World Cup winners PELE (10) of Brazil and West Germany’s FRANZ BECKENBAUER (6) watching, one-time United States Olympic goalkeeper SHEP MESSING of the New York Cosmos punches a high ball in front of his cage away from the attacking Seattle Sounders during the 1977 Soccer Bowl held in Portland, Oregon.
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Shep Messing, then a collegiate soccer player at Harvard University in New England, was still in Munich with the rest of his teammates to take in the other athletic events, enjoy the Olympic atmosphere and, of course, attend the closing ceremonies. The American goalkeeper, whose only appearance between the sticks at the 1972 Summer Games came in the match with host West Germany, was one of twelve Jewish athletes with the United States Olympic contigent. All Jewish athletes from all countries were immediately assigned guards for the remainder of the Games.

United States swimmer MARK SPITZ, who had just set the new all-time mark with seven individual gold medals at the Munich Olympics, left West Germany while the actual hostage crisis, itself, unfolded because it was feared the high profile would leave the record-setting athlete a prime target for other terrorists.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated several years later, Messing was critical of the decision to finish the Olympic Games after a brief suspension of the competition on September 6th in order to hold a memorial service for the victims of the Munich Massacre.

“After (the Israeli) murders, it was a sacrilege to let the Games continue,” said Messing. “It was Avery Brundage’s ego trip, another example of people taking sports way too seriously.”

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United States international goalkeeper SHEP MESSING (center, front row) spent the 1975 NASL season with the Boston Minutemen and gives much credit for his development as a player to that campaign spent with the German trainer who earned had his spurs playing in the Austrian Bundesliga, HUBERT VOGELSINGER (far left, back row); Messing’s roomate on road trips with the Minutemen was none other than midfielder WOLFGANG SUEHNHOLZ (fifth from left, back row), the Berlin native who was on the books at Bayern Munich from 1971 until 1973 before signing to play in Switzerland.

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