Howard University had just reached within one game of its first National Collegiate Athletic Association soccer championship and a 71-year-old man said he felt like a nervous wreck.
Ted Chambers, former Howard athletic director and now a Soccer assistant, smiled softly and said, "I'm still pinching myself when I look back to those days when we used to play in cow pastures, with improvised goal-posts. And nobody would be watching."
About 3,000 people were watching last night in the Orange Bowl as Howard outside right forward Ian Bain took a pass from inside left Alvin Henderson and scored with 10:36 left to play for a 1-0 victory over Harvard in the first of two semifinal games. St. Louis University (17-0), winner of eight of the last 12 NCAA tourneys, gained the tomorrow night final against Howard (14-0) with a 3-2 victory over the University of San Francisco when Mike Seerey scored his second goal to break a 2-2 fourth-period tie.
Chambers revived a dormant Howard soccer program in 1947. As coach he realized an immediate problem — finding someone to play.
A small, predominately black school, Howard was avoided by all but the most obscure schools.
"We had to go way up north to find teams to play — Vermont, Massachusetts, then eastern Pennsylvania, and well, now, the color line has moved all the way down to Miami," Chambers said.
Howard moved down to the Orange Bowl with shut-out victories in each of the first three rounds of the 24-team tournament. Last year, the team's first under coach Lincoln Phillips, the Bisons were eliminated in the semi-finals by UCLA.
Although victories over major U.S. soccer schools are of little relevance to Howard's foreign-born players, Chambers says he relishes each one.
"We haven't played these big schools. They refer to us as upstarts. We're not prestigious enough.
"We've been trying to get Harvard on our schedule for the last four years," he said. "Why won't they play us? Because we're good and we're black.
"Some teams come right out and tell us we're too good for them. Others tell us they have traditional rivals they're committed to and that the distance to travel is too far. That's Harvard. But now we've got a chance at every one of these guys and we're gonna get 'em all."
Howard's chances have never been better, due largely to the arrival of Phillips, a former goalie and coach in the North American Soccer League. "The guys respected me because I was a professional," he said. "Howard always had the talent. I was able to get it together."
A main source of togetherness is Trinidad, where Phillips once coached. Eight of his 20 players, including Alvin Henderson and Keith Acqui are from Trinidad, with Caribbean and African players filling out of the roster. This year Howard has its first American player, third-string goalie Andy Terrell, who did not make the trip to Miami.
Phillips says good American soccer players need not be as common as the American buffalo.
Before the second semifinal game he said, "If I don't win it, I'd like to see St. Louis. They're mostly American players. Maybe then we can get rid of this myth in America that only foreigners can play soccer. I'm thinking of the future of soccer. Of course, I want to win very badly."
So does a 71-year-old former coach, for whom the future is finally now.
Howard 0 0 0 1—1 Harvard 0 0 0 0—0 HOWARD—Bain (Henderson assist), 10:37 fourth. St. Louis 1 0 1 1—3 San Francisco 1 0 0 1—2 STL—Seery (Draude assist), 14:21 first. SF—Robustoff (Lelaure assist), 7:21 first. STL—Counce (Seerey assist), 6:22 third. SF—Robustoff (Hellman assist), 18:22 fourth. STL—Seerey (Draude assist), 5:19 fourth.