Tattoos stay with you forever. Apparently so, too, do Tatus.
At least that's true with Antonio Carlos Pecorari, a.k.a. Tatu, who came to the U.S. from Mairinque, Brazil, 19 years ago for a three-month tour of duty as an indoor soccer player and has been here ever since. Tatu (the nickname, which is Portuguese for armadillo, was passed down from his father) arrived in Tampa on Dec. 17, 1981, with an apple, an orange, a can of Vienna sausages and almost no knowledge of English. On his first night in the country, the shy 19-year-old didn't want to embarrass himself by trying to order dinner in a restaurant, so he stayed in his hotel room and ate the fruit his mother had insisted he bring. Still hungry, he picked up the can of Vienna sausages, but he didn't have a can opener or the vocabulary to ask for one. Instead, he threw the can until the lid split.
The next morning, rationless, Tatu decided to go to a restaurant. One of the few phrases he recognized was orange juice, so he ordered that. Then, figuring that this chili stuff must come from Chile and, therefore, be akin to Brazilian fare, asked for that as well. It wasn't exactly the kind of combination that sits well in one's stomach, especially on the morning before one's first indoor soccer game in a strange land. Unfazed, Tatu scored three goals for the Tampa Bay Rowdies that night.
Though he hasn't eaten that lucky breakfast since, his goal scoring hasn't suffered. Through Sunday, the 5'6" dynamo had scored 923 times in 664 indoor games for the Rowdies and the Dallas Sidekicks, the team he has played on for 16 years, including the last three as player-coach. No indoor player has surpassed his seven league MVP awards ( Dallas currently plays in the World Indoor Soccer League, its fourth league) or his knack for attracting attention.
Short guys with thick accents named Tatu didn't need help getting noticed in the early '80s. (The similarities between Tatu and Mr. Roarke's Fantasy Island sidekick, Tattoo, came into focus in 1984, when Tatu also became a Sidekick.) But Tatu had already found the spotlight in '83, after a Rowdies exec requested that he toss his jersey into the stands after scoring. "I said, 'Look, I've got no friends here, I don't speak the language, I'm not going to be here long,' " recalls Tatu. " 'I'll do it." "
The ploy got the league desperately needed attention, much of it from the distaff side. By 1987 more than half the Major Indoor Soccer League's paying fans were women, and since then one of the many mimickers of Tatu's move, which he continues to do at home games, has been one Brandi Chastain. "We would play in Baltimore and lose 10-3, and when you'd turn on the news there after the game, if they showed anything they showed our goal because of what followed it," says Gordon Jago, the WISL president, who coached Tatu in Tampa and Dallas.
When Jago left the Sidekicks bench to take over as G.M. in 1998, he named Tatu his successor. It was a gutsy call. Tatu was fiery, and being a player-coach requires one to tread a delicate line between peer and boss. Says Tatu, "They all thought, He's a time bomb, he's going to explode, he's got South American blood, he's half Italian."
Things have worked out fine. In Tatu's first year as coach Dallas won the 1998 WISL championship, and last year it lost in the final. This season the team is in second place with four games remaining. Tatu has succeeded, to a certain extent, by including his players in the decision-making process. "We're a family," the coach says. "We have a lot of opinions. But the buck stops at my lap." (It should be noted that as well as Tatu has mastered English, he still occasionally flubs a figure of speech, such as when he told the Sidekicks in practice recently that the measure of a man is how he reacts when the "s—- hits the wall.")
Among the values Tatu preaches to his players is loyalty, and in his case it's not hollow talk. He came to the States as part of an exchange program between the Rowdies and the S�o Paulo club that had signed him in 1979. Originally, the Rowdies, who played in the NASL, were looking for outdoor players. But when Jago saw Tatu playing a three-on-three game on a sandy field, he decided the human pinball would be ideal for the brief indoor season NASL teams played. "He is made for indoor soccer," says Jago. "Everything about him. His low center of gravity, his tremendous body strength, his leg power. He's got the ability to twist and get shots off. He's very quick over two, three yards, but he's not very quick over 15."
Tatu wasn't too keen on the idea of going to Tampa. "If you had a soccer map, the U.S. is not on it," he says. But the prospect of making a decent wage swayed him. He ended up staying with the Rowdies until 1984, then went to the Sidekicks with Jago. Dallas is where he became more acclimated to the States. His English improved, and he met and married a local woman and started a family. (He and his wife, Lene, have two sons—Andre, 10, and Evan, eight—and a daughter, Sophia, 2�.) Tatu's 16-year tenure in Big D is the longest ever for a pro athlete in that city. "When you're Brazilian, the goal is always to go back," he says. "But the moment I got married, things changed."