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Sting’s NASL championship still meaningful 35 years later

Chicago Sting forward Karl-Heinz Granitza leaps into the arms of teammate Derek Spalding in a quarter final game between the Sting and the Seattle Sounders at Wrigley Field. The Sting went on to win the Soccer Bowl, and bring home Chicago's first pro sports championship in 18 years. (Photo by Tom Cruze)

Even 35 years after the fact, Lee Stern is frequently stopped on the street to talk about what the Sting’s North American Soccer League championship meant to Chicago.

The Sting’s shootout victory over the New York Cosmos in the 1981 Soccer Bowl was the city’s first title since the Bears won the NFL championship in 1963. Although titles have followed from the Bulls, White Sox and Blackhawks, Stern — who founded the Sting in 1975 and celebrated a second NASL championship in 1984 — said the franchise’s first title maintains a special place in Chicago sports history.

“It was quite an event,” Stern said Wednesday. “The Sting just took over sports and everything else here.

“It was the ’81 championship that struck home, and it makes me feel good to know that we brought soccer to Chicago.”

Stern, 89, still remembers the parade and a party thrown by former Mayor Jane Byrne, who brought together 200 of the city’s movers and shakers at Water Tower Place to commemorate the achievement.

This weekend, Stern will gather former Sting players and team personnel for a private dinner to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the title. Another event, planned by former forward John Tyma, will take place Sunday. Former defender Paul Hahn and goalkeeper Dieter Ferner are expected to travel to Chicago from Germany for the festivities. Also expected to attend are midfielder Rudy Glenn, who scored the game-winning goal in the championship game, and former coach Willy Roy, who guided the Sting to the 1984 Soccer Bowl crown.

“It’s thrilling to know all those players had a special feeling for the Sting, but that they also had a special feeling for the organization,” Stern said.

Stern said he has spoken with former Fire general manager Peter Wilt, who has introduced efforts to bring an NASL franchise back to Chicago. Wilt said earlier this year he would like to have a team in place by 2017 or 2018.

But Stern said Wilt’s plan might hit a snag in finding a place to play. The Sting played at Wrigley Field, Comiskey Park and Soldier Field, but Stern — who said he first paid $2,500 to rent Soldier Field for a game — said finding a home within the city limits could be difficult.

Roadblocks aside, Stern likes the idea.

“I think it would really be exciting to have it in Chicago,” Stern said. “Chicago really doesn’t have a soccer team. You have the Fire out in the suburbs, but I think there’s room [for another franchise]. The Chicago fans deserve a team here.”

Rio-bound Red Stars

Three members of the Red Stars were named to the U.S. women’s Olympic soccer team Tuesday. Forward Christen Press, defender Julie Johnston and goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher were named to the 18-player roster. All three are first-time Olympians, although Press was an alternate for the 2012 squad.

Follow me on Twitter @JeffArnold_.