Memory Lane: Goalie Lettieri recalls the '86 World Cup and Ozzie the parrot

  • Article by: MEGAN RYAN
  • Updated: July 11, 2014 - 10:37 PM

World Cup time is time to gather around the TV in the Lettieri household

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Former Minnesota Kicks goalie Tino Lettieri was photographed in his office at his Excelsior home on 7/10/14. Feature on Tino Lettieri, a local soccer legend who played in two World Cups.] Bruce Bisping/Star Tribune bbisping@startribune.com Tino Lettieri/source.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, DML - Star Tribune

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There aren’t many parrots left in Tino Lettieri’s house — a small stuffed toy perched on an office shelf next to memorabilia from his soccer career or a life-size costume he used to wear around Minnesota Strikers games in the 1980s.

But there was a time when the former goalkeeper’s home was packed after a mass order of the good luck charms kept in his net during matches yielded a semitrailer truck of boxes.

“It filled my whole apartment where I could only go from the kitchen to the bathroom to my bedroom,” he said. “It was crazy. I didn’t know what … I was doing.”

“Ozzie,” as Lettieri called his stuffed parrot, had many memorable moments — such as the time a Brazilian player in Dallas scored a goal, knocking Ozzie from his perch before throwing him into the stands — but his career highlight came when he didn’t even earn a start.

During the 1986 World Cup in Mexico where Lettieri represented Canada, officials told him if the parrot made an appearance, he would be suspended.

“All these reporters are behind the goal, all waiting, and I’ve got my bag, and a guy goes, ‘You got the parrot?’ ” Lettieri said. “It was during warm-up, so I pulled the zipper, and I pulled the head out, and they just start shooting.”

Lettieri now lives in Excelsior, as a restaurateur and businessman, but his last name may be more familiar because of his son, Vinni, a sophomore forward on the Gophers hockey team and grandson of the legendary Lou Nanne.

“It’s pretty fun to watch him during the World Cup because he gets so intense, and he’s all ready right next to the TV watching five or six games a day,” his son said. “He knows all the teams, and who’s good, and who’s not. So I kind of just listen to him and lay back.”

In the 1970s and early 1980s, Lettieri’s Minnesota Kicks were selling out Met Stadium, and he was playing the beautiful game year-round in the U.S. leagues, as well as two Olympics and a World Cup with Canada.

Canada didn’t fare well in international competition, but not because of Lettieri, according to his former Kicks teammate and Strikers coach, Alan Merrick.

“I saw a couple of games where he just kept them in the game,” Merrick said. “It was like his goalkeeping was like Tim Howard keeping the United States [in the game]. He was ahead of his time in terms of his performances for the Canadian national team.”

If Lettieri hadn’t been retired for 20-plus years and Canada had qualified for this year’s World Cup, he said the outcome may have been different.

“I think this is probably the best World Cup I’ve ever seen,” he said. “Because it’s not always the same teams going through anymore.”

And maybe Ozzie could have actually made an appearance this time.

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