What would Jorge Campos’ life be like without soccer?
Before his interpreter could even translate the question, the still-iconic former goalkeeper for the Mexican National Team broke into a wide smile. That’s because Campos, who was in Seattle on Cinco de Mayo to promote the May 28 match between Mexico and Ecuador at Qwest Field, can’t separate the two.
Regardless of what language the question is being asked in.
Soccer has always been in his life; his life has always been all about soccer – and still is as a commentator for TV Azteca and an ambassador for the sport.
“It is impossible to separate my life from soccer, because soccer is my passion and it’s the best thing that ever could have happened to me,” Campos said through Rachel Escoto – one of the interpreters used by SoundersFC.
“Soccer has always been part of my life. When I was growing up, the only thing we did was go to school and play soccer, go to school and play soccer. So it’s impossible for me to know how my life would be different because soccer has always been such a big part of my life and something I always have enjoyed.”
To the point where Campos is a living cliché. You know, he’d do it even if he wasn’t rewarded so handsomely for it.
“Even if they never paid me to play soccer, I would still be playing,” he said. “That’s how much I love it.”
The personality that allowed Campos to transcend even his impressive on-pitch performances was evident Thursday during an autograph-signing session for the few dozen fans who took advantage of the two-for-one ticket offer for the Mexico-Ecuador match.
Dressed in jeans, a red jacket and green-red-and-white Nikes, Campos balked at sitting behind a table to sign. Instead, he stood in front of the barrier, where it was easier to interact with the fans – who had come as much to see him as to buy tickets. He autographed everything from sheets of paper, to Mexican flags, to shirts, to Pumas jerseys – the club he played for from 1988-95, again in 1998-99 and also in 2000-01.
Campos, now 44, also posed for pictures and exchanged hugs.
“Jorge was ‘the guy,’ ” said Mexico City native Antonio Aeuiniga, who bought tickets with his cousin, Jose, before getting in line to meet Campos. “In Mexico, there was no one better.”
David Estrada can relate, even though the SoundersFC midfielder is from Salinas, Calif. He also grew up with an appreciation for what Campos meant to the sport.
“When I was growing up and we used to play in the backyard, when anyone was the ’keeper and would make a good save they’d just go, ‘Campos,’ ” Estrada said. “Same thing like when you’re playing basketball and you make a nice shot and go, ‘Jordan.’ Or, ‘Kobe.’
“Jorge was a legend when I was growing up and I always looked up to him – especially his flashiness and being able to play on goal and as a striker. That’s impressive. That’s unheard of.”
This kind of adulation also has become a part of Campos’ life, as his feats have been passed from one generation to the next; one country to another. That will happen when your career was as unique as his. A goalkeeper almost by birthright, if not chose, Campos also possessed those skills Estrada mentioned to play striker – and often did both in the same match. He scored 35 goals for Pumas, including 14 in the 1989-90 season.
“This is something that’s really special, especially here in the United States,” Campos said of having people lineup to get his autograph and spend a few moments with him. “Here, I haven’t had as much contact with people. In Mexico, it was common that I would see people – because I trained there, I played there and I was always in contact with people.
“But to have people from Mexico come see me in the United States, even after I’ve been retired for 10 years, it’s just something I really enjoy. So I’m there with a lot of affection and a lot of appreciation.”
How is it that someone who is 5 feet 6 is able to play in goal? Even Campos admitted – sans translator – “I’m the shortest goalkeeper in the world.”
He then added, “When people come to meet me and they come to these autograph sessions, they expect me to be really tall and really big because of all they’ve heard. But really, I’m just a normal person.”
With some abnormal physical skills, as Campos compensated for his lack of height with an acrobatic style, speed and leaping ability. His vertical leap never has been measured, Campos said, but he can touch the rim on a basketball hoop.
“I played both positions as a child,” Campos said of his dual on-pitch personality. “My brother was a keeper. My uncle was a keeper. But I had other uncles and family members who played forward. I started in goal, then learned how to play forward.”
Playing in goal wasn’t his first choice.
“The coach said, ‘You have to play goalie,’ ” Campos explained, again without the aid of the translator. “I said, ‘I don’t want to play goalie.’ ”
But play goalie he did, at the highest level. In addition to Pumas, Campos also played for Atlante and Cruz Azul in the Mexican League. He was the goalkeeper for the National team in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups, and assistant coach of the 2004 World Cup team. He also had stints with L.A Galaxy and Chicago Fire in Major League Soccer’s first three seasons.
Before he was finished, Campos had become a player of the people – and a player the people revered.
“Jorge is just such a down-to-earth guy,” Estrada said. “He’s an awesome person.”