Suburban towns such as Secaucus grew exponentially, with Harmon Cove and the nearby Meadowlands sports complex rising from the reeds.
It was in that complex that the New York Cosmos, one of America's first and best professional soccer teams, drew huge crowds and almost single-handedly grafted a heretofore alien game on to the local and national sports consciousness.
A newly released documentary has revived memories of the team, with local soccer lovers wondering if the unique Cosmos charm can ever return to the Meadowlands.
Film shows Cosmos rise and fall
The documentary "Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos" shows how Steve Ross, who ran Warner Communications during the 1970s, decided to create something out of nothing.
After he realized that America did not have the soccer talent to field a competitive team to play in front of a less than rabid public, Ross went on a global shopping spree.
He used his communications empire millions to lure international soccer legends such as Brazil's Pele, Germany's Franz Beckenbauer, and Italy's Giorgio Chinaglia to play for the Cosmos. The cosmopolitan group of players would go on to win championships and fill Giants Stadium with new fans of the one truly global game.
A funky 1970's soundtrack underscores the hedonistic glamour that surrounded the team, with team trips to Studio 54 becoming a regular part of the itinerary.
However, the rest of the league was ultimately doomed in part by the Cosmos' success. Unable to financially compete with the Cosmos, the other franchises in the over-expanded league began to die on the vine. Low television ratings, an ever-shrinking pool of teams, and dissension over Chinaglia's influential relationship with management, cited as a "malign influence" by a former Cosmos general manager in the documentary, led to the death of the team in 1985.
Secaucus FC speaks out
Although the Cosmos died an untimely death, the dream of professional soccer succeeding in the U.S. is still very much alive.
At a recent practice of the local adult soccer club team Secaucus FC at Laurel Hill Park, members of that younger generation of American soccer players commented on what they thought it would take for soccer to succeed in this country.
Adam Alfi looked at his own team as a path to the future.
"It's a shame that a world sport like soccer hasn't been able to fully take advantage of this market," he said. "But the Cosmos was a team full of superstars coming to America. Professional American players now sometimes go to Europe. The game has to grow here first before we see Giants Stadium full again. But no matter what, I love soccer, and so do a lot of other people. We've got people from all over the world on this team. Look at what happened in Cote D'Ivoire in Africa during the World Cup. Give me the name of another sport that could stop a war."
Team manager Nick Farinola largely agreed with Alfi.
"I grew up hearing stories about the Cosmos from my parents, who used to go to the games," he said. "The Cosmos caught lightning in a bottle. It was incredible that they brought all that talent together in one place at one time. You still see huge crowds at the stadium when teams like Manchester United and Real Madrid come to play. But it will take maybe 20 years for American teams to fill the stadium like that. The new professional league is now building up the American player, which is what they need to do."
Secaucus FC player J.P. Van Hegans remembered going to Cosmos games as a kid.
"My father had season tickets," he said. "Going to games was one of the things that got me into the spirit of the game. It was great to see top level talent in person, not on TV."
Overall, Van Hegans is optimistic about the future of soccer in America.
"The new professional league has had some growing pains, but its moving forward," he said. "The World Cup is a reminder of how great the game really is. It was fantastic, at least until Zidane head butted that Italian guy. Soccer will get there in America. Give it some time."
Soccer passion still burns
Joe Manfredi, a successful Staten Island car dealer who was one of the Cosmos' first sponsors and who appears in the film, also spoke about soccer.
"Pele was a god to me," he said. "He was a true person that I learned a lot from. We used to talk all night, lying on the floor of the plane. He would always teach you something."
Manfredi's devotion to the players and the cause of soccer in America sometimes even bordered on the humorously absurd.
"One night we were in Montreal, and Chinaglia said he wasn't going to play unless he wore the kind of jockstrap that he always used," he said. "I got a cab and went out and got him one. Sometimes you do crazy things."
Looking back, Manfredi believes that a steady and sane approach is needed to bring thousands of people back into the stands for a soccer game.
"You have to bring these kids up," he said. "You need a farm club. You cannot go out and just buy players."
Although the Cosmos failed, Manfredi can't help but smile when he thinks about them
"It was something that we never saw, and it was something to see," he said. "We may not see anything like that again. We still achieved something. Kids were now playing soccer."