Soccer was a pretty big deal in Chicago in 1981. When the Chicago Sting won the Soccer Bowl, the championship of the North American Soccer League, they returned to a hero’s welcome: thousands of people greeted the team at O’Hare and an estimated 150,000 watched them parade down LaSalle Street. It was the first championship won by a Chicago team in 18 years — not since the Bears won the 1963 NFL championship had any professional sports team brought home a trophy.

By 1988 the NASL was defunct and the Sting was no more. The Bears had won the Super Bowl, some overachiever named Jordan was playing for the Bulls. Even the Cubs and White Sox had won their respective divisions. The groundbreaking triumph of the Sting was all but forgotten.

The trophy won by the Sting when they took their division before the championship isn’t sitting in a museum, or even at Wrigley Field or Comiskey (the Sting’s two home fields that year). It’s sitting on the kitchen counter of a one-bedroom apartment on the north side. The man who lives there says he was working near the Sting’s offices “back in ’89, ’90” when he found the trophy in the garbage. He requested anonymity, pointing out that there’s no security in his building.

“I forgot I had it, to tell you the truth,” he says, “until I seen this article in the paper a couple months ago.” He pulls out a Sun-Times clipping from July with a photo of a man holding a trophy that looks very like the one sitting next to the kitchen sink. “That’s the 1984 trophy that they brought out for a game with the Chicago Fire. I saw that and said, ‘Hey, I got something looks just like that.'” He looked through some boxes and discovered that he still had it.

“I was paintin’ a health club up near O’Hare. I went out in the alley to throw some stuff away and there it was in the Dumpster.” He grabbed it and went looking for security. “When I found the security guy I asked him, ‘Hey, is the Sting office still here?’ He tells me, ‘No, they left 11 days ago.'”

So he took it home and put it away. “I checked with a lawyer and he says the trophy’s mine,” the man says and smiles. “Hey, if it wasn’t for me it’d be landfill.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Jim Newberry.