Tatu Time! Meet Tatu, an indoor-soccer showman who gives fans the shirt off his back

(FORTUNE Magazine) – HE'S A LITTLE GUY WITH A short name. But when you watch him on the soccer field, he makes you break into a BIG smile. His name is Tatu, and he's a 5 foot 6 inch, 160-pound forward for the Dallas Sidekicks of the Major Soccer League (MSL). Tatu, 29, is a two-time MSL scoring champion. He is also the league's foremost showman. His trademark: taking off his number 9 jersey and throwing it to fans every time he scores a goal. In 1989-90, Tatu scored 64 goals. That means 64 jerseys with Tatu's name and number on them flew into the stands! Most of the time, Tatu threw his shirt to kids. One lucky jersey-catcher this season was Whitney Bowman, 14, of Dallas, Texas. When Tatu tossed his jersey in Whitney's direction at a game between the Sidekicks and the St. Louis Storm, Whitney leaped to grab it. ''It was sweaty, but I didn't want to let go of it,'' said Whitney. He took the jersey home, washed it well, and hung it in his room. Tatu began throwing his jersey in 1982. He had moved from Sao Paulo, in his home country of Brazil, to Tampa, Florida, to play for the Tampa Bay Rowdies of the North American Soccer League (NASL). A Rowdies official thought that Tatu could help promote the team by tossing his jersey to fans. ''At first, I thought it was kind of strange,'' says Tatu, ''and I thought the fans might think it was strange too. But then I figured 'Why not try it?' '' Tatu played three years with the Rowdies. The fans loved seeing him score because they all wanted one of his jerseys! ''If I stop throwing my shirt, the fans will get mad,'' Tatu says. Tatu is quick and strong, and he is an excellent ball handler. His style is perfect for the indoor game, which is faster than outdoor soccer. An indoor team has six players (instead of 11), and the playing area is about one fourth the size of an outdoor field. The indoor field is surrounded by wooden walls off which players can bounce the ball! Tatu has always loved soccer. He grew up in the town of Mairinque (mar-EEN- key), Brazil. He first kicked a soccer ball when he was 3. Because there weren't many soccer fields and his family didn't have much money, Tatu played in the streets, barefoot. He hoped to become a professional player someday. ''A professional soccer player in Brazil is between a regular person and God,'' Tatu says. ''When a boy is born, the first thing his father gives him is a soccer ball.'' Pele, the most famous soccer player in history, is from Brazil and is still a hero there. Tatu was born Antonio Carlos Pecorari (peh-ko-RAR-ree), but everyone knows him by his nickname. In Portuguese, the language of Brazil, the word tatu means ''armadillo.'' An armadillo is a mammal covered with armor-like bony plates. How did Tatu get this strange nickname? His father, Irineu, was the first Tatu. Mr. Pecorari worked in a train yard. His friends said that when he hunched over to work under a train car, he looked like an armadillo. When Antonio was a kid, his friends called him Tatuzinho (ta-too-ZIN-yo), which means ''little armadillo.'' When Tatuzinho got older, his nickname changed to Tatu. At age 15, Tatu made the Sao Paulo under-16 junior team. He had to leave his parents, brother, and girlfriend and move from a town of about 20,000 people to Sao Paulo, a city of more than five million people. In Sao Paulo, Tatu lived in a dormitory with about 50 other players. ''Suddenly, I was forced to grow up,'' he says. Tatu's team trained for three hours every weekday morning and for two more hours every afternoon. At night, even though he was exhausted, Tatu took high school classes and studied until 11 o'clock. On weekends, his team traveled to other towns to play soccer matches. ''There were many times when I thought about quitting,'' Tatu says. ''But I consider myself a fighter. I believe that what you have inside can make you or break you.'' Tatu graduated from high school when he was 16. He turned pro at 17 after his teams had won three state amateur championships. As a pro, Tatu played for the Sao Paulo soccer club's top team. The Rowdies heard about Tatu's greatskill, and they signed him to a contract. At the time, Tatu had been to the U.S. only once, in 1980, for two games against U.S. teams. On December 15, 1981, Tatu flew to Tampa to start a new life. He could say only two things in English: ''orange juice'' and ''I can't speak English.'' ''I prayed that I would meet someone who spoke Portuguese,'' Tatu says. ''But I didn't.'' Tatu was met at the airport by a Rowdies official, who drove him to a hotel. Tatu was hungry, but he couldn't read the menu at the hotel restaurant. He finally ordered a bowl of chili because the word chili reminded him of the country Chile, which is also in South America. Tatu grew homesick. He didn't know his teammates, he couldn't speak English, and the food tasted funny to him. The Rowdies gave him a car, but he filled it with the wrong gasoline and it sputtered, chugged, and jerked. ''It started break dancing,'' says Tatu. Tatu even had to learn a new style of soccer. He had never played indoors on a small field with walls, but he adjusted. His new teammates liked him because he was a very good player and he smiled a lot. Tatu practiced speaking English with his teammates, and he watched TV. ''I liked Westerns,'' he says. ''I could tell the good guys from the bad guys, even though I didn't understand what they were saying.'' The NASL went out of business after the 1984 season. Tatu moved to Dallas to play for the Sidekicks. He has been a star ever since. In 1986-87, he scored 111 points (73 goals and 38 assists), more than any other player in the league. The Sidekicks won the league title, and Tatu was named Championship Series MVP. One minute into the first game of the 1987-88 season, Tatu injured his right knee so badly that he needed an operation. He missed the rest of the season, but he came back strong. In 1989-90, Tatu led the league in scoring, with 113 points (64 goals and 49 assists)! Today, Tatu says he is ''Americanized.'' He feels at home in the United States. English is his everyday language. He is married, and he and his wife, Lene, who grew up in Texas, have an 8-month-old son, Andre. Tatu often teaches soccer to kids at clinics and camps around Dallas. He is trying to make soccer as popular in the U.S. as it is in Brazil. That won't be easy, but Tatu is a terrific promoter. Just ask the many happy kids who have jerseys with Tatu's name on the back hanging in their rooms.