TEN YEARS AGO, we were in the midst of a cultural phenomenon, and no sporting event has compelled Americans so extensively this past decade as that 1999 Women's World Cup soccer tournament.
Thousands packed stadiums. Millions watched on televisions. And one final goal by Brandi Chastain — plus her revealing celebration in a sports bra — capped off that summer's patriotic showcase at the Rose Bowl, where the U.S. edged China in penalty kicks for the championship before 90,185 fans and 40 million American television viewers.
"There's kind of that 1980s (Olympic) hockey feel to it," Chastain said Monday by phone after practicing with San Jose's FC Gold Pride. "Maybe people got caught up in a way they never anticipated. You felt an overwhelming power of joy in being part of a big event and cheering on your country."
Go ahead and compare it to swimmer Michael Phelps' Olympic effort last summer. But he was just one man, on foreign soil, among other triumphs (see: men's basketball gold medal). Bring up Tiger Woods at last year's U.S. Open. But he was just one man who stole the show for one weekend (plus a magnificent Monday).
Fondly recall the post-9/11 emotions of Yankee Stadium's reopening and the 2002 Super Bowl, which U2 inspiringly opened and the New England Patriots triumphantly closed. Dark circumstances escorted those patriotic moments.
Scour through all the World Series (the 2004 Boston Red Sox breaking the Curse of the Bambino), NBA Finals (four titles by the Los Angeles Lakers) and college football championships (USC vs. Texas, a one-night stand in January 2006). None delivered a national bond.
The Women's World Cup offered a genuine attraction that instilled cultural pride across America, from the U.S.'s first game before 79,972 fans at Giants Stadium in New Jersey on June 19, to the sensational finale at the Rose Bowl on July 10.
In between those games, Mia Hamm & Co. attracted crowds on average of 63,257, doing so in Chicago; Foxboro, Mass.; Landover, Md.; and, of course, Stanford, where 73,123 saw a 2-0 win over Brazil on the Fourth of July.
Imagine if the U.S. men had defeated Brazil on Sunday in the Confederations Cup (rather than blow a 2-0 lead and lose 3-2). Such an upset win still wouldn't have captured America's attention like the Women's World Cup did a decade ago.
"I was part of it so I'm biased, but I feel that way, and I feel proud and fortunate to have been part of such a special group and moment," Tiffany Roberts-Sahaydak, a San Ramon product and a reserve midfielder for the '99 Cup champs, said by phone from her home in Richmond, Va.
She and her husband, former U.S. men's team member Tim Sahaydak, are co-coaches at Virginia Commonwealth University. They have a 13-month-old daughter, Layla. She is one of 22 offspring by that 1999 team.
When Roberts-Sahaydak alerted former team members she was having a girl, "They all replied to me and gave me good advice. I think Mia texted me: 'It looks like the midfield for the 2024 Women's World Cup is all set,' because Julie Foudy just had had a girl and Mia had twins (with current A's infielder Nomar Garciaparra)."
Chastain says her 3-year-old son, Jaden, has no idea about his mom's (and her sport's) watershed moment, even though strangers still ask her about it daily at grocery stores, libraries and soccer fields. At age 40, she is still playing —— in the first-year Women's Professional Soccer league — and serving as an ambassador not just for soccer but youth and women's sports.
"I've been very fortunate," Chastain said, "to share the story of soccer and relate it to life lessons."
Added Roberts: "Everyone knows exactly where they were for that moment when Brandi made that final goal. Those are the biggest events in life, that you know exactly where you were."
Most team members reunited in December 2007 in Boston, where they were inducted into Northeastern University's Sport In Society Hall of Fame. Another reunion is in the planning stages for late August in Los Angeles.
Chastain and FC Gold Pride teammate Tiffeny Milbrett are among just five "99ers" playing in the WPS. The others are Briana Scurry (Washington Freedom), Christie Rampone (Sky Blue FC) and Kristine Lilly (Boston Breakers, who are coached by Tony DiCicco, the 1999 U.S. coach).
The Gold Pride will be celebrating the United States' 1999 championship run on Sunday, when they host Saint Louis Athletica at Santa Clara's Buck Shaw Stadium. A replica of Chastain's Sports Illustrated cover will be on display, and her face has been cut out so fans can stick theirs in and take photos, "for anybody that wants to pretend it's their moment," she said.
It was, after all, a moment so many others celebrated, too. Presumably with their shirts on at the time.
Contact Cam Inman at firstname.lastname@example.org