'Fab Five' leave behind golden legacy for women's soccer in U.S.
Posted: Friday August 27, 2004 7:21AM; Updated: Friday August 27, 2004 2:55PM
U.S. soccer's "Fab Five," from left: Jullie Foudy, Joy Fawcett, Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Brandi Chastain.
"I think today, Brazil was the better team," said Rene Simoes -- a man who, oddly enough, coached Brazil in its clash with the United States on Thursday for the Olympic soccer gold medal. "We deserved to win."
To which I say: Mr. Simoes, I'm not sure how familiar you are with American cinema, but make a point of seeing the climactic scene of the Clint Eastwood classic Unforgiven, in which Eastwood's vengeful killer, before blowing away Gene Hackman's fallen sheriff, coldly pronounces, "Deserve's got nothing to do with it."
The leading ladies who've anchored the U.S. team for the past 13 years aren't cold-blooded killers; they're far too pretty, amiable and sportsmanlike to play that part. Their will to win, however, should never be underestimated, certainly not by a whiny coach -- on a day in Athens when losing coaches were particularly whiny.
(Quick note to Spanish basketball coach Mario Pesquera: Be sure to come back for the 2008 Games in Beijing, where, should a late timeout call trigger your ire, you'll be welcome to point your finger into the chest of our next Olympic coach ... El Senor Charles Barkley. ¡Buena Suerte!)
Yes, the Brazilians might have outshot the Americans 18-10. They may have looked faster and stronger, and it's true they twice hit the post with potential game-winning shots in the closing minutes of regulation. They might have even been better-coached, though that's a whole other column.
What the Brazilians most certainly are, despite all of this, are silver medalists. They lost to a group of women who have done more for team sports in this country than any other group of people, be they men, women or coed. They were defeated 2-1 in overtime by a side that included five women who deserved a happy sendoff as much as anyone in Athens.
Over 13 years, four world championships, a combined 1,230 caps and an immeasurable amount of inspirational devotion to their craft, Brandi Chastain, Joy Fawcett, Julie Foudy, Mia Hamm, and Kristine Lilly helped spawn a culture of passionate American females who aspire to follow in their cleat-steps. It was entirely cosmic that two of those former fan-club types, Heather O'Reilly and Lindsay Tarpley, scored pivotal goals in the U.S.' final two Olympic triumphs, over Germany and Brazil, respectively.
On Thursday, another decorated American veteran, Briana Scurry, may have been the most important competitor of all, stopping eight of nine shots on goal and controlling her zone with fiery desperation. Simoes had complained about the Americans' physical play in their 2-0 victory over the Brazilians in pool play, and for the most part the ploy worked -- if anything, it was the U.S. team that got a little roughed up at times. But Scurry, with the game on the line, was downright intimidating, which is a pretty tough trick for a keeper.
Scurry may or may not be nearing the end of her international career; Chastain and Lilly could soon be on the sidelines for good. Foudy, Hamm and Fawcett say they'll step away after the team's 10-city victory tour throughout the U.S. that is set to begin next month in Rochester, N.Y.
Perhaps the WUSA, the professional league these ladies helped spawn and are fighting to resurrect, will return next year or the year after -- or another league will rise to take its place. But whatever happens, these remarkable women can live out the rest of their lives confident that they gave as much as they could to a sport they so clearly love.
Did you see the abject joy and sincere sentiment on the faces of these women as they stood listening to the Star-Spangled Banner on the victory podium? At a time when American machismo is being questioned across the globe, these athletes represent the best this nation has to offer on an international level. They show that women can be strong and tough yet feminine and graceful; they show that it's possible to be ebullient in victory without behaving boorishly, and equally noble to conduct oneself with dignity in defeat.
Those of us who've had the pleasure of spending time with these women over the years understand that with them, it's as much about the process as it is about the outcome. Winning isn't merely a high; it's a validation for the shared sacrifice and sometimes shaky social fabric that makes such a result possible.
Corny as it sounds, more than any other U.S. team in recent years, these athletes have played for and with each other, no matter the context. With young stars like Abby Wambach and Shannon Boxx and Aly Wagner in the fold, the U.S. has a chance to remain a soccer power. Yet even if the Americans fail to win another title in our lifetime, the five pioneers can be satisfied that they did more than their share to put their sport on the map.
So thank you, Ms. Chastain, for stripping yourself down (literally and figuratively), for sublimating your flashy nature for the good of the team, for biting your lip and continuing to press when you were stuck in the coach's doghouse and, ultimately, for lending your creative touches toward a pair of picturesque goals that led to gold.
Thank you, Ms. Fawcett, for attending the world's greatest institute of higher learning, then proving that pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood -- times three! -- need not keep an athlete from excelling at the highest level.
Thank you, Ms. Foudy, for lending the full force of your outsized personality to righteous and necessary causes, for keeping everyone around you lively and full of laughter, and for being an Iverson-esque dynamo on the field who, fittingly, played her last epic game with a badly throbbing ankle.
Thank you, Ms. Hamm, for shouldering your unwanted celebrity without hesitation; for being willing to use your power to stick up for your sisters; for being more wickedly funny than most of us will ever appreciate; and for being, off and on, the best player in the world for a long, long time.
Thank you, Ms. Lilly, for wholeheartedly becoming the Bob Weir of this landmark band ("The bus came by and I got on that's when it all began ..."), for being better on the ball than most soccer players, men or women, could ever imagine, and for doing everything, all the time.
I could go on and on, but it's getting late and I, like the Fab Five, suppose that it's time to get on with my life. Besides, I have a big day tomorrow: My eight-year-old daughter's soccer team has its first practice of the season, and she and her teammates deserve an assistant coach who's not too bleary-eyed.
The curse of manhood
It's weird enough that she has a name an adult actress would love, but when Misty May, having clinched the beach volleyball gold medal Tuesday night, started rolling around in the sand with partner Kerri Walsh -- well, I thought I might have mistakenly switched to Cinemax. The sand, the surf, the leering onlookers, the bikinis, the bad rock music blaring in the background ... I know I'm supposed to be a professional and all, but it seems to me that this is a sport that has a chance to captivate viewers more than once every four years.
Sympathy for the Devil
Far be it from me to mourn the loss of a USC superstar, but the fact that wideout Mike Williams will be spending the fall in street clothes is simply absurd. The true crime is that a federal appeals court upheld the NFL's right to age-discriminate, but the NCAA, by declining to reinstate Williams's eligibility, is officially an accessory. God forbid the free farm system that funnels big-name talent to the NFL, while sparing teams the immense cost of scouting high schoolers (or those less than three years removed from graduation), be jeopardized, lest the American way be threatened.
Sports Illustrated senior writer Michael Silver sounds off weekly on SI.com.