Magical victory tour
Players celebrating, promoting soccer across the country
Posted: Tuesday July 13, 1999 05:35 PM
NEW YORK (AP) -- They hoisted their trophy like an Oscar at the Academy Awards, stopped pedestrian traffic in midtown Manhattan and even burst into song on the sidewalks of New York.
The champion U.S. women's soccer team took to the streets Monday, soaking up more acclaim for their World Cup victory over China.
A lunchtime crowd gawked at the women in matching lavender shirts. Then the realization hit the onlookers: These were those soccer players.
If there were any doubt, the players locked arms and began singing "We are the Champions!"
They were in New York for a rapid-fire tour of network shows from "Good Morning America" and "Today" to CNN and Fox News Channel. A midtown rally was on Tuesday's agenda.
Some players will participate in the LPGA JAL Big Apple Classic Pro-Am in suburban New Rochelle on Wednesday and others will attend the WNBA All-Star Game at Madison Square Garden that night.
"We're sharing it with New York City because big things happen here," said Brandi Chastain, standing amid midtown skyscrapers and sharing the sidewalk with the bustling suit-and-tie crowd.
It was her penalty kick Saturday at the Rose Bowl that set off a whirlwind of activity. The players were welcomed at Disneyland on Sunday, then flew overnight, landing at Newark Airport at 4:30 a.m. and piling on a bus to Manhattan.
"It's all worth it," said Chastain, who had not slept since early Sunday. "We're promoting women's soccer."
Perhaps the most touching episode came at the end of their overnight trip from California.
"There were 10 little girls waiting in the airport," Chastain said. "They were wearing World Cup and USA soccer stuff. They were all so excited. They had slept there. They were jumping around and asking for autographs. We all obliged. They deserved them."
Chastain was on the 1991 U.S. World Cup championship team and remembered one solitary media representative greeting the team when it returned to the United States that year.
"There were 2,000 media credentialed this year," she said. "More people are paying attention to women's soccer and we feel very proud of that."
The media push was on full blast. Full-page ads from major companies like Nike, Chevrolet and Budweiser saluted the victory in newspapers. HarperCollins trumpeted a new book by star player Mia Hamm.
Chastain thinks she and her teammates proved a crucial point.
"Ninety thousand in the Rose Bowl and record television ratings gives validity to what we've been saying all along," she said. "There is a place for this team in pro sports."
After goalkeeper Briana Scurry stopped the third penalty kick by the Chinese, the edge belonged to the Americans. It was up to Chastain to make the final kick and seal the victory.
Over and over, she has been asked to describe those final moments.
"Before I stepped up, four others nailed them," he said. "It's a mental thing - you against the goalie. As I grabbed the ball and put it down, it was very quiet in the stadium. It was surreal. There was no movement. It was like there was nobody there except me and this little ball."
Chastain said she had prepared for the moment hundreds, maybe thousands of times, practicing penalty kicks with her teammates. This would be just one more kick - with a championship riding on it.
"I hit it as hard as I could," she said. "I aimed for the left side of the net. If you hit the side, that's pretty unstoppable. It was the best one I hit of all the ones I practiced. When it hit the net, then I heard noise and movement. Then I heard the reaction."
The emotion poured out of Chastain, who ripped off her shirt as the celebration began. That was not planned, she said. Rather it was a release of emotion over a journey that began with training camp in January and ended against China in July.
In training, the players loaded up on pasta and other carbohydrates. Now, with the Cup in their hands and in a city where dining choices are unlimited, the choice of cuisine for some was clear.
Backup goalkeeper Saskia Webber insisted the choice was not intended as a jab at their finals opponent.
"No, it has nothing to do with it," she said with a grin as she and some teammates entered the China Grill restaurant to a standing ovation from patrons.
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