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What a Ride

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Posted: Wednesday July 28, 1999 12:13 PM

  Robert Beck
Kristine Lilly is the alltime appearance leader and third alltime leading scorer for the U.S. Women's National Team. The midfielder from Wilton, Conn., won a gold medal with the U.S. at the 1996 Olympics and played on four national championship teams at the University of North Carolina. She was named Most Spectacular Player of the 1999 Women's World Cup Final in which the U.S. defeated China 5-4 in a PK shootout. This is the final entry of Kristine's diary, but you can re-live her entire World Cup journey by clicking here.

Tuesday July 27

Chicago

WOW! It has been a crazy ride for the past two months. Thankfully, today I sit at home relaxing with my man, Steve, and my dog, Molson. I'm happy. Where do I start and what do you all want to hear? First off, I want to apologize for taking so long to write this final entry but we have been all over the place. I'm still not settled. Also, for those of you who wrote to ask me questions: when I got home to my computer after being gone for a month and a half, I had 900 messages. Holy cow. I haven't even started to answer, so please bear with me.

Here I am, a world champion. It has been a most amazing time and the lingering effects of the victory have been very cool. For a short time we have felt like celebrities. Imagine that, little old soccer players on the covers of four different magazines. It is cool to walk by newsstands and see our team on the cover of People, and Brandi Chastain all over Newsweek and Sports Illustrated, it's just plain and simply AWESOME!

First, I'm going to first share with you the excursions we took after the final game and then I'll share everything I can about the game itself and the amazing record crowd of 90,185 at the Rose Bowl.

The morning after the game we had to wake up pretty early -- 8ish -- (after a late night it was early) and get ready to go meet Mickey and Minnie Mouse. After we won, we did a commercial with Disney saying, "We're going to Disneyland!" and Disneyland planned a parade for us. Tons of people turned out to wave, laugh, take pictures and cry as we came by on floats. I have to admit, a couple of times I got all choked up and I'm getting choked up as I write. All these people were there for us and were just as happy and proud as we were. The emotions were overwhelming.

I was lucky to be right next to Pluto. Being the dog lover I am, it was a good match. Pluto was dancing around and waving and making me laugh. We ended back near the castle where we had a press conference and interview session and then we took the picture that was on the cover of People. Disneyland was one of my favorites excursions. Unfortunately, we didn't have time to go on any rides.

From there we went to a rally in Los Angeles. It was fun. Lots of people showed up to thank us. Oh yeah, before the rally we met with the U.S. Soccer Federation and Women's World Cup organizers. The Women's World Cup gave the team a bonus of $750,000, which was gracious of them. I think the success of the World Cup was greater than anyone thought and they were thanking us.

Back to the rally: Julie Foudy was the M.C. She introduced everyone and was quite funny, I have to admit. She always has something on all of us, but we never have a chance to get her. We will in time. After the introductions, Briana Scurry got up to speak and everyone yelled for her. Bri was the bomb of this World Cup and I'm quite proud of her. Next, we were off to the airport to take a red-eye to New York City for the morning shows.

Since our flight was delayed, we got into New York at 4:30 a.m. and had to be ready at 6 a.m., so no one went to sleep. First stop: Good Morning America. Then Today, CNN and Fox. Doing the circuit, I guess, as they say. From Charles Gibson and Robin Roberts to Katie Couric and Matt Lauer, they were all so excited to have us. It was great. We made it through the TV cameras and the crowds and left feeling tired, surviving on adrenaline.

I headed back to California to spend the week with my boyfriend. We drove up the coast for a little getaway. We played golf in Carmel at Spyglass and Spanish Bay. The courses kicked my butt, but I got a birdie on the 16th hole at Spanish Bay so I was psyched and all those 8's just didn't matter anymore. We also met Clint Eastwood and the Governor of California, Gray Davis, who was in our locker room with President Clinton after the final game. Steve and I ended our trip in San Francisco with my good friend Jodi. (Hi Jode.) We had dinner at her parents' house and played football along the Marina. Life was normal again, for a short moment.

Our vacation got cut short because the President wanted to see us. I had to fly to D.C. to spend the day at the White House with President Clinton, the First Lady and the Gores. They had a wonderful reception on the lawn and each of them spoke. It was nice, but so HOT. We got a tour of the White House and even got to sit in the Oval Office. We kind of took over the place and took some pictures while sitting in the President's chair. Funny. We met Betty Currie and a lot of Secret Service people who were quite nice.

Then we got to take Hillary's plane to Cape Canaveral, Fla., for the space shuttle launch of Eileen M. Collins, first female commander. SWEET airplane. Also on the plane were some congresswomen who were going to watch history. Tisha Venturini and Mia Hamm got to go in the cockpit and get strapped in for takeoff. They said it was awesome, so I said I wanted to be in there for landing. So Carla Overbeck and I were in the cockpit for landing. We were strapped in, we had our head sets on and watched in total amazement as this huge machine descended. It was the coolest thing ever. Just call me Captain Lilly. What I learned is that the plane basically flies itself until it gets close to the ground; then the captain takes over. This voice comes over the loudspeaker and announces the altitude. 100 feet. 90 feet. 80 feet. Etc. Pretty damn cool.

We were at the shuttle launch and the countdown got to seven seconds when it was a no-go. Better safe than sorry. We left feeling a little disappointed, but had a great time overall. Our next and last stop was the Late Show with David Letterman. Yeah hoo! Brandi and Mia did a great job during the interview and we got to waltz out onto the stage. That's a wrap.

Chastain's clinching kick unleashed a charge by the new World Cup Champions (including Lilly, 13). Peter Read Miller  
Let's go to THE GAME. How amazing was that? The setting was right, the two best teams playing in front of a record crowd, the President in the stands, players' families in the crowd, the Rose Bowl, overtime, penalty kicks and the United States winning. Thank God. Let me tell you, I am so relieved it is over and so happy that we won. In a game like that it can go either way, and on July 10, 1999, it went the way of the USA.

My favorite moment, once again, was when we walked onto the field in our line and China walked in on its line. The FIFA anthem played and chills ran up and down my spine. While we were in the tunnel, I looked out at the stadium, and all I could see was a sea of people. It was the most amazing sight and feeling. It was like, "If you build it, they will come." (Name the movie.) That is what happened. We played exciting soccer -- not just the U.S., but the world, and people came. More people came out to see our final game than had ever attended a women's sporting event before. The question is: who didn't tune in to all or some of the game?

Anyway, as I walked out to the field I got choked up and tears came to my eyes. Like before every game, Joy Fawcett and I bonded as the music started and we were off. As usual, I looked to find my dad in the crowd. Sadly, this was the only game I could not find him. I found my mom, bro and boyfriend, but no dad. I was a little bummed. Pops, we did it. We won the World Cup. A little history about my dad for you: He has never missed a World Cup game that I've played in (and I've played in 18). How about that statistic? My mom missed the first World Cup. But when I was younger she never missed my high school games. I have great, supportive parents and that is what has helped me to be successful.

O.K., I know, back to the game. I can remember taking a look at the field during a throw-in and smiling to myself because I was thinking, "This is the Final. We did it." And I was just happy. As always, China has an amazing team. Two offenses were shut down by great defense and that is the sum of it. Two teams played incredible defense and that is why the game went to PKs.

Our defense was awesome. Carla played the best game I've seen her play in a long time. Kate Sobrero had a strong game, as usual, saving us with her sliding tackles. Joy was tough as ----. Brandi was tough on defense and our clincher at the end. Michelle Akers was a machine -- no one got through her. Jules and I held the midfield in front of her. The forwards Mia, Tiffeny Milbrett and Cindy Parlow started our shape (meaning they determined the field position of all of our players) never let them get out easy and wore down the defense as much as they could. Then Shannon MacMillan came in and gave us a boost and Sara Whalen came into the biggest game of her life and made a statement. Lastly, Tish subbed in at the end, adding another heading presence and the freshness that we needed. Of course, last but not least, Bri back in the goal snuffing stuff when necessary and making the key save on China's third PK. Damn, that was awesome. Also, our bench is never silent. It's right there with us, always ready if needed, and yelling all the time. Just a short note about Michelle, whom I have always admired: She has always given her all as far as heart and committment. When she went down and out I knew she just didn't have anything left and it was up to us to finish it. I'm proud of her, and respect and love her heart.

So, the PKs are upon us and we're all on the sideline trying to drink as much water as possible and keep enough energy in our legs to kick the ball from the penalty stripe. At one point, I went over to Bri -- she was sitting down focusing -- and said "cat-like reflexes" and gave her some high fives to get her pumped up. She said, "I won't let you down." And for heaven's sake, she didn't. Meanwhile, the order and kickers were picked and I hadn't heard what they were. I got out to midstripe and was like, "What's the order?" and someone said "You're three." I had an idea I would be shooting, but didn't know when.

Then it started:

China: GOAL.

Carla: lower right corner, GOAL.

China: GOAL.

Joy: right side with a stutter step, GOAL.

China: SAVE BY BRI.

Me: left side, GOAL.

China: GOAL.

Mia: right side, GOAL.

China: GOAL.

Brandi: right side, GOAL.

The crowd goes nuts. Brandi takes her shirt off and celebrates with passion and a smile. The nine of us at midstripe start our attack to celebrate with Brandi and Bri and then the tears, smiles, laughter and relief take over and we are in each other's arms telling each other that we did it and that we love each other. It's a moment that I will never forget and the people watching in the stands and at home will never forget. We congratualated China and went to the podium to receive our medals and the Cup. China was gracious in its loss and both teams joined hands to thank the record-breaking crowd for being a part of the biggest sporting event and most amazing moment. We were in the process of receiving our medals when the crowd started chanting AKERS! Mich was in the locker room but she came out and the crowd applauded and we embraced her. It was a team that had accomplished its goal. It was a team that stunned the world. It was a team that captured the hearts of millions of Americans. It was a team that did it together.

It was more than a game of soccer; it was history. Another step for women, not only in sports but in the world. People enjoyed the game of soccer and enjoyed being a part of the fever of the World Cup -- that is something we have wanted for so long. Finally, we had the crowd and the stadium, and now we have the World Cup. To those of you who were first-timers to the women's game: I'm glad you made it. To those of you who had been there from the start or tuned in along the way: thank you for sharing in the game that we love and making it happen.

Remember, you cannot accomplish anything alone, so take the time to thank the people who have helped you get where you are. Thank them for helping you to reach your goals and for putting up with your schedule and travel and long-distance phone calls -- because without them the experience isn't as nice or even possible. To my team: you guys are the best. We will always have this moment to look back on and cherish and, most importantly, this moment will always keep us close. We did something this summer that will be remembered by us and our family and friends, but more so by the rest of the world. CONGRATS WORLD CHAMPIONS!

I just want to take the time to thank CNNSI.com for letting me do this diary and thank all of you who have read my entries.

To my family, friends, Steve and Molson: Thank you for the support, love and encouragement that helped make my dreams a reality. I love you all.

Take care and smile.

-- Kristine

 
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