Lark Chastain sat in her den in San Jose last Aug. 24 watching Who Wants to Be a Millionaire as contestant Ginny Horvath faced a question that would raise her winnings to $32,000: Who scored the winning penalty kick for the United States during the 1999 Women's World Cup soccer final? Lark leaped off the couch and phoned her daughter, Brandi, who turned to the show at her home in Santa Clara, Calif., as Horvath reviewed the four choices. "My mind flashed back to the newspaper picture of a woman in a sports bra in the ultimate moment of triumph," Horvath recalls now. "I'd spent hours studying world leaders, the solar system. Imagine winning on a female soccer player."
As they watched Horvath correctly answer the question, Lark and Brandi giggled like schoolgirls. "It seemed surreal that someone was earning a bundle by knowing who my daughter is," Lark says. "When I heard Regis Philbin mention Brandi's name, I had to pinch myself and ask, Is this really happening?"
Talk about validation: In just 45 days the U.S. team's left fullback had gone from Brandi Who? to a final answer. On July 10, Chastain had booted home the decisive kick against China after 120 scoreless minutes at the Rose Bowl, before 40 million American viewers and a worldwide TV audience of one billion. In yanking off her shirt to celebrate, she became the most talked-about female athlete on earth. "So many people have told me they'll never forget where they were when Brandi scored that goal," says the Cup-winning coach, Tony DiCicco, who resigned last November. "That's history. I mean I remember where I was when John F. Kennedy was shot, and that's about it."
During the past 12 dizzying months, Chastain's face has appeared on the cover of SI, TIME, Newsweek and PEOPLE, and on a Wheaties box. She has thrown out ceremonial first pitches at Yankee Stadium and before a minor league game on Toga Night in Sioux Falls, S.Dak. She has sat behind President Clinton's desk during the U.S. team's visit to the White House. She has walked a fashion runway after being tutored by Cindy Crawford, opened a San Jose community center alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger and received a golf lesson from Tiger Woods, borrowing his glove and his eight-iron. She is appearing as herself in the yet-to-be-released movie Air Bud 3: World Pup. And, oh, yes, in March, she scored the only goal in the U.S.'s win over Norway at the Algarve Cup final in Portugal, the national team's most important tournament since the World Cup.
Chastain has been recognized by the kitchen staff at a New York City restaurant, by a bunch of Belgians while playing pickup soccer on a Houston playground and by some guy who was pumping gas beside her in Santa Clara. "You know, you look a lot like that Christie Chastain," he said. If there is a downside to her soaring Q rating, it's that total strangers have asked her to take off her shirt 87,972 times—and counting.
The Bra is not in the Smithsonian. It is not hanging in any soccer hall of fame. It doesn't even occupy a place of honor in Chastain's home. It's balled up with some other sports bras in the back of a dresser drawer. When an entrepreneur phoned her agent, John Courtwright, guaranteeing $200,000 if Chastain would agree to let him sell it at auction, the answer was no. "Is this $40 piece of cloth really that coveted?" Chastain says. "Maybe I should just carry it around and charge people a buck each to see it, like in Sixteen Candles."
All the fuss raises a question: Would Chastain have reached the same level of celebrity if she'd merely kicked the Cup-clinching shot without the shirtless postscript? Inspired by Chastain, members of women's teams from the University of Santa Clara to Highlands Ranch ( Colo.) High celebrated victories this year by shedding their jerseys. Thirteen Ohio State women's rugby players went even further by brandi-shing their bare breasts at the Lincoln Memorial. Several male TV reporters have ripped off their shirts while interviewing Chastain. For weeks after the World Cup, debates raged on editorial pages across the U.S. over whether Chastain's celebratory disrobing was appropriate, and school systems in Maryland's Howard County and Florida's Hillsborough County both banned the wearing of sports bras without shirts covering them.
An incredulous Chastain points out that men often punctuate goals by doffing their jerseys and that the primary motive behind her act was the 100� temperature on the field. Just weeks earlier hardly anybody had blinked when Chastain appeared naked—except for cleats and a strategically placed soccer ball—in Gear magazine. "Why isn't a jog bra enough to wear in public?" Chastain says. "You see women more scantily clad on the beach every day. It's not like I'm a stripper."
Chastain has refused any promotional requests that involve removing her shirt, but she has still cashed in on her fame. "We went from a random offer once a week to a flood so fierce that there weren't enough days in the week to answer them," Courtwright says. "That penalty kick put millions of dollars in Brandi's pocket."
Many of the deals she declined were pure vaudeville, offers of upward of $20,000 for Chastain to run on stage at corporate outings, pull off her shirt and maybe autograph a few bras. She did sign five long-term endorsement contracts worth roughly $2 million and could have enriched herself even more if she hadn't insisted on keeping her second job as a volunteer soccer coach at Santa Clara, where she assists her husband of four years, Jerry Smith. (How else would they ever see each other?) Add to that 31 motivational speeches at $15,000 a pop and, finally, $5,000 a month and $2,000 per match from U.S. Soccer.