Thursday, August 22, 2013

The 99ers

A week ago, TigerBlog said that he didn't intend to write about the Mary Decker/Zola Budd documentary.

Next week he'll probably say that he didn't intend to write about the last one in the series, as, of course, he writes about it.

Today, he starts out by saying that it wasn't his intention to write about the documentary for this week, "The 99ers," about the 1999 U.S. women's soccer team and its experience in the World Cup that summer.

And now he'll write about it.

Director Erin Leyden opens the show by saying that the story is so well known that it was hard to come up with a new angle to explore. And then Julie Foudy, one of the captains of the team, came to her with a ton of video that she had shot during that summer with what the viewer quickly realizes was her ever-present camera, and Leyden had her angle.

The documentary is centered around eight members of the team who reunite at the Rose Bowl, the sight of the famous championship game, which the U.S. won in penalty kicks over China in front of 90,000 live fans and 40 million TV viewers, both records that still stand for a women's sporting event in this country.

The signature moment, of course, was when Brandi Chastain scored the decisive PK and ripped off her jersey, showing her sports bra to the world.

The eight team members - including Foudy, Chastain, Mia Hamm and Michelle Akers - tell old stories, laugh, reminisce and do what it is that teammates do 14 years after accomplishing something huge, the way they did.

It's hard to overstate the significance of what they accomplished together, for the future of women's athletics in this country and for the influence they had on so many young girls who watched their success and decided to grow into the current generation of women's athletes in all sports.

It took a huge confluence of events to make it happen - they had to have marketable stars (especially Hamm), those stars had to be attractive (no offense to anyone, but it's true), the general sporting public had to respond to them, they had to play in the United States and they had to win.

The fact that their summer took them across the country - their journey began in Giants Stadium, included a stop in Chicago and ended in California - brought them up close to so many people everywhere they went.

They were also perfect ambassadors, with their girl-next-door persona that was easy to market.

There are, in TigerBlog's opinion, two huge moments in the history of women's athletics in this country, two that stand above anything else that happened, two that inspired millions of little girls to pursue sports and all of the good things that go along with them. One was Billie Jean King's win over Bobby Riggs in the Astrodome in 1973; the other was the 1999 World Cup.

And yes, Leyden was right. The story is so familiar, and not that old, that it was hard to come up with a new angle. Foudy's footage (she also narrates) was a great touch.

So if you haven't seen it, make sure you do. It's a great one.

One of the little girls who undoubtedly watched and probably had a Mia Hamm jersey was Jen Hoy, who was eight years old that summer of 1999. TB can't imagine that she wasn't glued to the TV for each U.S. team game.

Hoy went on to be one of the all-time greats in Ivy League women's soccer history. She graduated last year after helping Princeton to the 2012 Ivy League championship with a perfect 7-0-0 league record, and the Tigers won at West Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA tournament before falling against Marquette in Utah to end a 14-4-1 year.

By any account, it was the second-best season in program history, after the 2004 team that went to the NCAA Final Four. And Princeton last year did something that the 2004 team, or any other team in program history, had not done, which was win an NCAA game on the road.

Hoy just finished her first season with the Chicago Red Stars of the National Women's Soccer League, and she did so in style, scoring both of her team's goals in a 2-1 win over FC Kansas City to earn league Player of the Week honors.

Hoy was actually the second straight Princeton player to earn Player of the Week in the NWSL, after Diana Matheson did so the week before. Matheson was one of the key members of the 2004 team and has been a longtime member of the Canadian national team, the highlight of which has been her goal last year that gave Canada the bronze medal at the London Olympics.

The 2013 women's soccer season is just two weeks and one day away, as the Tigers host Richmond on Sept. 6. Once again, if you've never been to Roberts Stadium, the home of Princeton soccer, get there.

Princeton figures to be strong again this year and one of the top contenders in the league once again, even without the strong Class of 2013 that just graduated.

When Princeton plays Richmond, it will be Game 1 for the Tigers and Game 5 for the Spiders, who play two games this weekend and two more next weekend before coming to New Jersey. It's just how it works in the Ivy League, where the start date is later.

Still, Princeton under head coach Julie Shackford has usually been able to overcome that little hurdle. Shackford is 189-103-22 at Princeton and 231-124-26 overall in her career, and those 189 wins are by far the most by any men's or women's soccer coach in Princeton history. She is also coached Princeton to two of the five 7-0-0 seasons in Ivy women's soccer history, and she has that 2004 Final Four on her resume, something no other women's coach in the Ivy League has ever had.

Shackford's own playing career predated the explosion of women's soccer in this country by just a few years. Had the Women's World Cup started not in 1991 but four years earlier, Shackford, a three-time All-America at William & Mary, would have been a good bet for the U.S. team.

Women's soccer today in this country is huge, with millions of girls who play as little kids, a highly competitive club system for older girls, great opportunities at more than 300 Division I colleges and hundreds of other DII and DIII schools and ultimately a professional league and national team that is always among the best in the world.

The 99ers talk about their roles as pioneers, which they sort of downplay a little. But they shouldn't.

What they accomplished in their own right was extraordinary.

Their real legacy, though, is what they've done for so many others who found inspiration in that perfect summer of 1999.

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