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Op-Ed \ John Haydon

The U.S. women’s triumph is something to be savored.

Special to SoccerTimes

(Saturday, July 17, 1999) -- In nearly 20 years, my mother-in-law has never spoken to me about soccer. But there she was on the phone last Saturday evening raving about the United States women's victory in the World Cup. Now when my mother-in-law gets excited about soccer, something must be going on.

The incredible media attention focused on the American team surprised -- no, stunned me. It was amazing. Who can explain it?. I'm under no illusions that soccer is suddenly going to be embraced by Americans, and I understand that many of those who watched the games were "event driven" -- drawn by all the hoopla. But still, who would have thought that soccer players would grace the covers of Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated in the same week.

It may all fade away quickly, but let's savor the moment. When I was growing up in England, girls just didn't play soccer. In the mid-1980s, I played co-ed soccer in Greenbelt and was amazed at just how well American girls could play the game.

Then came the 1991 Women's World Cup in China. I remember my first interview with the 19-year-old Mia Hamm. She was charming then, and fame hasn't changed her.

Nobody cared about the American women back then. One newspaper was so ignorant of the women's game that it reported the Cup was being played in Canton, Ohio.

Times have certainly changed. Maybe FIFA president Sepp Blatter was on to something when he recently said the future of the sport was "feminine."

There is much the men's game and men's sports in general can learn from the U.S. team. On the field, the women played aggressively but didn't feign injuries. When they got knocked down, they rarely tried to run out the clock.

And I didn't see any retaliation following fouls. Are you listening, David Beckham? I rarely saw players taking dives to win fouls. Are you listening, Diego Simeone? Free kicks near the goal were taken quickly. These days in the men's game, getting the required 10 yards on free kicks is like pulling teeth.

When the referees in Women's World Cup asked for the 10 yards, the women quickly aligned their defensive walls and often gave their opponents 15 yards instead of 10. The game wasn't held up, and the play on the field flowed.

And off the field, the players were accessible to the press and the fans. There was no foul-mouthing.

None of the players was reported to have beaten up or sexually assaulted a boyfriend or husband.

Hamm, the most famous female soccer player in the world has yet to punch a photographer. There were no failed drug tests.

The women's tournament reminded me of an earlier, happier time in the men's game before massive salaries, inflated egos and rioting fans. The determination and courage of Michelle Akers, recalled the noble spirit of the late Bobby Moore. Hamm's graceful play and selfless nature reminded me of Roger Hunt. Chastain's fighting spirit brought back memories of Nobby Stiles. All those gentlemen played on England's 1966 World Cup champions. Their names are forever ingrained in my mind, just as those American women who won at the Rose Bowl will always be remembered by 15-year-old girls playing the game today.

Thanks for a great three weeks of soccer.

John Haydon is soccer columnist for the Washington Times and can be e-mailed at haydon@twtmail.com.

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