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Women’s World Cup

View of the Cup from the front lines.

By Mike Lopresti
Gannett News Service

PASADENA, Calif. (Saturday, July 10, 1999) -- The little boy in front of me in section 10 wore a flag bandanna on his head and his arms never got tired. He ceaselessly waved the sign, "USA Chicks Rule."

The man next to me, maybe 50, had come from Jamaica for this, bringing his daughter, to root for the United States. He blew a horn for two solid hours. She cooled herself with ice down her back.

The girl in the row behind me, 12 years old I'd guess, had her face and hair and arms painted red, white and blue. She held one poster all this long, hot, loud afternoon. "Mia," it said, "you are my hero."

I came to see the Super Bowl of soccer here Saturday. But this was hardly a Super Bowl. Not with more minivans than limos. Not when the lines for the beer were short, the lines for ice cream bars were long, and the lines for frozen lemonade crossed time zones. Not when so many of the fans would reach no higher than the waist of your typical account executive who comes to the Super Bowl to schmooze, party, and perhaps even see the game.

Saturday was the zenith of an unexpected holiday, and that the home girls won, all the better. A soccer game, at its core. Not a particularly thrilling soccer game until the very end, when it was settled by a shootout, womano a womano. But more than that, it was a sport moment the likes of which this country has never quite seen.

Not in scope, with 90,000 people at a sun-scorched women's soccer game. And not in flavor. We are familiar with the lavish events aren't we? The World Series. The Derby. The Super Bowl. Mostly adult affairs. When the high rollers stop by to be seen, and so many of the tickets go to VIPs, the place feels like one big luxury box. Not here. Not Saturday.

Saturday was getting to the stadium at 8 a.m., five hours before the game, to find fathers kicking around soccer balls with daughters in the parking lot. Saturday was seeing a half dozen kids lined up to get their hair sprayed in colors, while breakfast sat on the portable table. The last one in line was a five-year-old boy, who would have no spray until his sister covered his ears and his eyes. Last I saw of him, he was at the table, in Technicolor hair, shoving a pancake in his mouth.

Saturday was a soccer team of 9-year-old girls, all with painted faces, piling out of an Isuzu and Jeep, playing hide and seek while waiting for the gates to the Rose Bowl to open. Dave is their coach. "They have been up," he sighed, "since 4 a.m."

Saturday was a father, black lines painted on his face to make him look like a soccer ball, tenderly applying the last dabs of blue to his teenage daughter's forehead.

Saturday was thousands of small soccer shirts on small bodies, nearly all of them No. 9, in tribute to Mia Hamm, not Ted Williams or Roger Maris.

Saturday was for signs and slogans. "Even Chairman Mao loves Mia," said one. "They will call us Mini-Mias," said another.

Saturday was a young girl with a flag on her head, Mia written on her cheek, wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt, walking hand in hand with her father. Perfect. Or this, a statement I have never heard at any Super Bowl, from a mother headed for the main gate with her young daughter and a gaggle of her friends. "Now where do we meet," the mother said, "if someone gets lost."

And Saturday was this. A shootout after 120 minutes of scoreless soccer. Thousands of these people, these kids, had been here for eight hours before they finally saw an American goal. During the shootout, my attention was divided, partly on the drama on the field, partly on a father down the way, his young son asleep in his arms, worn out by the sun and the hours. As Brandi Chastain drilled the last goal home for the U.S. and the Rose Bowl shook and thousands of flags waved and the father tried to clap as best he could, the little boy slept through it all. But he was here.

This rare day in a football stadium. Not a Super Bowl. Just an afternoon with fathers and mothers and sons and daughters and lemonade and painted faces and innocent excitement we see too little of at our sports events.

I just hope none of the girls got lost

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