Today's Reading

"Where Are All These People Going?"

When the national team boarded the bus and got ready to travel to the stadium for a game together, everyone had a different routine.

Some players listened to music on their Walkmans. Kristine Lilly would get so hyped she'd need slow, soft music that calmed her down. Kate Markgraf listened to hard-core rap to get pumped up.

Other players, like Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy, sat next to each other and just talked. There was no assigned seating, but Hamm and Foudy always ended up together.

Some players read the newspaper or did a crossword puzzle. Others just zoned out and looked out the window. It was always a quick, uneventful trip.

There was something different about this bus ride, though. Even though the bus had a police escort and was driving on the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike, the traffic was so overwhelming that day that the bus could barely navigate the roads.

The players worried they might be late for their game, the opening match of the 1999 Women's World Cup at the New York Giants' home stadium.

"It was the middle of the day and we left around 11 o'clock in the morning," remembers defender Brandi Chastain. "All the sudden, we're stopped, even though we had an escort. I'm wondering, What the heck? What's going on in New York City that's causing all this traffic?"

As the team bus turned a corner, it became clear what was going on. The players could now see that the cars clogging the turnpike had slogans like "Go USA!" painted in red, white, and blue on the windows. All the cars that dotted the New Jersey Turnpike were filtering into one destination: Giants Stadium.

For the players on that bus looking out the window, it was a sight they never thought they'd see. All those people—nearly 80,000 of them—were on their way to see the U.S. women's national team play a soccer match. "When we got even closer, we saw tailgate after tailgate, from little girls to adults dressed in red, white, and blue playing pickup games and barbecuing in the parking lot," Chastain says. "I remember thinking to myself, This is such a weird moment. It was very surreal."

The team's starting goalkeeper, Briana Scurry, let out a gasp to herself as it dawned on her what was happening.

"They were waving at us and taking pictures. We were waving at them and taking pictures of them taking pictures of us," Scurry says, laughing. "It was amazing, because we went from, Oh my gosh, where are all these people going? to We're going to be late! to Oh my gosh, these people are here for us!"

For a team that not long before had been playing at high school stadiums and not even selling out, the excitement surrounding their first game of the 1999 Women's World Cup was something they could've never imagined. These were athletes who played on the national team for two primary reasons: They loved soccer, and they wanted to represent their country. Fame, money, and the sort of crowd that was spilling into Giants Stadium were not even remote possibilities in the players' minds. Most of the players barely made any money from playing soccer, and no one knew their names. But here they were, watching the crowd gather in droves right before their very eyes.

"We were in shock," defender Kate Markgraf says. "And I started to get terrified, because that's when I started to understand what it was all about."

This moment, as it turned out, was a big deal. A team that had been used to flying under the radar was about to be the talk of a nation. They were going to set records, inspire a new generation, and change the landscape of sports in America.

It was a moment that caught the national team by surprise, but whether the players realized it or not, they had been preparing for this for years.

"We're Not Very USA-ish"

It was almost as if the national came together by accident.

In 1985, there was seemingly little reason for a U.S. women's soccer team to exist. There was no Women's World Cup and no women's soccer in the Olympics, and there were no major trophies on the line.

But there was a group of women who had been pushing to change that. With connections to the U.S. Olympic Committee and the U.S. Soccer Federation, Marty Mankamyer, Betty D'Anjolell, and Mavis Derflinger, among others, pushed decision-makers to take women's soccer seriously. Their goal was for it to one day become an Olympic sport.

"We warned them on more than one occasion: You can't brush off recognizing women," Mankamyer remembers.

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