In my brief nineteen years of life, I have seen some incredible moments in sports; moments that I will be able to turn to my grandchildren in 50 years and tell them, ‘I saw that.’ As a 6-year old, I watched Michael Jordan sink a last second shot over Byron Russell in 1998 to secure a sixth championship. I was in the United Center as it happened. In college football, I watched Vince Young play to his potential in the epic match-up of USC vs. Texas in 2006. A year later, I sat in my living room and watched the heavily-favored Oklahoma Sooners be taken down by Boise State who were playing the role of David.  In 2008, I watched Tiger Woods win the US championship on one leg.
Just last year we all laid witness to the Landon Donavan shock the soccer world as he buried a 91st minute goal against Algeria.  I have been able to watch all of Derek Jeter’s career and his 3,000th hit on Saturday was another memorable event. But, yesterday I witnessed something different. I watched as the U.S. WOMEN’S Soccer team shocked the world in their defeat of Brazil.
I’m not going to lie to you. Before this game, I had no interest in women’s soccer. For me, I want to watch the best of the best when it comes to sports, and as bad as that sounds, normally that’s men’s professional sports. So, I guess I owe an apology, but I will get to that later. As I was saying, I had no interest in the game; the only person on the team I knew was Hope Solo because she was blowing up ESPN. In the Sports Illustrated preview of the women’s team, I flipped through the pretty pictures of the girls, but didn’t stop to notice or care about any of their accomplishments. I cannot even sit here and lie to you that I watched the whole game. I did not turn it on at halftime either. No, I turned it on right around the 60th minute mark. Lucky me.
So I turn the game on and right away something interesting happens. The US team is up 1-0 on Brazil (own goal) when Marta (apparently a 5-time player of the year (last 5 years as a matter of fact)) of Brazil, drives with the ball into the penalty area, flips up the ball, does some karate kick in the air and unfortunately draws a lot of contact with one of our players. This results in a red card against us and a penalty shot for Brazil. I do not know all the rules of soccer, but that play was a really rough judgement by the referee and an undeserved red card, in my opinion. So, the penalty shot is coming, and already I am into it. I just saw America get slighted (WHAT THE HELL). The shot goes and IT’S SAVED!! But, what’s this? As everyone celebrates, another very sketchy call and somehow Brazil ends up with another penalty shot (which they bury). 1-1.
With the score tied 1-1 and the US down to ten men (women), I sit there thinking ‘It’s over.’ But, the team hangs in there. The next 25 minutes are some of the most tenacious and brilliant D I have ever seen. They never let up and never allowed Brazil to score. So now, everyone is thinking, penalty kicks? 1999? Brandy Chastain? However, two minutes into extra time, Marta works more magic- tips a shot at an impossible angle (back to the goal) that somehow goes in. All hope is lost now. If this was the men’s team, shoulders would be slumped and the game would seem lost.
The first period of extra time ends with nothing else eventful. The second period of extra time begins and everyone watching can see the fire in the US women’s eyes. They are playing all out. To win. As unbelievable as it sounds, they have Brazil on the ropes. Brazil is jogging around the pitch and making no events to close out the US. They even resort to one of their players (Erika) feinting injury, getting pulled away on a stretcher and as soon as she’s away from the goal, hops off and sprints back onto the pitch. Stoppage time now begins and I am writing my epitaph tweet about how “the team has showed more heart than I ever saw from the men’s team.” I just can’t get myself to send it just yet. So, mid-tweet, something starts developing. It is the 122nd minute and 110 yards from the goal, the team starts a run. The ball matriculates to mid-field and Christie Rampone plays a beautiful (note, beautiful) cross to Abby Wambach who, HEADS IT INTO GOAL! TIE GAME! As I begin screaming and my dog starts yelping, I realize the game is still not over. But, isn’t it? Sure, it’s penalty kicks. But, the US now has the momentum and the better goalkeeper. Soon enough, Hope Solo saves the third shot and Ali Krieger bangs home the game-winner. Ballgame.
While watching this game, I began thinking: how did I become so invested in this game? What made me care about a sport that I had honestly never cared about before today? The women’s basketball team wins gold every year in the Olympics and nobody bats an eye. One would be hard-pressed to remember who won the last World Cup for women (It was Germany). Like I mentioned before, I did not even know anyone on the team, so why did I suddenly care? More importantly, why does anyone care and why is this blowing up National News and Sports?
I have three hypothesis:
1. We were slighted. Sure, Brazil handed the team a goal early with the own goal. But, that does not make up for the rest of the game. Everything seemed to favor Brazil, especially the refs. The red card, the re-kick for penalty. Erika’s bullshit gamesmanship late. This is not what happens to the United States of America. We want to be in control and when that does not happen, we become angry. Watching this game made me want to punch my brother or kick my dog (which I did not do and would never actually do so calm down). We, or at least I, wanted to see America overcome this slight and go on to crush Brazil and their player of the year, or at least get some poetic justice.
2. We are a nation of winners. One could not help but watch this game and draw the comparisons to the 1999 game. As was mentioned 100 times over, this game was 12 years to the date of the famous Brandy Chastain penalty kick goal to win the ’99 World Cup. This game even went to penalty kicks and like the ’99 game, we scored all five goals and saved the third shot. So, winning was always in the back of our mind even though the team was down a goal late. Also, for the people who are not band-wagon jumpers like me, the team had the benefit of being the #1 team in the world going into it.
3. Their resiliency. No one would have blamed them for just giving up after Buehler was ejected. Heck, the men’s team gets down with eleven men on the field. Watching them stand and fight in what seemed like ominous defeat was like watching America win the Revolutionary War against England. They hung in and fought and never gave up and is that not the American spirit?
Whatever the reason, all I know is that it was one of the more remarkable and polarizing sports moments that I have ever seen. This game was something that transcended gender and all sports and general to make us care and put that much of ourselves (or at least, myself) into supporting the team. I do not even know how much the next two games mean. The team is still the number one team in the world which definitely helps. But, what matters is that we won that game; that game where all odds seem against you and you are backed up against the wall. This game was a moment in sports that happens every so often in a lifetime, but are truly special to witness. Some will say that it was just a game, and in the grand scheme of things, has no effect on our lives. Maybe, in the long run that could be true, but for one day, this game got most of all of us to truly care about a women’s soccer team and the resiliency with which they played this game. With all the bad things taking place in sports (steroids, racism, sexism, etc.), it was nice for a little over an hour to watch something genuine. This is a game that I will proudly recount to my grandchildren.
2.Still one of the most remarkable events I have ever seen. Oklahoma was so heavily favored that Boise State was supposed to be blown off the field before halftime. That Statue of Liberty play will stand in my mind forever.
3.Funny story behind this one. Some of my friends and I were very caught up in watching the team, but as we realized, the games were not always at the most opportune times. This game was no different and the start time was at like 7 or 8 in the morning. Because of that, I slept over at my friend John’s house so we could watch the game together. Well morning comes and what do I wake up to: John screaming at the top of his lungs. He didn’t wake me up; he watched the game by himself and I woke up just in time to see the replay of Landon Donovan burying that goal. I watched the game again later that day and still got goosebumps.
5. This was a really crafty move from a Brazilian standpoint, but a really bullshit move from an American standpoint. It took five minutes off the clock and seemed to end the game. Luckily, karma soon came into play.