EVEN BEFORE the American women's soccer team had won the World Cup, the speculation was going full tilt. This is all very nice, was the general tone of it, but is there a real future for this game: endorsements, sponsorship, a professional women's soccer league? Maybe, maybe not, and maybe it doesn't matter all that much. A sport doesn't necessarily achieve its apotheosis when its players do sneaker ads and slog through long, tiresome schedules before crowds that may be more interested in who's beating the point spread than in who's winning. Even if women's soccer does have a big-time professional future in this country, it's never likely to top what went on in Pasadena last weekend. That was about as good as it gets in sports.

Has there ever been a crowd more into a game than in Saturday's finale between the United States and China? Certainly not at any Super Bowl; maybe in one of those Chicago Bulls playoffs when Michael Jordan was flying high. But that steady roar in the Rose Bowl was from more than 90,000 people in an outdoor arena without the stimulus of an ear-splitting rock accompaniment. It was an electric, Olympian-type moment -- hailing back to the days before the Olympics were professionalized and commercialized.

In the stadium crowds, and in front of TV sets around the country, were all sorts of people -- boys in backward baseball caps and painted faces, middle-aged men and older -- who might not have been expected to have much connection with the higher theorizing on gender advancement that goes on around women's sports. And in truth, they probably didn't; they just liked what they were seeing, as did most of the country: a team full of youthful enthusiasm, dedication and courage given the rare chance to play on its own soil for a world title.

These things will occur every once in a while -- maybe again in four years or eight years or more. In the meantime, women's sports will continue to flourish in the venues where they teach the important lessons -- in schools, rec clubs and other everyday places -- regardless of how it goes with the pros.