A day after winning the Women's World Cup, the U.S. women's national team players were showered today with accolades, confetti, cheers and cash -- a surprise team bonus of $750,000 from tournament organizers.
Wearing white T-shirts, khaki shorts and gold medals around their necks, players basked in the glory of Saturday's penalty-kick shootout victory over China at the Rose Bowl and said they expected the entire team to return for another run at a gold medal during the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.
"For a feeling like this, you can go one more year," said forward Tiffeny Milbrett, who led the team with four goals during the tournament. "Your career deserves it. All of those years, all we got out of it was the love of the game. That's not bad, but now is the time to reap some rewards, some benefits, some recognition."
All of that came today, as the women met their adoring public during ceremonies at Disneyland and the Los Angeles Convention Center. In a more private moment later, Women's World Cup President Marla Messing presented the players with the surprise $750,000 check from the event's organizing committee for their work during the Women's World Cup. The money is part of an expected $2 million to $7 million surplus from the three-week tournament.
Divided equally among the 20 players, each would receive $37,500. (Lorrie Fair, however, is ineligible for payment so long as she plays intercollegiately.) Combined with the $250,000 team bonus for winning the Women's World Cup from the U.S. Soccer Federation, that comes to $50,000 per player for winning the tournament.
"We got together with the Federation and we found there was unanimity that this was the right thing to do," Messing said. "What [the U.S. players] did is beyond anyone's expectations. . . . They deserved to be compensated more fairly than what they were getting."
Thousands of fans holding tiny American fans lined Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland to applaud and snap photos of the players, who waved and danced atop floats decorated with red, white and blue balloons. Disney executives honored the women during a ceremony outside of Sleeping Beauty's castle. As fans roared from behind ropes, each player shook hands with Mickey Mouse. Forward Mia Hamm almost knocked him over with an affectionate hug and kiss.
The players did a cover shoot for People magazine and a shot for Good Morning America. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and presidential hopeful Elizabeth Dole each called. Another huge crowd turned out later to honor the team at the convention center.
"I feel like I've been up 36 hours," said goalkeeper Briana Scurry, who actually slept about four hours after Saturday's game, in which she assured the victory by saving a penalty-kick attempt. "It's been a continuous roller coaster ride. It hasn't stopped since we started the World Cup. It's unbelievable, the outpouring of support from the country."
Michelle Akers, who suffers from chronic fatigue syndrome, left Saturday's game at the end of regulation suffering from dehydration and heat exhaustion. She did not attend festivities today, but a team spokesman said she was merely resting. Akers, 33, has not announced whether she will return for the 2000 Olympics, but teammates said they expect to see her back.
Because of her illness, Akers requires special treatment after every game. Hamm said she, like Akers, required intravenous fluids after Saturday's match. Hamm added that a wave of fatigue struck her Saturday night, after having stood for about 30 minutes giving interviews to reporters.
"My body just shut down," Hamm said, adding with a smile: "I've always said I wanted to be like Michelle, but I thought, `This is ridiculous.'"
Late this afternoon, the team flew to New York for more television appearances, media activities and public ceremonies early next week. The team is on the cover of this week's Time and Newsweek magazines, and is expected to be on the covers of Sports Illustrated and People. David Letterman has invited the entire team for a July 20 appearance on his late-night talk show.
The championship game drew a 13.3 overnight rating on ABC, meaning an estimated 40 million viewers watched the American victory. The ratings number exceeds a typical NBA playoff-game rating of about 5 points and surpassed the previous record for a soccer game on U.S. network television, the 12.8 rating for the 1994 men's World Cup final at the Rose Bowl.
The women's final drew a 90,185 fans to the Rose Bowl -- a record for a women's only sporting event -- and the tournament drew more than 658,000 fans for 17 events.
Still, the close-knit players, who assembled in January for a five-month training camp in Orlando, said the 1999 Women's World Cup held great meaning for them beyond statistical success.
"We've enjoyed this," said Hamm, who received a surprise visit from her Marine pilot husband Christian Corry this week. Corry had been on a six-month assignment in Japan. "That's one of the things we talked about, trying to enjoy every minute. That's what makes it an experience . . . painting our toenails and fingernails [red, white and blue], dyeing our hair, going to movies together, all of that stuff is what makes it memorable."
CAPTION: Kate Sobrero locked in her position against China's Zhang Ouying Saturday. The team received surprise $750,000 bonus.
CAPTION: U.S. team members celebrate during the medal ceremony. "For a feeling like this, you can go one more year," said Tiffeny Milbrett, who led team with four tournament goals.
CAPTION: Julie Foudy holds championship trophy aloft as she, Mia Hamm and assistant coach Lauren Gregg, right, circle raucous Rose Bowl after shootout win.
CAPTION: Michelle Akers (10) suffers blow to the head in Saturday's match. Exhausted, Akers skipped yesterday's festivities.