My daughters turned around after Brandi Chastain pumped in the winning penalty kick. "Mom, you're crying," they said almost in unison.
Ariel, 11, and Maya, 8, were truly mystified. Why would their mother cry over a women's soccer game? After all, these two girls play soccer almost every weekend in the fall and spring, they play basketball in the winter, and Ariel plays softball in the fall and spring. They have been diving this summer. Their mother is not reduced to tears at any of these events. So why would a game played by big girls that our family doesn't even know drive their mom to shed a few tears?
It's because I felt like I did know them, these young women in pony tails, pierced ears and shinguards. It's because they have names such as Briana, Brandi, Michelle and Mia, just like many of my daughters' friends. It's because a bunch of women who aren't mega sports stars pulling down big contracts stole the national limelight for a few fleeting hours on a summer afternoon by winning the Women's World Cup championship. It's because women my age and older never had the slightest chance to do what these women did. I find all of that amazing. And a bit overwhelming.
This sense of astonishment is not shared by many young girls today. They know all about women starring in sports. It is perfectly normal in their world.
The girls I know in that world live in my suburban Maryland neighborhood. They row, swim, play hockey (the ice kind too), soccer, lacrosse, golf, tennis and just about any sport you can name. Just like the boys.
That's the same way Brandi, Briana, Michelle and Mia grew up.
For these stellar soccer players, and all the girls my girls know, playing team sports like the guys do is just a fact of life. They don't know any other way to spend their weekends other than with Mom or Dad in the car, transporting them to soccer, softball or basketball. They get to learn about working together for a common goal and all that good stuff that is supposed to pay off when you get to college, and eventually get a job--and until not long ago was basically a guy thing.
Oh, how I wish I had the same experience when I was a kid. Growing up in Fairfax County in the 1960s, here were my athletic options: tennis, which I played, swimming, (I swam butterfly and breaststroke), and cheerleading. (Most guys don't think of cheerleading as a sport, my husband Steve reminds me). Field hockey was the only competitive school sport and it wasn't my thing. There was no girls tennis team, no girls basketball team, no school swim team.
I didn't see girls or women play sports on television or read about them in the newspapers until Billie Jean King came along. I got to college and there were no women's competitive sports. I learned to play softball in my late twenties when I joined an after-work league on the Mall. I was consigned to short field or occasionally second base. I was the best woman on the team but that didn't mean a whole lot since only three women were allowed to play.
The newspaper sports sections rarely spoke to me then either. I couldn't find women in the sports section and when I did, it was for some oddity, or an occasional "first." As for sustained coverage, forget it.
And this was not before the Ice Age. It wasn't all that long ago.
Suddenly, this summer, it seemed like maybe permanent change had taken hold. More than 19,000 fans filled MCI Center to watch the Mystics play the Houston Comets. Then soccer madness hit. Here were these attractive and bright soccer players, in front of a record number of fans, criss-crossing the country, playing a tough and punishing sport, one in which there aren't many chances to rest or take a timeout. And they were trim, lean, female athletes, not guys with big bellies hanging around the end zone, if you know what I mean.
Forget this notion that this is a passing event. Women in their forties and beyond see it more as an historic moment in the still-evolving, and still-regressing scene at work and on the playing fields. While it may be a few more years before there is either a woman president or a female chief justice, at least there is the WNBA and the Women's World Cup. Women playing many sports and becoming superstars is something within the reach of many girls today.
That the women on the U.S. women's national soccer team aren't making a million bucks, playing a poor season and whining that they are underappreciated also made them appealing and could help sustain fan support. And the players seemed so--well--nice. There was all that seemingly genuine chitchat about playing together on and off the field. Among the teams that played in the Women's World Cup, there were many women of color. The U.S. team has a heroic goalie who happens to be African American and her effort, as much as any of the players', paved the way for victory last Saturday.
For my money, this is a nice mixture of girls who look like those I see each weekend on city and suburban soccer fields, only 15 years older. Your kids. Mine. Definitely people worth shedding a few tears over. And people my daughters and I fully expect to see play another day.
Miranda Spivack is Prince George's County editor of The Washington Post.
CAPTION: Women didn't always have the opportunities Brandi Chastain, left, did.