In the end, it was the greatest sporting moment I’ve ever experienced.
Great moments, memorable ones, are always a confluence of events. A first quarter three pointer fades from memory before the game ends. For me, and for us, this moment was special in the game and beyond.
As is well chronicled, my girls play soccer. They love it, and I do. We had a remarkable opportunity this summer. In combination with a trip to England (thanks Nana & Papa), we took the opportunity to see a Women’s World Cup. As you all know by now, this is a once every four years event. The timing was simply too good to pass up, so we booked our trip to Germany, and planned on seeing a couple of games.
Prior to the tournament, we had to make our bookings for hotels and flights and the like. This meant that we had to look at the World Cup schedule and bet on the US team’s success. We bought tickets for the third group game, against Sweden, and the quarterfinal, assuming the US would in fact come out on top of the group. We then proceeded to build our itinerary around those games.
The group game in Wolfsburg was a lot of fun… the experience was great, but the pressure was low, as the US didn’t have to win to advance. And the result? Well, Sweden beat the US, so it was less than ideal. Because in finishing second in the group, the US did advance, but they advanced to the other quarterfinal, the one in Dresden. We were booked for a trip through southern Germany, and so we went.
Our time in Rothenburg was fantastic, so we had that going for us, and we enjoyed seeing the Sweden/Australia quarterfinal in Augsburg. But seeing two teams about whom you don’t care a lot really isn’t the same thing. After the Augsburg quarterfinal, we went downtown to the big screen TV where they showed the US:Brazil quarterfinal. The game was brilliant, Wambach’s 122nd minute goal was amazing, Rapinoe’s tongue was monstrous, Krieger’s face after she finished the penalties was awesome, and sharing it with a collection of rain-soaked US fans in Germany was pretty cool. But we weren’t there.
After a night of research and introspection, we decided to scrap our plans for the Alps and Tirol after one day. We decided to break our “we don’t drive more than 4 hours” rule and trek up to Monchengladbach to see the US play in the semi-final.
Things had started trending the wrong way in the south of Germany. We had tired of the remarkably mediocre German food, the place we were staying wasn’t very nice, and the town of Reutte, Austria was a far cry from the mountain hovel we had anticipated. We left Tuesday morning for the north, and stopped to stay in the oh-so-musty town of Sankt Goar. Thrilled, we were not. We awoke on Wendesday and powered through to Monchengladbach, where we circled the downtown area for 90 minutes looking for parking and something tolerable to eat. In the end, this foodie family ended up at Subway. That’s right, Subway, wherein we had one of our better meals in days. Things were not going our way.
That is, of course, until game time. We found our way to our seats via a circuitous route, and got settled in for some cold misty rain. The game kicked off, and in the 9th minute, Lauren Cheney got just enough of a cross from Heather O’Reilly to put the US up 1-0. We were thrilled. The US was off to a great start, and we were there to take part in it. I thought at various times that the US was going to control the game, and that we were on to the drama of the final. I was dead wrong.
After half (and after some substantial French dominance… and some stadium food), the French scored a worthy goal in the 52nd minute, and we were stunned along with the pocket of US fans with whom we shared the corner of the stadium. The game was 1 – 1. The result was very much in doubt, and the French were killing us.
It was then, though, that things started to go our way. My girls’ favorite player, Alex Morgan, came into the game for ARod. Soon thereafter, Lindy’s favorite tongue, along with its owner Megan Rapinoe, entered the game for a tired Carli Lloyd. And the game changed. The US started taking it to the French. Pinoe took a shot off a set piece that bounded off the goalie and Morgan nearly scored on the rebound. Things looked better, but it wasn’t enough. Until…
My very favorite sporting moment of all time
In about the 78th minute, Abby Wambach chased down a ball headed for the end line. The defense, the slick field, the fatigue… she never really had a chance to get that ball, but she chased it full speed, nearly crashing into the signage behind the field. And rather than turn straight back into the field to run back to center, Abby looked up. She looked dead into the corner of the field where we sat, and she yelled at all of us. She yelled “Come on!” to those of sitting 15 rows up. 78 minutes of running and she took the time to implore us.
Abby turned and ran, France kicked the goal kick deep into the US end, and the US turned it around quickly, bringing the ball back to our end. (How? At the moment, I can’t remember… I need to find the recording…) The US won a corner, and Cheney picked up the ball and headed to the far corner of the field.
Author’s Note: As a general practice, I don’t like cheers and chants and waves. I like to watch games. I don’t even really like going to Predator’s games anymore because there’s too much other stuff going on. But in this moment, at Abby’s admonition, it felt right.
I kid you not, I started the USA chant. Two times through the U – S – A, and the whole corner of the field had picked it up. The corner kick seemed to take forever to come… The ref had to correct some issue in the middle of the field. Cheney waited to deliver, and then it came. The ball arced over the goalie to the back post, and waiting there was the beast in the air.
Abby asked for more from us, and we delivered. We asked the same of Abby, and she delivered. Joe Namath guaranteed a victory, but why wouldn’t he? What did he have to lose? This was better. Abby and us, asking more of each other, and the result was a thing of beauty. And the celebration? Abby slid on her knees straight to our corner, water flying off the field in her wake. The whole team piled on top of her, all except for Pinoe. Pinoe’s joy unleashed itself through her right foot all over the corner flag. (The flag didn’t survive it.)
This US team has talked endlessly about being one group, there for each other. 21 players, but one team. And in that celebration, we saw it. Abby scored the goal, but every one of those players were every bit as joyous as if they had done it themselves. And in that moment, we felt like we were part of that team in a way I never have before.
Moments later, the aforementioned Alex Morgan delivered the goods, essentially claiming victory for the US in the 82nd minute with her first ever World Cup goal.
So, thank you to Abby, and Megan, and Alex, and Hope, and Lauren, and the rest of this group for delivering the kind of moment that sports has failed to deliver for me. Thanks for giving us the indelible memory from this trip. Thanks for asking more from us and delivering when we asked it of you.
And lastly, please. Sunday awaits.