U.S. women’s soccer team is converting men, too

by | Jul 17, 2011 | Detroit Free Press, Sports | 0 comments

OK. They got me.

This afternoon, on a sunny Sunday when a trip to the ballpark would be more routine, I will actually flip on the TV and watch, live from Germany … women’s soccer.

Women’s soccer.

This, a shrink might say, is a “breakthrough” moment.

Or, as Abby Wambach might put it, “You’re finally using your head.”

Wambach, the Derek Jeter of big moments in this year’s World Cup, is one irresistible element of a U.S. team that has erased the lazy mantra many (including myself) have relied upon over the years, namely, “Yeah, but it’s just women’s sports.”

No disrespect to women’s sports. But a male fan has to come up for air now and then. With the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL so ridiculously time-consuming, what man could contemplate adding the WNBA, U.S. softball team, or women’s soccer? When do you bathe? Or eat something that doesn’t come in a bag? You can’t just live on the couch, right?

Well, come this afternoon, the couch will once again host my rear end. I am hooked by this plucky American squad. I like the way Wambach gives you a star to look for. I like watching goalie Hope Solo barely move on two penalty kicks, then guess right and make an amazing save on the next. I like when Megan Rapinoe tells the media of this sudden attention, “We don’t get it that much, so we’re living it up.”

I want them to win.

And I don’t think I’m alone.

That shining moment

Granted, it happened fast. This wasn’t some Dream Team lock to win the tournament. These women hardly got coverage in the early rounds. (Their media contingent could apparently fit around a table.)

But all it takes in American sports is one unforgettable highlight, and Wambach provided that against Brazil a week ago.

The Americans were losing and were down to fumes, the final moments clicking away in extra time. The airport loomed. Their worst-ever World Cup finish would ride home beside them.

And then a desperation pass came arching in and Wambach leapt and head-butted the ball perfectly beyond the Brazilian goalie’s reach into the net. You could try that 50 more times and never pull it off.

But once was all it took.

The Americans lassoed that moment as if it were a comet; they rode it through the shootout against Brazil (with Solo making a critical save), rode it past a better-disciplined French opponent in Wednesday’s semifinals, rode it all the way into center stadium today against Japan.

The media horde now requires a corral. The TV highlights dominate. Hey, the women even won an ESPY this week – for a play that was only days old!

The bandwagon hasn’t been jumped, it’s been stampeded.

Joining the club

And here I am, following the crowd. I admit, I’m a dinosaur on this. I wasn’t wrapped up in the 1999 women’s team celebration. During recent Olympic games – where our women soccer players have excelled – there was always some Michael Phelps or Kobe Bryant to steal my attention. And then, as I admit, I’ve put most of my eggs in the male sports basket.

But one reason I’m watching this afternoon – and I bet others are, too – is that here, in the midst of a football labor stoppage and a basketball labor stoppage and a Roger Clemens mistrial and a Pac Man Jones arrest, here comes a group of women who behave as if nothing could be better than the moment they are living. And today, if they pull off this inspired late surge, they will be hoisted on national shoulders.

You know why? Because they play with joy. They celebrate with passion. They do interviews as if they’re thrilled to be asked a question.

And I think sports has reached a saturation point: the simpler the better now. The newer, the more magical. The less moneyed, the more I’m interested.

So it’s not a Super Bowl. So the skill level isn’t as fast as the men. I’m watching. Beginning to end. The essence of any sports story is still the story – not the gender – and this is a terrific story.

It is only once every four years, though, right?

I don’t want to get too committed here.

Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).


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Mitch Albom writes about running an orphanage in impoverished Port-au-Prince, Haiti, his kids, their hardships, laughs and challenges, and the life lessons he’s learned there every day.

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