‘The 99ers’ (2013) a unique insider view of 1999 USWNT

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I almost passed up watching The 99ers on my ESPN+ subscription, because I thought I had already ‘seen it all’ about the 1999 USWNT. But what a mistake if you miss watching this episode of the espnW Nine for IX series. IX in this case refers to Title IX, which required that colleges provide equal funding for womens and mens sports. 

Director Erin Leyden realized there was a new angle to present about the 99ers when she found out that Julie Foudy had been the unofficial amateur videographer of the team during its Womens World Cup 2019 campaign. The resulting film intersperses this footage with interviews of the team members. 

Foudy gathers a reunion of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain, Briana Scurry (Bri), Michelle Akers (Moufasa), Kristine Lilly (Lil), Carla Overbeck, and Joy Fawcett (Mama Joy). The ladies return to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena and reminisce about their experiences, the game, the staff, and the players.

It is an insider perspective that makes you love and appreciate this group of pioneering women even more. You get a real feeling for what they each experienced.

Michelle Akers: People always ask, are you the one who took your shirt off? People ask me that all the time!

Briana Scurry: I don’t get that.

How I experienced the 1999 Womens World Cup

Unless you lived it like my daughter Tina did, it may be difficult to understand the excitement that was generated by the 1999 USWNT, known as the 99ers. Looking back, I don’t think I understood it myself at the time, because I was a pretty typical soccer mom — I was a beginning referee but had never played the sport. (According to wikipedia, being a Soccer Mom caught on as a phrase and identity around 1995, when it became a target market for politics, goods and services.)

Knowing very little about soccer culture, I didn’t understand why Tina’s coach, Juan Mayora, was making her club team, the Stanford Tsunami, attend the WWC games at Stanford. I didn’t understand the big deal. I think I took her to a clinic taught by USWNT players, who signed autographs on her t-shirt. 

Tina and I drove to Pasadena for the WWC 1999 Final in the Rose Bowl. We experienced the traffic, the pre-game fan festival, the heat, and the sun of sitting through 2 games: Consolation and then the Final. In the stands, I talked to parents who had brought their daughters from afar for the game — one dad-daughter pair was from Hawaii. 

The things I remember most, 20 years later? In the fan fest, Tina kicked a ball into the top right corner of a target net. Twice. China’s supporters occupied a large and loud corner section of the stadium, from which they were intimidating and had tifos. Kristine Lilly heading away a sure goal in extra time. At the end, confetti rained all over us, high up in the stands as we jumped up and down and screamed.

When the USWNT won, I was awestruck by the realization of how tough the USWNT was, to have survived 120 minutes in that heat.

That USWNT experience made me a soccer fan and then later, at age 49, a soccer player. 

Social impact of the 99ers

On face value, the 1999 USWNT showed our daughters that it was okay, maybe even a desirable plus, for females to be good at sports. To soccer dads, the USWNT was athletic excellence for daughters to aspire to. 

For any non-soccer-dad male, the USWNT was just a bunch of really good-looking wholesome young women. The best example of that guy was David Letterman, when he hosted the championship team on Late Night. By his enthusiasm, he proved women could be athletes and sexy.

Maybe Tina doesn’t really remember the 99ers the way I do, because as a soccer mom and an adult, I think those women affected me more. 

A few years later, I watched the HBO documentary Dare to Dream, which was the first film to capture the labor and drive of the USWNT to make the Womens World Cup a success, and the first to show that the USWNT had always been on a mission to prove itself. It also made me realize how the USWNT’s effect was momentous for society and not just sports.

There is a film discussion guide developed by epsnW, for the Nine for IX Knowledge Center. However, that espnW project is no longer active and its Facebook Group “Nine for IX Knowledge Center Community” no longer exists.

Good podcasts

If you want to hear more reminisces about the team and its players, check out these podcasts and books:

  • Laughter Permitted podcast with Julie Foudy, particularly episodes 5, 13 and 14
  • The National Team book by Caitlin Murray, a complete history of the USWNT with lots of insider stuff. A great read.
  • Throwback with Grant Wahl, a history of what preceded the 99ers
10
Soccer Movie Mom Rating = 10