Twenty years ago, as interest began to swell for the 1999 Women's World Cup, I suggested to an editor that it would be a good idea to cover the late-round games. His response: Nobody cares about women's soccer.
A few weeks later, when it was announced that the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl was sold out for the final and late-night TV hosts were jumping on the U.S. team bandwagon, I offered to go to Pasadena, Calif., on my own dime because I wanted to witness and write about the groundbreaking event. My story made the front page. More than 40 million TV viewers tuned in. The editor -- like many across the nation -- admitted he had underestimated the grip that team had on the nation, and I was reimbursed for my travel expenses.
So, forgive me for getting misty-eyed on Sunday afternoon, as I watched travelers at the Dallas-Fort Worth Airport gather around TV sets and cheer as the 2019 U.S. team hoisted a fourth World Cup trophy.
Standing next to me were my 19-year-old daughter, Sophie, and her friend, Marissa, both lifelong soccer players, who wore red, white, and blue headbands for the trip and followed the team's every move. We watched the first half of the United States' 2-0 win over the Netherlands from the airplane, at 30,000 feet (Thanks, American Airlines, for the on-board Wi-Fi!)
The Fox ratings for the final are still coming in, but the estimated TV audience is around 19 million. Meanwhile, in the Netherlands, 5.5 million people watched the game, which means 88% of the TVs there were tuned in.
ESPN announced over the weekend that it would televise the remainder of the National Women's Soccer League games. Budweiser on Sunday became the official beer of the league, which employs 55 players who participated in the Women's World Cup.
In other words, lots of people care about women's soccer these days. And it wasn't just the soccer -- brilliant as it was -- that captivated fans during this World Cup. It was the women's confidence, grit, and personality that left an impression.
They don't hide who they are. They don't apologize for how they celebrate (although, I still think the Americans went a bit overboard toward the end of the 13-0 Thailand thrashing).
And they certainly speak their minds. Megan Rapinoe took on the president of the United States and called out FIFA leaders. Brazil's 33-year-old legend, Marta, gave a riveting, impassioned speech on the field after her team lost to France in the Round of 16, challenging younger players to work harder and value their profession more. It is a message that all young people should heed.
"It's wanting more. It's training more. It's being ready to play 90 plus 30 minutes. This is what I ask of the girls," Marta said, tears in her eyes. "The women's game depends on you to survive. Cry at the beginning, so you can smile at the end."