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Friday, August 27, 2004

A Goodbye 

I feel confident in saying that I've seen Mia Hamm play soccer more often than anyone reading this blog. (Unless, of course, Nomar Garciaparra reads this, and I consider that highly unlikely.) I attended North Carolina at the same time as Mia Hamm. My freshman year, I started attending Tar Heel women's soccer games primarily because doing so helped me get good seats for men's basketball games. But I quickly found other reasons to attend through my four years there. Aside from the social aspects of attending the games, attending their games was fun for two reasons.

First, it's always fun to see your squad run roughshod over your opponents. Unless you attended those games, it is difficult to convey the dominance that those Tar Heel teams exhibited. Their records in the four years I was there were 24-0-1, 20-1-1, 24-0-0, and 25-0-0. That's right, folks, they went 93-1-2 over that time period.

Second (and even more importantly), they were so good that non-experts could see it. I hadn't played organized soccer since third grade, but even I could see that the Tar Heel players were head and shoulders (figuratively and occasionally literally) above their opponents. They were so good you could understand how the game was supposed to be played. And it wasn't just the ACC; even in the NCAA tournament games (many, many of which were played in Chapel Hill), the Tar Heels pounded their opponents.

On a team of tremendous athletes, Hamm was the best. It was just fun watching her. She actually red-shirted that second season (the season in which the Tar Heels lost a game) so she could play in the first Women's World Cup. If you look at Mia's four actual seasons, the Tar Heels were 96-0-1 over that period. Mia never lost a college soccer game.

Since the first NCAA women's soccer championship was held in 1982, the Tar Heels have won 17 of the 22 national championships. They won 9 straight championships from 1986 through 1994. A consecutive victory streaks of 92 and undefeated streaks of 103 and 101. They almost make Wooden-era UCLA teams (10 championships in 12 years, seven in a row, 88 victories in a row) look like pikers.

Many Tar Heels went on to play for the women's national team. Fully one-third (6 of 18) of the Olympics squad are current or former Tar Heels, including of course Mia Hamm.

Most people know that this will be the last international tournament for many of the U.S. squad, including Hamm. And much as the rest of the NCAA has begun to catch up to the Tar Heels (and the rest of the world has caught up to U.S. men's basketball), the rest of the world has caught up to U.S. women's soccer.

Yesterday's gold metal match against Brazil was not a blowout. Heck, you could argue that Brazil outplayed the Americans, with two Brazilian shots hitting the posts. Yet the U.S. team found a way to win 2-1 in overtime, making the storybook ending come true for Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, and others.

I'm sure that Mia Hamm won't be disappearing from the national stage entirely. Heck, the women's team is already planning a farewell tour. But I know that this is the end of seeing Mia Hamm dominate teams like she used to, and for that reason, I'll say goodbye. Thanks for the memories.

Comments:
You could really tell Brazil was the better team athletically by the way they continually blew past the Americans when making an attack. However, in the first half, the US consistenly positioned themselves to negate this advantage. It was not until the second half when the US broke down and lost its composure. They kinda reminded me of the 2001 Yankees, one last gasp before the decline from age. Good thing the team I wanted to win won both times. =) But no matter who won, it was a good soccer match to watch.
 
Yeah, I missed a good part of the second half, so I didn't really see that last part. They looked more even matched in the first half and in overtime.

Agree with you on the 2001 D-Backs' analogy.
 
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