USWNT players were given roses by Swiss Air employees upon their return to U.S. soil. (Michael Lewis/FrontRowsoccer.com)
Today is the 29th anniversary of the U.S. women’s national team returning to the USA after capturing the first Women’s World Cup in 1991. Their reception wasn’t not as loud as the last two championship sides.
By Michael Lewis
After countless hours of traveling back from the other side of the world, a bunch of travel weary warriors trudged through customs at the International Arrivals Building at JFK Airport Monday, Dec. 2, 1991.
The reception for the U.S. women’s national team that afternoon was rather reserved compared to what we have seen bestowed on the last two Women’s World Cup champions. As the players and head coach Anson Dorrance walked out of the baggage area, they were applauded by maybe a dozen people.
The historic witnesses included three reporters, one photographer, several U.S. Soccer Federation officials, a referee from New York and Swiss Air officials, who gave each player a rose.
There were no TV cameras chronicling the team’s triumphant return, no plans of a ticker-tape parade.
Asked if she thought the feeling of world champions had sunk in yet, Carin Jennings (now Gabarra), voted the Golden Ball as the outstanding player of the tournament, replied, “Not yet, not after 52 hours of traveling.”
It wasn’t that amount, but it was a long trip.
The players, who weren’t in much of a mood after traveling many hours, had to catch a connection or two for their final journey.
“I just want to go home,” one tired player said.
As it turned out, Bora Milutinovic, then the U.S. men’s national coach, was in New York for the 1994 World Cup qualifying draw. He took a cab to the airport and greeted and congratulated Dorrance.
“I am very happy for the women’s team,” Bora said then. “I am happy for all of American soccer.”
Local soccer officials in 1991 tried to get several girls players and/or teams to greet the American women but could not get them out of school.
This writer has had a unique bond with the U.S. championship sides. I was honored to cover the 1999, 2015 and 2019 champions, the former for the New York Daily News, Soccer Magazine and Soccer New York, the latter two for Newsday and BigAppleSoccer.com and FrontRowSoccer.com. (I’ve also covered all four Olympic gold-medal victories in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012).
Back in the stone age of 1991 – before the internet as we know it and well before super smart phones – I still wound up playing a role communicating to the Long Island soccer community who won the championship game Saturday, Nov. 30.
I was covering the Long Island Junior Soccer League’s Exceptional Seniors games for the top high school players on the island at Farmingdale State that Thanksgiving weekend. I went to a pay phone, called an 800 number and with several dozen hopeful soccer fans, players and parents gathered around me, I gave the result without saying a word.
I put up two fingers like a peace sign, followed by a one. Then I pup up a thumb’s up.
I repeated that a few times much to the delight and the cheers of the assembled observers.
It has been fun and a privilege covering the USWNT. They always have had a unique and varying personality as a team on the field and some intriguing personalities.
Don’t know if I will be able to cover another women’s final, but it has been quite a blast.