The U.S. women's soccer team is now on top of the world

As fireworks lit the sky above Tianhe Stadium in Guangzhou, China, last Saturday night, the 18 members of the United States women's soccer team accepted their gold medals and bouquets of flowers and basked in the wild applause that greeted their victory in the first FIFA World Championship.

As they rode their team bus through another appreciative throng to the White Swan Hotel, the U.S. players hugged one another, shrieked and caressed the golden trophy they had just won. "When we started the team [six years ago], we never thought there would be a World Cup," said U.S. midfielder Julie Foudy. "It was always a mystical thing. And now we're holding it."

The U.S. seized the title before a crowd of 65,000 with a 2-1 triumph over Norway in a game that seemed destined for overtime. But with three minutes remaining, striker Michelle Akers-Stahl pounced on a weak back pass from Norway's Tina Svensson to goalie Reidun Seth, dribbled past the screaming Seth and, from six yards out, stroked a right-footed shot into the untended goal. From then on, the Americans went on the defensive to become the first U.S. world champions in soccer since the game was introduced 128 years ago in the (then 36) States. Of those last few minutes, U.S. coach Anson Dorrance said, "I felt like I was creating diamonds in my lower intestines from the pressure."

In propelling the U.S. into soccer history, the 5'10", 150-pound Akers-Stahl embodied the state of the art in the women's game. Despite being double- and triple-teamed during her two weeks in China, Akers-Stahl banged in a tournament-high 10 goals in six games, including both American goals in the final. Her first goal on Saturday, to give the U.S. a 1-0 lead, came on a brilliant header.

No less a figure than Pelè, her idol, sang Akers-Stahl's praises after the U.S. defeated Germany 5-2 in the semis on Nov. 27. "I like her because she is intelligent, has presence of mind and is often in the right position," said Pelè. "She's fantastic."

Like many of her teammates, Akers-Stahl, 25, began booting when soccer began booming in America in the mid-1970s (which is about when European women began playing their continent's favorite sport), and she has clung to the sport since then for love, if not money. She has undergone seven arthroscopic knee operations since '85, and she even had to leave her husband, former U.S. pro Roby Stahl, for three months to play in a Swedish league after their honeymoon last year.

This first generation of U.S. women players has forged a team that's foremost in the world; in their last three international competitions, the Americans have outscored their opponents 98-5. But then Dorrance knows about building dynasties. Two weeks ago his North Carolina women's team won its sixth straight NCAA title, despite the fact that he was in China along with two Tar Heel players. "U.S. teams traditionally have not been successful in the world arena," said Dorrance. "I hope what we've done will prove that we are a developing soccer nation."

Bobby Bonanza

The Mets make Bobby Bonilla baseball's richest player

The New York Mets may be tempted to print 1992 World Series tickets this week.

Late Monday night, free agent Bobby Bonilla agreed to a five-year, $29 million contract with the Mets, making him the highest-paid player in baseball and giving them a truly remarkable lineup. "We are all tickled to death to have Bobby in a Mets uniform," said general manager Al Harazin. No wonder. Bonilla, who hit .302 with 18 homers and 100 RBIs for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, will be joined in the middle of the order by at least two other powerful switch-hitters: recently signed free-agent first baseman Eddie Murray and holdover Howard Johnson.

To win Bonilla's hand, or rather, both of his hands, the Mets had to beat out five other suitors: the California Angels, the Chicago White Sox and Cubs, the Philadelphia Phillies and Bonilla's old team, the Pirates. As late as Sunday night, Bonilla's agent, Dennis Gilbert, had no idea where his client was going.

The final round of negotiations took some 12 hours and capped a whirlwind month for the 28-year-old outfielder. In the end, Bonilla, who grew up in the Bronx, was won over by the notion that he would be playing in New York. Hard as it is to believe, the Mets' offer wasn't the largest. Said Bonilla, "New York City was in my heart.... The Mets showed an interest, and I said, this could be a lot of fun. It'll be hard to knock the smile off my face."

Badger of Courage

SI's Rick Telander gets the inside story on a mascot

The first thing I wondered was, If I die in here, will anybody know it's not an act?

As Bucky Badger's garbage-can-sized head was dropped over mine, the laces secured, the football shoulder-pad straps fastened, the collar snapped tight and the sweater with the big red W pulled over my furry brown jumpsuit, I knew I was at the edge of the envelope, just a few shallow breaths away from terminal claustrophobia. There was no escape. My window on the world was a slit the size of a Popsicle stick. I was forbidden to speak. And the smell! I felt as if I had been eaten by a yak. Death, of course, would come from heat exhaustion coupled with asphyxiation. But my real fear was that the process might look...funny.

Through the walls of my dressing room at the University of Wisconsin Fieldhouse, I could hear the crowd. The Badgers' 20-9 women's volleyball team was ready to take on Illinois. The band played If You Want to Be a Badger, and by god, I was.

I had asked Al Fish, the athletic department's financial officer, how he had prepared for wandering through the halls of the state capitol building as Bucky last year to surprise his wife, who worked there. "I drank," he said. Fish was the one who had offered me this opportunity. Assistant promotions director Laurie Irwin, also known as Bucky's mom, had given me the O.K.

I couldn't let anybody down—including myself. How many times do you get a chance to be an animal? I ran and jumped. I moonwalked. I high-fived every Wisconsin starter and every child I didn't frighten to tears. I danced to every song the band played. I harassed the refs—what I could see of them—until Irwin came down on me. "Bucky," she said into my mouth, "watch it."

Who was winning? I couldn't see. The sweat rolled into my eyes, which I couldn't touch. Something poked my knee. I tried to locate it. A child. I hugged it. Then another child. Another hug. "Bucky," he said. "You're sweaty!"

Thanks, runt. The temperature inside my head was soaring. I felt like a man wrapped in wool in a rain forest. I collapsed on the bench in front of the band and sucked air through Bucky's collar. "You're on my trombone," an angry voice said.

I was just getting my second wind when something cracked me across both shins. A chair. Was I bleeding through my fur? The pain was unreal. "Can't see! Out of the way, Bucky!" somebody yelled. I slowly turned my limp into a saunter. Pain, schmain. There was flesh to press and Illini to taunt. Bucky—my Bucky—plays hurt.

Wisconsin won, three games to two, and let it be known: Bucky Badger was a beast that night.

Ghost Team

Red Grange's high school gallops one last time

The Galloping Ghost would have been proud of them. The Tigers of Wheaton (Ill.) Central High were supposedly too small and too slow to be successful this season, the last for the school for which Red Grange once played. Yet last Saturday, Central came within 41 seconds of winning a state championship, something it had never done, even with the Ghost.

Local officials had decided earlier this year that Wheaton Central's school building would become a middle school next fall and that its student body of 1,600 would be absorbed by two high schools. The Tiger players and coaches decided to dedicate this season to Grange, who played for Central from 1918 to 1921 and who died last February.

In a way, he was with them every step of the way. For a game across town against archrival Wheaton North early in the season, every Tiger walked into the locker room with a piece of Central's Grange Field in his pocket. On their way to the Class 5A championship game, the Tigers beat Oaklawn Richards, which was ranked second in the nation by USA Today. Grange's last heirs were Adam Clemens, a 5'7", 150-pound senior halfback who rushed for 1,200 yards this season, and Phil Adler, a junior fullback with more than 1,000 yards rushing and, more significantly, red hair.

In Saturday's title game in Normal, against perennial powerhouse Mount Carmel High of Chicago, Central jumped out to a 14-0 lead as Clemens ran for both touchdowns. Tiger coach John Thorne figured that the piece of Grange Field turf in his pocket was actually working. But then Central began to give up ground to Mount Carmel. Worse yet, the Tigers blew three scoring opportunities inside the 20-yard line. With 41 seconds left, quarterback Mike McGrew, hiding the ball against his brown jersey, scored on an option from 47 yards out to give Mount Carmel a 21-14 victory. Said Thorne, who will coach the inaugural football team at Wheaton-Warrenville South High School, "We're just going to have to start a new tradition next year."

Upon their return to Wheaton that night, Tiger players, their families and fans gathered on Grange Field one last time to say goodbye. Under the lights, everyone took home yet another piece of the muddy turf. The damage to the field didn't matter. The memories will.


A poem about the Cowboys brings down the House

One would think in these tough economic times that the ranking minority member of the Joint Economic Committee of the U.S. Congress would have something better to do with his time than write a poem about his favorite professional football team. But it took only a few hours for Dick Armey, a Republican representative from Texas's 26th district, to compose this verse, which he read on the floor of the House on Nov. 25, one day after his beloved Dallas Cowboys—behind backup quarterback Steve Beuerlein, wide receiver Michael Irvin and running back Emmitt Smith, and coached by Jimmy Johnson—upset the previously unbeaten Washington Redskins. Besides, the poem does have a certain charm.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen
Irvin and Smith left Redskins sprawlin'
Roused from the undefeated dream
By that oh-so-hated Dallas team!

The 'Skins saw Johnson's bag of tricks
Hail Mary passes, on-side kicks!
And wasn't it a sight to see,
That heroic, second-string Q.B.?

The loss took place at R.F.K.
But evokes the words of J.F.K.
Cowboy fans chant this one-liner,
Say it loud: "Ich bin ein Beuerleiner!"

Add to the rivalry one more game,
Besides those of Landry-Allen fame.
It's a tough loss, but don't be too sore,
Wait 'til playoffs, when we beat you once more.

PHOTOTOMMY CHENG/AFP (U.S. WOMEN) PHOTOBETTMANN NEWSPHOTOS (POP)Pop goes bananas at a 1937 Temple practice. TWO PHOTOSDAVID WALBERG (BUCKY)The author (before and after) found Badgering wasn't just child's play. PHOTODAVID WALBERG (CLEMENS)Clemens holds a trophy named after his Wheaton forerunner, Red Grange. ILLUSTRATIONPATRICK MCDONNELL PHOTOHERB SCHARFMAN THREE ILLUSTRATIONS

Judgment Calls

[Thumb Up]To Cal Ripken Jr., whose autograph show in Baltimore last week raised $200,000 for the Ripken Learning Center, which teaches adults to read. Helping out were such stars as Jim Palmer, Kirby Puckett and Brooks Robinson.

[Thumb Up]To Pam Shriver, who hosted her fifth annual First National Bank Tennis Festival, also in Baltimore last week. The event, featuring Jennifer Capriati and Martina Navratilova, has produced more than $1 million for charities.

[Thumb Down]To NHL vice-president Brian O'Neill, for not punishing Calgary defenseman Jamie Macoun for high-sticking Buffalo center Pat LaFontaine on Nov. 16. LaFontaine will be out for another month with a fractured jaw.


Bob Golic, Los Angeles Raider nosetackle, on his role: "I roam the field from guard to guard."

Alton Lister, Golden State center, when asked about the Warriors' success in guarding Michael Jordan: "Why do you even want to talk about it? Let a dead horse sleep."

Making a List

The Pop Warner National Championships will be held in Jacksonville on Dec. 14. The youth football (and cheerleading) program, now in its 63rd year, has produced many notables, some in fields other than football. Here are just a few.

Heisman Trophy Winners

Steve Owens, Miami, Okla.
Doug Flutie, Natick, Mass.
Pat Sullivan, Birmingham
Charles White, Los Angeles

NFL Quarterbacks

John Elway, Los Angeles
Joe Theismann, So. River, N.J.
Randall Cunningham, S. Barbara
Rodney Peete, Tucson

Other NFL Players

Marcus Allen, San Diego
Emmitt Smith, Pensacola, Fla.
Drew Pearson, So. River, N.J.
Lynn Swann, San Mateo, Calif.
Dwight Clark, Charlotte, N.C.
James Lofton, Los Angeles
Dave Meggett, Charleston, S.C.
Terry LeCount, Jacksonville

NBA Players

Sleepy Floyd, Gastonia, N.C.
James Worthy, Gastonia, N.C.

White Sox First Baseman
Frank Thomas. Columbus, Ga.

Stars of Stage and Screen

Gregory Hines, New York City
Whitney Houston, E. Orange, N.J.

Jingle Belles

The Georgia Southern women's basketball team is all set for the holidays. Starting at forward are Toy Williams and Stephanie Christmas.

Can't Beat It
Last Thursday night on Late Night with David Letterman, child movie star Macaulay Culkin revealed that his very good friend, singer Michael Jackson, keeps three giraffes on his California ranch. Their names? Kareem, Abdul and Jabbar.

Replay: 25 Years Ago in Sports Illustrated

In living black-and-white, fullback Jim Nance of the Boston Patriots busted through the Buffalo Bills on our Dec. 12, 1966, cover. Inside, SI reported that in Lew Alcindor's debut at UCLA, he scored 56 points with 26 rebounds and five blocked shots against USC. Appraising Alcindor's performance, Bruin coach John Wooden said, "He has a weakness on defense."