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Just Brew It column: Reminiscing on covering the 1999 U.S. women’s soccer World Cup team

Wednesday, Jan. 15 | By Peter Brewington

An intense competitor and prolific goal scorer, Mia Hamm is one of the legendary figures in women's soccer history. --Photo courtesy of U.S. Soccer
One of Dale Carnegie’s secrets to success is to smile when talking to people.

Another is to respond immediately when someone asks you to do something. Those are great workplace lessons that I’ve forgotten a lot, as much as I try to remind myself to always smile.

All the smiles in the world were not going to fill that gaping hole in the sports section of the newspaper two weeks ago, brought about by the snow. So, a little anecdote from my earlier life will took up some space.

In 1999 I was a reporter for USA TODAY assigned to cover the Women’s World Cup soccer tournament. I was in Los Angeles for a practice, and watched superstar forward Mia Hamm take a series of practice free kicks from about 25 yards out.

They weren’t easy shots, especially with a practice wall of phony figures set up, that Hamm was trying to clear when she shot.

As a result of my observations, I mentioned in a notes column – a somewhat subtle reference, I thought – that Hamm had not converted many, if any, of her practice shots.

USA TODAY was widely read in those days, delivered to the door of every hotel, and the players read it.

The next day at practice, Hamm saw me standing around, and said, “We got to get you in that wall, Peter.”

It was a prickly reference to the tiny item I’d written about her misses.

I did not say anything in response, but it registered like a thunderbolt. The idea that Hamm — America's soccer sweetheart — was so ticked off that she wanted to fire a shot, or series of shots at my head, or perhaps lower.

It’s inevitable in journalism that you will irritate your subjects at some point, but you have to keep doing your job covering teams and individuals in an accurate and fair way that serves the public.

I've gone over the incident countless times in my mind. Should I have mentioned Hamm's unsuccessful practice efforts at all in the paper? It was not all that newsworthy, and it certainly didn't make Hamm look good, but it was true and I thought it was interesting.

Of course, the U.S. women went on to win the World Cup over China in a memorable shootout, won when Brandi Chastain scored, took off her shirt to reveal her black sports bra and knelt on the Rose Bowl turf in iconic jubilation.

Earlier in the shootout round, though, Hamm, going third, converted her penalty kick. Had my incident inspired her in a deeply subtle way to deliver a key strike in a pressure moment?

Probably not. How can I possibly take credit for helping the U.S. win the Women's World Cup?

But I'll bet Hamm remembers that little item I put in USA TODAY. Maybe not, but she certainly cherishes that clutch kick she made, which helped deliver the title.

It was a testament to her tremendous drive, work ethic and competitive spirit. Any journalist covering her then saw it first-hand every day.

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