Mary Harvey and Me: A Fan’s Journey Back to the USWNT

The U.S.’ epic win against Brazil on Sunday brought back memories of the USWNT’s glory days. Longtime women’s soccer fan and current Atlanta Silverbacks P.A. announcer Laura Taylor can certainly attest to that.

Here she recounts how she first came upon the USWNT in the 1990s and the special connection that came to be thanks in part to AOL Instant Messenger and a certain German screen name. 

 

The USWNT’s match Sunday vs. Brazil has brought back so many memories: Shannon MacMillan’s goals in the ’96 Olympics semi & final, Michelle Akers’ record goal vs. Portugal, Mia’s “monkey-off-my-back” goal in Atlanta, Bri Scurry stoning the North Koreans with a kick save in Boston.

I planned my return trip from a London vacation through Newark (Newark!) just to see them play China at the Meadowlands (they lost). I flew out to Portland for the 2003 World Cup only to watch that crushing loss to Germany next to Kylie Bivens’ shell-shocked father. (Though I did get to see my beloved Portland Pilots win at Merlo Field.) In 2005, I ran into Kate Markgraf in a nowhere pub in a nowhere town in Ireland. The fantastic sunburn I got at the match vs. England in Alabama. And of course, 1999.

One memory stands out above them all though: Mary Harvey and Me.

In 1996 I lived in Asheville, NC while the Olympics were going on in Atlanta. I thought it would be cool to see some events but didn’t know which ones to go to. I made my choice like this: [flipping through magazine] “Oh, this Mia Hamm is cute. I’ll go see soccer.”

I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

 

My dad and I went to the semi-final vs. Norway. I knew next to nothing about soccer. In fact, when Michelle Akers converted the penalty to even the match, my dad complained he didn’t think it was fair, that the U.S. got a “free” goal just because a Norwegian had handled the ball in the box. I didn’t disagree, what did I know? (Several years later I got a good look at Gro Espeseth’s handball and it was in fact egregious. THEN it made sense.).
But you don’t need to know anything about footie to know what sudden death is. And when MacMillan pushed Julie Foudy’s pass past Bente Nordby, I was a goner. Driving home after the semi, my heart burned with passion, pride, desire, agony  – all the emotions we sacrifice to something we cannot control. I was in love, and the one thing I knew was there was no way I would not be at the gold medal match.

Back in ’96, AOL wasn’t the behemoth it would eventually become; neither was the USWNT. Several of the players, including MacMillan, Tiffeny Milbrett, Brandi Chastain and Mary Harvey would post on AOL’s soccer boards now and then, and the community was friendly, non-threatening. I emailed back and forth with Mary a few times, hardly a friendship, just online chatter.

Her screen name was Torfrau - German for goalkeeper. So on the eve of the final, I printed out – in 128pt Geneva, no doubt – a sign with that word on it. A security staff which confiscated umbrellas and water bottles at the gate let me and my sign through.

It doesn’t even matter if the game was good soccer. It was good soccer to me. Mac – my new-found favorite player – scored. China equalized. Then Millie scored, somersaulted, and 77,000+ of us in Athens went crazy. They’d won the inaugural Olympic Women’s Soccer Gold Medal and it was time to collect their hardware.

They were so happy, I don’t even know if they were seeing people or just shapes and colors. The joy on their faces was mirrored by the admiration and pride in ours as we shouted our congratulations down onto them. Slowly they made their way along the sideline – my sideline – toward the other end of the field. I saw Mary and held up my sign: TORFRAU.

And the miracle: she saw it. She squinted, and then a face already flush with happiness got just a bit brighter. Comprehension! She pointed at me, waved and gave me a thumbs up. I jumped and cheered and cried a little more.

How do you take a perfect moment and make it even better? You share it. And that’s what I was lucky enough to get. Mary Harvey shared a split-second of her gold medal triumph with me. And in that wink of time, a forever memory was forged.

 

It can be surprising, if one looks back, the tiny moments which end up influencing a life. I don’t know if Mary remembers my sign that night. But I do. And that moment – that perfect moment made even better – ignited an affair with soccer that has taken me from the depths of despair in Portland, to a high that lasted a full week after the Atlanta Beat v1.0 came back to defeat San Diego with no time left and go through to the WUSA championship, to a seven-years-and-counting gig as the P.A. announcer for the W-League’s Atlanta Silverbacks.

It’s been 15 years since that semi-final in Athens. Life changes, memories dim, new excitements command attention.

On Sunday, when the USWNT clawed and fought and did not give up against Brazil, the passion for soccer which took root in me in those first few games was dusted off.

Rapinoe. Wambach. Krieger. Solo. The names and faces have changed, but the team has not. The team has not. The love…has not.

 

You can follow Laura Taylor on Twitter @livefierce, and you really should.

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