As of Sunday morning I cared about the U.S. women's soccer about as much as I cared for Harry Potter.
There was nothing wrong with either of them per se, and a lot of people enjoy them, but I wasn't among them. (Note: I'm not of that decrepit race of sports writers who hate soccer -- just the opposite in fact -- but for various reasons I simply paid the U.S. women's team little attention.)
That all changed on Sunday afternoon.
The thrill of the U.S. women's win over Brazil in the quarterfinals of the women's World Cup in Germany -- in penalties; after a dramatic late goal; against a team that was clearly pushing "gamesmanship" to the limits -- was enough to warm even the coldest of hearts. And it made a full-fledged fan of me and countless others around this nation.
"I jumped out of my chair and started cheering -- I couldn't help myself," a friend reported to me just moments after the conclusion of the enthralling encounter. "I don't think I've ever even watched a women's soccer game before."
It was a sentiment shared by a number of Americans -- even those who simply saw the highlights. And why not? Sunday's victory was of the kind that any one of us could be proud, as it symbolized much of what this nation holds dear.
The current U.S. women's team is not the flashiest or most skilled team in the world -- that mantle belonged to the Brazilian team now left in its wake -- what they are is motivated, determined and hard-working.
And while they were pushed to the limit on Sunday -- scoring in overtime for the latest goal in World Cup history (women or men) -- the U.S. women showed that they have enough grit and determination to make up for any other shortcomings. And who in this country doesn't appreciate the honest underdog?
Not that the current national team is bereft of talent -- quite the opposite, as goalkeeper Hope Solo, striker Abby Wambach and winger Megan Rapinoe showed on Sunday by each effecting key contributions. (Solo made key saves throughout, including a defining stop in the penalty shootout; Wambach scored the tying goal, courtesy a beautiful, looping cross from Rapinoe.) But this team wins more with guts and guile than silky passing and flashy dribbling.
This is not the team of Mia, Brandi and Julie -- the all-conquering, all-world trio of Hamm, Chastain and Foudy that hooked the attention of this nation back in 1999 with a World Cup victory in front of home fans, which included THAT shirt-twirling, bare mid-rift celebration from Chastain after the championship clinching penalty in Los Angeles.
But the current incarnation has plenty going for it, including the kind of attitude that even the soccer novice can appreciate and one that has earned my admiration.
On Wednesday, the U.S. women will take on France in the World Cup semifinals. The day after the the Major League All-Star game has often been referred to as the slowest day in sports, but that moniker need not apply this summer.
True there is no baseball, while football and basketball (especially the NFL and NBA) are nowhere in sight (despite constant claims of agreements around the corner for the NFL -- wake me when there is an actual document signed and sealed). And while the British Open should present plenty of intrigue, it won't even start until Thursday. Meanwhile, Wednesday offers us all a chance to see if the U.S. women can build on their exceptional display from the weekend and consolidate much of the exposure they -- rightly -- earned over the past few days.
Things will be different moving forward for the U.S. -- and not just because of the added interest from back home. With Brazil and Germany both out of the tournament, the U.S. will be the favored in the semifinals and, should it advance, the championship round. Make it that far, and this team will have earned its rightful place alongside the '99 and '91 teams that claimed World Cup crowns.
I watched precious little of either of those two achievements either. And while I had no intention of paying close attention to its progress this time around, the U.S. has shown that it deserves more than just a token notation on a sports page.
-- NOTE: The Triple-A All-Star Game -- which will feature a number of Gwinnett Braves standouts -- will also get underway at 9 p.m. Wednesday and will be broadcast live on WDUN.