Hamm, Foudy enshrined into Hall of Fame
ONEONTA, N.Y. -- Mia Hamm knows it's more than merchandise and marketing. She regards it as an honor.
"There's not a more humbling experience to walk into a stadium and to see so many girls wearing your jersey," the soccer great said. "I am so proud of that and I hope you can see that every time I took the field."
Hamm spoke Sunday before a record crowd of 4,800, many of them youngsters, at the National Soccer Hall of Fame. Hamm entered the shrine with Julie Foudy. The two were the bedrock of the U.S. team that won two World Cups and two Olympic gold medals from 1991 to 2004.
The other inductees are Alan Rothenberg, who helped launch Major League Soccer and organize the 1994 World Cup as president of the U.S. Soccer Federation from 1990 to 1998, and defender Bobby Smith, who played alongside Pele for the Cosmos in the North American Soccer League.
Hamm, Foudy, Kristine Lilly, Brandi Chastain and Joy Fawcett formed the "Fab Five" nucleus of perhaps the most storied team in women's sports history. The squad won the inaugural Women's World Cup in 1991, the 1999 tournament -- when Chastain ripped off her jersey -- and the 1996 and 2004 Olympics.
Their success not only lifted the entire sport to unforeseen heights, but prompted other nations to invest in women's soccer.
"I was blessed to have lived with these women for almost two decades," Foudy said. "Soccer was important to us, winning was great too ... but the most important thing is we wanted the next generation of young girls to grow up strong, to grow up confident, to grow up believing all these things they brought to the [soccer] field, to the basketball court, to the running [track], they could then achieve in life."
Hamm said the influence her team had on fans "means everything to us."
"You see the hope and the confidence on these young girls' faces when they sit there and they're screaming your name," she said. "And what I always feel is that when they watch us play ... that they see themselves, that they can do anything."
Hamm, 35, brought her 5-month-old twin daughters, Grace and Ava, and her husband, Los Angeles Dodger Nomar Garciaparra, to the afternoon ceremony. Foudy, 36, a TV soccer analyst, was accompanied by husband Ian Sawyers and their 7-month-old, Isabel.
The hall was established as an institution by former players in 1950 but didn't come into existence as a physical entity until 1979. It is housed in a soccer museum on the edge of Oneonta, a town of 13,000 in rolling farm country 75 miles from Albany.
In all, 266 people have been inducted -- 128 of them players. Just seven are women, beginning in 1998 with April Heinrichs, who captained the 1991 team and was national coach from 2000 to 2005. The others are Carla Overbeck, the 1999 captain, and teammates Carin Jennings, Shannon Higgins and Michelle Akers.
Hamm debuted as the youngest player on the fledgling U.S. women's national soccer team at 15 in 1987 and retired at the end of 2004 as soccer's most acclaimed female player. Her 158 goals in 275 international games are unmatched.
Foudy, co-captain and captain from 2000 to 2004, scored 45 goals in 271 games. Only Lilly and Hamm have made more international appearances.
After the ceremony Foudy and Hamm played in the Hall of Fame game between the Washington Freedom and SoccerPlus Connecticut Reds. The Washington Freedom, featuring Hamm, were the 2003 champions in the WUSA, the defunct professional women's soccer league. A new women's league is being launched next April.
The current U.S. team, captained by Lilly, flies out Monday for next month's World Cup in China.
"They're going to continue to make us proud," Foudy said. "We'll be cheering them like hooligans over there."