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“They Changed the Face of Women’s Sports Forever” – ‘99ers Legacy Lives On Through espnW Reunion Special

Twenty years ago and even today, the Women's World Cup champions inspire many people - including two espnW producers who worked on the Julie Foudy-hosted program

Producers Laura Purtell (front row, second from left) and Sara Johnson (far right) join Foudy and fellow espnW staffers at the USWNT reunion weekend. (espnW photo)

While the 1999 Women’s World Cup-winning USWNT’s story has its place in sports history, there were still some surprises for espnW producers Sara Johnson and Laura Purtell while filming espnW Presents: The ‘99ers, Reunited during the USWNT reunion weekend.

Filmed April 8 at ESPN’s Los Angeles Production Center, the special is hosted by espnW writer and ESPN commentator Julie Foudy, and features fellow ’99er teammates Mia Hamm, Michelle Akers, Briana Scurry, Kristine Lilly, and Brandi Chastain.

For those who missed the show’s debut on Thursday evening, the one-hour special re-airs Saturday, May 18 at 9 a.m. on ESPN2, Sunday, May 19 at 1 a.m. on ESPN2, and Thursday, June 6 at 11:30 p.m. on ESPN2. Foudy’s podcast “Back Pass,” the story of the ‘99ers is also available now.

Purtell noted that she “heard some wild stories for the first time — like how Michelle Akers watched the final penalty kick from a medical room under the stadium and subsequently ripped IVs from her arm to go celebrate with her teammates. Or how Briana Scurry tore some muscle while making that penalty-kick save — and still jumped to her feet to deliver one of the most legendary fist pumps in sports history.”

While several espnW staffers remarked about unknown tidbits they learned throughout the taping, or behind-the-scenes moments that struck them, the common theme throughout was that the culture of the ’99ers, even two decades later, was one of kindness.

“It was unbelievable to witness how much of a team they truly were in 1999 and still are 20 years later,” Johnson said. “I couldn’t believe they could be that thoughtful, supportive and in love with each other in real life. The ‘99ers were all about what was best for the team. There was no totem pole of importance. It was a culture of inclusion and celebration of every single person.”

“I was struck by how warm, kind and thoughtful they were,” Purtell said. “They were a real joy to have in the studio with us. And not only are they aware of the magnitude of their impact, they’re grateful for having had the chance to affect people the way they did. Kristine Lilly — whom I adored when I was a kid — said something that’s stayed with me. When discussing how her kids admire the current USWNT, she said, ‘I look back and hope I did that to someone’s kids. And I think we did.’ Take it from me — they did!”

From their panel at The espnW Summit NYC just last week to Thursday’s special, it’s clear that the legacy of the ‘99ers lives on well after that famed celebration.

“They changed the face of women’s sports forever,” Johnson commented. “While women athletes are still fighting for true equality, the ‘99ers paved the way and set an example of what hard work, perseverance and a team mentality can accomplish. That culture grows with each new generation and on platforms like espnW.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Go inside the making of ESPN The Magazine’s World Football “motion cover” session – and the smashing results courtesy of 2019 USWNT star Julie Ertz’s right foot in this Front Row post with the camera lens-busting video. The Mag is on newsstands today and read the Ertz cover story by Allison Glock here.

The ‘99ers (L to R: Briana Scurry, Brandi Chastain, Lilly, Akers, Hamm, Foudy) celebrate with the WWC trophy in Los Angeles once again, this time in ESPN’s Los Angeles studios. (espnW photo)

– Molly Mita

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