The players on the U.S. womens soccer team never had known a feeling quite like it.
They came home as conquering heroes.
Hope Solo and Abby Wambach kicked balls at taxicabs on Letterman. Celebrities, politicians and newfound fans sang their praises.
Even though they had lost.
It was very strange for us to jump on that plane after the final, come to New York City, come to Times Square, and theres mobs of people cheering for us, letting us know how proud they were of us, veteran midfielder Heather OReilly said. It was a very, very, tough, difficult couple of days.
This was last summer, after the Americans recaptured the national spotlight with a captivating run at the World Cup in Germany. All was going so well come-from-behind wins, big plays from familiar faces and new ones, record TV ratings back in the States until the shootout loss to the team from earthquake-devastated Japan in the championship game.
For once, at least in the eyes of the public, there was nothing wrong with second place. For the players, so accustomed to their perch atop the rest of the world, there was no such silver lining.
We were so gutted, OReilly said. We were so disappointed. We saw the sort of reception that we got, and it didnt really correlate with how we felt inside.
The World Cup team now is the Olympic team. Seventeen of the 18 players are back for the Summer Games in the latest edition of the great American redemption tour. Gold in London is the one and only way to compensate for runner-up in Frankfurt.
I dont think any of that will ever leave us. Thats the flame that got lit, Wambach said. When you come so close to winning something and just fall short, its one of those situations where thats what makes the great athletes even greater. You let your failures and you let the things that knocked you down inspire you and push you forward, and I think thats what the Japan game was.
Credit to them. They deserved to win the World Cup. But were preparing for the London Olympics.