1999 – Around the World and Close to Home
War erupts in Kosovo prompting NATO to launch airstrikes against Belgrade, the world awaits Y2K bug that may render computers useless worldwide on New Year’s Day 2000, and Internet users increase by over 100 million, to 248 million worldwide. With Microsoft’s eighth stock split, Bill Gates’s personal fortune exceeds $100 billion, a federal judge rules that Microsoft is now a monopoly and two teens kill 12 students and one teacher at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo. Thousands of protesters demonstrate during the World Trade Organization (WTO) conference, culminating in the Battle in Seattle downtown streets, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation forms, beginning with an initial endowment of $17 billion.
She Gave It All
She had always been the pride of Washington. Yet in the summer of 1999, Michelle Akers and all her shining attributes as a player and competitor on the world stage were seared into the consciousness of people worldwide.
Just the fact that Akers was not only still playing but leading the U.S. National Team into the FIFA Women’s World Cup was a fantastic feat. The Gold Boot winner at the 1991 World Cup, she had now undergone 12 knee surgeries, sustained several concussions and overcome six years of chronic fatigue syndrome, essentially feeling like she woke up with the flu every day.
Since winning Olympic gold in 1996, Akers accepted a move from striker to midfield under coach Tony DiCicco. Her World Cup year brought its own set of challenges. She suffered three broken bones on the left side of her face but was back in the lineup several weeks later.
During the tournament, she started six of seven matches, scored against Nigeria and again in the semifinal win over Brazil. That brought Akers and the U.S. to the sweltering (97 degrees) Rose Bowl for the much-anticipated midday World Cup final, a rematch of the Olympic final with China.
Once more, Akers was the USA anchor. She banged and battled and broke up countless forays from China and switched the Americans into attack mode. But when referee’s whistle sounded the start of overtime, Akers was being administered an IV in the locker room. A collision in the final moments of regulation had effectively knocked her out. She had given it everything, as a television audience of 40 million could attest.
In the coming weeks and months, her image would appear on Wheaties cereal boxes, her boot-prints would be bronzed into a downtown Seattle sidewalk, her arm would throw out a Mariners game first pitch, and her face would appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated with her fellow Sportswomen of the Year. There would be a Michelle Akers Day throughout the State of Washington, and soon she would win further acclaim as the female footballer of the century.
She gave her all. She will always be the greatest.