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Remembering '99: The SI Photo Shoot

The mission statement of the 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup was to “stage a breakthrough event for women’s sports and inspire the next generation of female athletes.”

Mission accomplished.

But Aaron Heifetz, the Director of Communications for the tournament and press officer for the U.S. team, had two more private albeit not much smaller goals.

During the lead up to the tournament, he told several confidants that two of his goals were to 1) have the Women’s World Cup produce more U.S. stars so that Mia Hamm was not only player that excited media and fans and 2) have women’s soccer make the cover of Sports Illustrated.

We know how the first goal came out. The second? Well, the team made it on the cover of SI not once (Brandi Chastain’s shirt-raising celebration), but twice.

The second time came four months later when the team was chosen as the 1999 Sports Illustrated Sportswomen of the Year, a truly prestigious honor. SI’s annual year-end award (usually the Sportsman of the year!) had rarely been bestowed on a woman and never before on a women’s team.

The cover shoot with photographer Mark Abrahams took place in secrecy on the morning of Nov. 21, 1999, at a soundstage in Raleigh, N.C. Almost all the members of the team had fortuitously come to the Triangle area for an indoor match that was part of a hastily organized, wildly popular and now long-forgotten series of indoor soccer games that the team played that fall.

Amidst the set-up for the shoot and stacks of U.S. uniforms, forward Shannon MacMillan pulled the daughters of defender Joy Fawcett, Katey, then 5, and Carli, then 2, around the room in a wagon as they giggled and laughed with a naïveté about what those 20 women had accomplished to bring them together in that room that day.

The logistics of getting all the players to one place while putting the shoot together were daunting. At a photo shoot for several of the players the week before with famed photographer Annie Leibovitz, her staff had ruined a slew of jerseys with mud splatters and U.S. Soccer had to rally quickly to find more (one of the reasons the players are featured in both white and red jerseys on the cover). Working with U.S. Soccer, SI photo coordinator Linda Bonenfant did a fantastic job of bringing together all the little pieces until all 20 players stood inside that soundstage.

It was the last time that all 20 would be together in the same place at the same time.

In the issue that came out on Dec. 20, Managing Editor Bill Colsen wrote this about the U.S. team:

“The American women weren't the only candidates for our 46th yearly award, which is being given to a team for only the second time (the first: the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team). So join us in saying thank you to Lance Armstrong, for his majestic cancer-be-damned Tour de France triumph; to John Elway for concluding a magnificent career by leading the Denver Broncos to their second straight Super Bowl title; to Joe Torre, another cancer survivor, for deftly managing the New York Yankees to their third World Series title in four years; and to Pedro Martinez, for his awe-inspiring work on the mound for the Boston Red Sox. Ultimately, though, the soccer players won us over. As senior editor Hank Hersch says, ‘It was their ability to create a moment that will last in a lot of people's memories for a lifetime -- in a sport that gets little attention, by a gender that gets little attention for sports. That women soccer players could produce this transcendent an event is amazing.’ So we award the American women our highest annual honor, not just for the way they filled the Rose Bowl with 90,185 fans, and not just for the way they enthralled another 40 million Americans on television, but also as a token of our gratitude for making us feel like Katey and Carli Fawcett on that wagon, for taking us on a three-week-long joyride that had us throwing back our heads and screaming as a nation, ‘We!’”

To see the famous cover and some young, fresh-faced world champions, click here: