The audacity of Hope Solo: cure for UW football?Aside from the football, it was a beautiful day at Montlake. Thanks to my boss, I’d copped a ticket to President Mark Emmert’s pregame lunch buffet at the Conibear Shellhouse and a seat in the President’s box for last Saturday’s Husky game versus Notre Dame.
I expected some good food, some bad football, a lot of football crazed-Catholics and a few Leprechauns. I was hoping to hear a little bit about the proposed Husky Stadium renovation project. I was considering busting into the Athletic Director’s office in order to see what coaching resumes might be piling up in his inbox, and also to leave a few copies of Lake Stevens Viking quarterback Nick Baker’s game tapes in a conspicuous spot.
Inside the Shellhouse, a vast array of food and drinks were laid out before the visiting luminaries: Governor Chris Gregoire, Attorney General Rob McKenna, U.S. Representative Norm Dicks and leading UW booster/Emerald Downs owner Ron Crockett were just a few of the important folks milling around. Emmert approached the podium…and I ducked outside to enjoy the view on the balcony overlooking Lake Washington.
But something aside from the usual introduction of visiting politicians caught my ear…Emmert was at the podium congratulating several UW crew members for winning silver medals in Beijing, and then a tall blonde girl sporting ripped jeans, a UW hoodie and a low-slung fitted baseball cap pulled snug over a mess of curly hair and big hoop earrings stood up and walked to the podium...as Emmert welcomed 2003 UW grad and goalkeeper for the 2008 gold-medal winning US Olympic Women’s Soccer team Hope Solo.
Now this was something different. I’ll admit I’d noticed Solo sitting near the spot I was eating at, but I’d mistook her for the pissed-off rich daughter type forced to tag along with her big donor alumni family, or something of the like. Solo took the podium and immediately captured everyone’s attention, launching into a riveting story about what the UW meant to her.
Before we get to that, a quick recap on Hope Solo: high school All American from Richland High School, becomes a college All American at UW, makes the US Women’s Soccer team for the 2007 World Cup, pitches three straight shutouts en route to the championship game against Brazil, at which point for no particular reason at all the U.S. coach Greg Ryan decides to bench Solo in favor of 37-year-old veteran keeper Briana Scurry, a player 15 years older than Solo who hadn’t played a full game in over three months. The Americans lost the final 4-0, breaking a 52 match win streak.
After the game, some media caught up with Solo, and in an impromptu interview, Solo aired out her coach: “It was the wrong decision, and I think anybody that knows anything about the game knows that. There’s no doubt in my mind I would have made those saves. I think you have to live in the present. …Now is what matters, and that’s what I think.”
Ryan promptly kicked Solo off the team for insubordination, and she was not allowed to play in the third place game. It came as no surprise that Ryan was relieved from his duties as coach shortly thereafter, but the damage was done.
Fast forward to 2008. On June 23, 2008, it was announced by a new coach that Solo would be the starting goal keeper for the 2008 Olympic team. Solo went on to lead the team through the bracket into a poetic rematch with Brazil for the Olympic Gold. The U.S. defeated the Brazilians 1-0, as Solo pitched a shutout and made several miraculous saves. The comeback story was complete.
Back to the banquet Saturday. After overcoming the initial surprise at seeing Solo, I mentally went over the aforementioned story, expecting to hear Hope’s version of the controversial events. Instead, she launches into the story of how going to the U-Dub allowed her to build a relationship with her estranged father, who had disappeared when she was little.
Run of the mill father-and-daughter reunion? Hardly. Her father, a homeless Vietnam veteran, lived under a tarp in the woods outside of UW, unbeknownst to Solo. He showed up at Solo’s first game, and she was embarrassed to recognize the shaggy bum in the rank-smelling overcoat as her father. She grimaced as he swore and physically challenged a businessman in the crowd who offered him money he was too proud to accept.
But time went by, home games came and went, and Solo began to expect to see the familiar weathered face in the stands. She would meet her father after the game, and she wasn’t embarrassed to help him stuff his pockets with cookies and sandwiches from the post game buffet. She would walk back to his tent, eat mac and cheese and talk for hours. By her senior year, Solo said, they had become best friends.
In 2005, two years after Solo had graduated, she was playing professionally in New York. After much cajoling, she had talked her father originally from Brooklyn into coming out to see her play and to perhaps stay longer. It wasn’t to be he died at 69 years of age shortly before the trip.
Draw your own conclusions from Hope’s story. I certainly did. I walked out of the Shellhouse and into the football stadium not concerned in the least with the outcome of the football game. I was thinking about how much I admired what Solo had said after her illegitimate benching, and how she had led the team that had wronged her back to a gold medal.
As I watched the Huskies get slaughtered by Notre Dame, as Husky Coach Ty Willingham slumped around the sidelines with an expressionless look on his face, I remembered my plan to bust into the AD’s office. It seemed even more important now than before, as I had a new task in mind print off Solo’s resume and stick it at the top of that stack of coaching applications on Scott Woodward’s desk with a post-it note reading “Ty’s Replacement hire her now!”.
Kevin Hulten maintains the Off the Record blog and Purple and Gold Pigskin. Contact him at Kevin.firstname.lastname@example.org.