December 31, 1999 12:00 PM

It’s in the dirty laundry. I just saw it this morning, actually. I am not attached to it.” So says Brandi Chastain, 31, of the year’s most notable sports memento: the black Nike sports bra she exhibited July 10, when she drove a penalty kick past Chinese goalie Gao Hong to win the Women’s World Cup of soccer for the United States and then dropped to her knees and exuberantly ripped off her shirt. That moment seemed to sum up the achievement of her remarkable come-from-behind team. Thanks to their skill, grit, and grace under pressure, 20 women, almost unknown a month earlier and playing a sport still marginal in the U.S., touched a national nerve. Their final game attracted some 41 million viewers (more than any one of this year’s NBA final games), won the team more than $5 million in endorsement deals and booted women’s soccer into the upper decks. “For two months afterwards the phones were ringing off the hook,” says U.S. Soccer Federation spokesman Jim Moor-house. “No team has been love-bombed with such incredible enthusiasm from its fans and Madison Avenue since the 1980 ‘Miracle on Ice’ Olympic hockey team,” says David Hirshey, the Harper-Collins editor who published Go for the Goal, an autobiography by Brandi’s high-profile teammate Mia Hamm. Not only did Chastain (nicknamed “Hollywood” for her unabashed love of the spotlight) and her teammates turn into pop icons—David Letterman proclaimed the team Babe City—they also became instant role models for the nation’s 7.8 million registered girl soccer players. Says ABC sportscaster Lesley Visser: “This generation of young girls can have posters of Brandi and Mia on their walls instead of just Michael Jordan and the Backstreet Boys.” Chastain, who lives in Santa Clara, Calif., with her husband, Jerry Smith, the women’s soccer coach at Santa Clara University, gets a kick out of the adulation. “The kids I meet in the stands are so important to me it validates what I’ve been doing my whole life,” says Chastain, who began playing soccer at age 6. And America’s newest pinup girl, who posed wearing only her spikes in a 1999 issue of Gear magazine, waves off critics who intimate that her bra-baring was a feminist statement or a stunt to get more endorsement bucks out of Nike. “It wasn’t a bra thing at all,” she says with a smile. “I was just overjoyed.”

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