I'll never forget the thought that stirred yesterday, as a tiny white blur fired across the screen.
Abby Wambach is going to score.
This game isn't over.
Sure enough, the pride of U.S. Women's soccer translated impulse into explosion in the 122nd minute, a few compensatory moments in a World Cup quarterfinal you were sure was lost. Wambach buried the header. Goalkeeper Hope Solo laid out to deny Daiane in the ensuing shootout. Ali Krieger plugged the U.S. team's fifth penalty against the pedestaled Brazilians, who only mustered three.
This game was over.
Still-warm reels of tape were promptly cut, mastered and aired on the sports media circuit, as they well should have been. U.S. national team sports—everything from soccer to curling to equestrian—deserve that consideration.
But not all are worthy of the tag "one of sports history's fondest finishes."
And here's the peril in pegging women's soccer with the Immaculate Reception: Memories matter. For something to be considered timeless, there has to be weight in the accomplishment. To be dramatic, there has to be suspense, the byproduct of consequences you fear are real (one) and know you can't handle (two).
Do you put Abby Wambach's goal and this win on the same plane as the most storied moments in sports history?
Can you say that about this win?
You can compartmentalize it, tapping it among the greatest women's sports accomplishments. You can mark it as a pivotal moment within one-half of a global sport's efforts to take hold domestically.
But you can't level it with men's soccer, far and away the grandest spectacle on the planet. That goes for our squad, too, which is far less accomplished than our girls but put on far loftier a pedestal because of the backdrop.
At a floating range of 0.9 and 1.2 on the Nielsen TV ratings scale, this complimentary installment barely outdrew Nathan's Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest, worth a 1.1. And there aren't even numbers on its ad lucre.
By default, those metrics for international relevance diminish the gravity of tournament—let alone a game, however exciting. Let alone its finish, however captivating.
Don't misunderstand: That game was potent. It was a great watch, one that endeared you to its characters and conjured the nationalism international competition is supposed to. The sum of it could've peeled roofs like an orange.
But how can it be remembered like Christian Laettner's buzzer-beater over Kentucky if hardly anyone saw it live?
It'd be a reach to put the match on par with the 1951 National League Championship Series—like I said, reach—neither of which determined a definitive winner, though both stained our memories.
Joe Carter won the World Series for the 1993 Blue Jays, as did Lorenzo Charles for Jim Valvano's North Carolina State Wolfpack.
What happens if our Lady Yanks are bounced in the semis in as embarrassing fashion as our men were in the 2010 quarter's? Would Wambach's goal be as fabled as Landon Donovan's decisive finish against Algeria wasn't?
And no matter how romantic the moment, it doesn't touch the social ramifications of the 1980 U.S. Men's Hockey team's jab to the Soviet Union's mouth. An afterthought of a sport being barley noticed during an economic hiccup doesn't get the edge over a no-chance squad toppling the world leaders in the fastest game on earth, and the most contentious game of chicken.
That's blunt. It sounds harsh. But it just wasn't that.
However grounded an accomplishment, don't hammer on our girls (note the possession and affection in "our"). They deserve the praise and respect that lit up the Twittersphere from @kingjames, @LarryFitzgerald, @ochocinco and others.
In fact, you could argue for pumping the breaks, if only to preserve the moment when these girls recalibrate our respect for soccer and all women's sports, something Solo (29) and Wambach (31) will—or will allow the next-generation to.
Don't dilute that moment, a dog ear in the global story of gender equity and social tolerance.
But don't mistake homage with hyperbole, either.