LONG BEACH, California -- She's the woman's soccer player.
You know, the one you'd heard of six, eight years ago. Not the one who took her shirt off before 90,000 in the Rose Bowl four years ago. The other one. The one on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The one who is engaged to the Boston Red Sox baseball player. The one your sisters, daughters or granddaughters wanted to emulate before Christine Sinclair, Kara Lang and gang came along in Canada.
She's Mariel Margaret 'Mia' Hamm.
It's against those young Canadian stars, who look a lot like Hamm did when all this started a dozen years ago, that her World Cup career will come to a conclusion today.
And people were asking her yesterday, in effect, if she was going to go all out against Canada because it's now only a who-cares bronze-medal game, when the Americans came here to win gold.
OUT WITH A BANG
"For me, I won't get to do it again,'' said Hamm as she sat, surrounded by scribes, at the U.S. team hotel here yesterday.
"I owe it to all the people who have ever touched my career or supported this program from the beginning, to go out there and give it everything I have in this game.''
Hamm went a bit further as she was the first American player to arrive and the last one to leave from a press availability.
"We're going to have to play that hard to beat Canada. They've become a different type of team with a different type of confidence.''
The U.S. has only lost three of 31 games against the Canadians over the years. But Hamm sees the core group of young players Canada has brought to this World Cup as looking a lot like the core group of Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Joy Fawcett and herself - the American players who are playing in their last one down the road in Carson, California, this afternoon.
"I think so,'' she said.
"The Canadian federation has been developing their young players like we did. Take Christine Sinclair. Last year she had the band on her arm (captain) at the U-19 championships.
"She and those other girls will leave here having played six World Cup games. Julie and Joy and players like that on our team have been able to deal with a lot more things because they earned all that experience. Somebody like Christine Sinclair has had experience at every level now and the collegiate level as well. You can't underestimate the importance of that.
"I remember the first time I played internationally. I was playing off the ball and a girl punched me. I lost it for the next 30 minutes. It probably wouldn't have stunned me as much if I'd had previous international experience,'' said the 32-year-old who will play in the Athens Olympics next year and then call it a career and become Mrs. Nomar Garciaparra.
The American girls, the defending World Cup champions, rolled with the punches the Canadians had thrown at them the day before.
They refused to bite on the comments from Charmaine Hooper, who suggested the U.S. had girls on pedestals who "haven't done jack'' for three years. Coach Even Pellerud said the Americans were "arrogant'' and suggested the U.S. had a "policy'' against playing Canada outside of competition because it does more to develop the Canadian program than the American program.
Hamm wasn't going there. And coach April Heinrichs went so far as to say she understood it.
"I'm sure they are tired of hearing of the U.S. team,'' said the coach who played with her retiring players when they won the first Women's World Cup in 1991.
She said Canada has made great strides and has every right to be flexing their muscles a bit.
"Beating China was certainly the greatest moment in their history,'' she said.
"I was really happy for them.
"I'm a big fan of celebrations at the end of a game. Charmaine Hooper's unadulterated, uninhibited enthusiasm was wonderful to witness.
"It's been a long, hard road for Canada to gain the respect they've now earned.
"They've identified great young players and they'll continue to grow.''
She says it's obvious there's a resentment with the Canadians. But she says it's the U.S., more than any other country, which honours Canada most.
"If we're disappointed in the Canadian point of view, it's because we respect them more than any other team in the world,'' she said.
If Canada somehow manages to upset the Americans and win the World Cup bronze medal today, let's hope they show the same kind of respect for Mia Hamm and the women who paved the way for all of this to happen.
They owe Mia Hamm and the American girls who are facing the end of their era here today more than they seem to know.