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“Air Bud: World Pup” Attracts New Soccer Fans to 1999 World Cup Stars

By: Jingwei Zhao

In the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the United States soccer team cruised their way into the final round of the tournament. This was no easy feat: they had to face Germany and Brazil, powerhouse teams still to this day. The U.S. was originally down 2-0 in the quarterfinal match against Germany, but they miraculously pulled off a 3-2 comeback, sending them to the semis. Then, they had to face Brazil, and they won 2-0 in a nail-biting match.

Finally, they had to take on China in the finals. China had a phenomenal streak in that year’s world cup. After winning silver in the Olympic Games three years prior, the women’s soccer team looked very prominent coming into the World Cup. During the final match of the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the score was 0-0 all the way until the end of extra time (the 120th minute), so the match came down to penalties.

The penalty shootout was extremely close, but the United States edged out China in the end, winning the shootout with a score of 5-4. On a brighter note for the U.S, this victory resulted in some iconic moments that are still remembered to this day, especially Brandi Chastain throwing her shirt around as she stood on the pitch in a sports bra, Briana Scurry with her navy goalkeeping uniform, and a re-enactment of the match by Air Bud.

Yes, you heard that right. One year after the match, Air Bud sought to make a film out of the victory for the team. The movie, called Air Bud: World Pup, was mainly a depiction of the talented sports dog clutching up a soccer match for a children’s soccer game by scoring the winning goal. However, in the last six minutes of the film, there was a recreation of the 1999 match, except with the United States playing against Norway instead of China. This time, when Scurry injured her shoulder, Air Bud came back to sub and played as the goalkeeper, performing exactly as you would expect from Air Bud. However, what made this movie so special was that the directors managed to get the real players from the match to recreate the glorious moment for the United States.

Robert Vince, an executive producer for the Air Bud film franchise, said, “when the women won the World Cup, they were such a force. They didn’t just win it, they dominated it. They became an obvious choice for us. We also felt that there was a real opportunity to elevate the game for girls as well. It was just such a moment.” Chastain, Scurry, and their teammate Tisha Venturini were invited to act in the film.

Chastain, who was a fan of Air Bud even before they reached out to her, said, “I’m a sucker for dogs anyway. But I thought that women’s soccer being a part of something like that is reaching out to more of the population that maybe wouldn’t have access or wouldn’t particularly come to women’s soccer.” According to Chastain, they had to “tap into their feeling at the Rose Bowl” in 1999 and “re-enact something that was so genuine and so in the moment.”

They took three eight-hour sessions just to film those six minutes, and even though the crowds were complete CGI, the dogs were not. Scurry explained that each of the six dogs named Buddy had their own unique set of skills. Some could jump higher and were more hyper, while others were not in the mood to perform. Scurry also said that she never told her kids about the six Buddies.

However, the fact that all the Buddies were male raised some theories from the fans, as how could a male dog participate in a female competition? Chastain never thought about it, Scurry found it to be rather hilarious, but Vince had a simpler approach. He believed that it was not a gender-specific thing, as he said, “Little kids don’t really think of their pet or their dog as a gender.”

With a total of fourteen different Air Bud films, audiences found Air Bud: World Pup to be the most memorable installment. “Millennials, who are themselves having children, are the generation of Air Bud. What movies do is they reflect the time that they were made, but also what is old becomes new again, because it gets rediscovered by new generations,” says Vince.

Scurry believes that this film is a way for younger audiences to be introduced to the 1999 World Cup if they did not see it at the time. To this day, she still has children asking for her autographs as the goalkeeper from “Air Bud.” Scurry believes, “these kids would know the players that have now taken the reins from us, that were in the crowd watching us play in 1999, but they wouldn’t have known the history of the 99ers or where that came from. That movie did a lot for the legacy of the 99ers for the younger generation.”

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