By: Isabelle Wang
In 1999, the U.S. women’s national soccer team won its second world cup, which was hosted in the U.S. The games were widely broadcasted in large arenas and 40 million people watched when the U.S. beat China in a penalty shootout.
That triumphant World Cup run is now associated with Brandi Chastain celebrating, Briana Scurry in her all-navy goalkeeper’s uniform, a baby-faced Mia Hamm and surprisingly, a golden retriever.
In 2000, the year after the U.S.’s historic win, the Air Bud film franchise, which is a series of movies that feature a talented dog that saves the game, turned its focus to soccer. In the film Air Bud did what he always did, save a children’s soccer team and score the winning goal.
But, in the final six minutes of “Air Bud: World Pup”, it featured something different. It featured a re-enactment of that 1999 World Cup win, complete with its famous players. Except this time, the team competes against Norway. And this time, they have Air Bud, who comes to Scurry’s rescue and takes over in goal after Scurry injures her shoulder saving a penalty. Obviously, team USA wins.
“When the women won the World Cup, they were such a force,” said Robert Vince, an executive producer of the Air Bud franchise. “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.” This led to the soccer stars becoming movie stars. Chastain earned the nickname “Hollywood” because of her comfort in front of the camera and her willingness to promote the sport. But then she, Scurry, and teammate Tisha Venturini, were invited to Vancouver to film a movie about a dog saving soccer.
“I’m a sucker for dogs anyway,” Chastain said, noting that she was a fan of Air Bud even before the offer came in. “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.”
Chastain said that recreating a World Cup-like environment was not easy. She and her teammates weren’t actors, but had to tap into their feelings at the Rose Bowl in 1999 and “re-enact something that was so genuine and so in the moment.” They filmed their six-minute sequence over three eight-hour days, Scurry said, and most of the crowd was C.G.I. Buddy, the star, of course wasn’t, but, Scurry revealed, “there are like six dogs.”
Scurry explained that each Buddy had different skills, some were good at jumping, some were good at shooting. Scurry had long treated Air Bud like Santa Claus: “I never tell kids about the six Buddies,” she said solemnly. An odd thing was that, as a male, how was Buddy able to compete for the women’s national team? “Good question,” Chastain said. “Gosh, I don’t know.” On social media, many fans voiced their opinions. After being told about it, Scurry burst out laughing. “I was not aware of this conspiracy. That never crossed my mind.” Vince, however, has a reasonable answer, “I don’t think it was a gender-specific thing, I think it was just that he was a dog,” Vince said. “Little kids don’t really think of their pet or their dog as a gender.”