Cody Tittle was the first in line Tuesday afternoon. With Finley Stadium's gates not scheduled to open until 4:30 for the United States women's World Cup champs' free and open practice in advance of tonight's "friendly" against Costa Rica, Tittle arrived before 3 p.m.
"I brought my little sister Hannah's jersey," said the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga student and Nashville native. "I've got a Sharpie. I hope they'll sign it for her."
By 5:45 p.m., the practice not yet an hour old, there were close to 3,000 more folks just like Tittle, Sharpies in hand and anything they could find to be signed at the ready, all of them hoping to take home something of permanence with which to better remember soccer's sensational summer of success.
We all know the names now: Abby Wambach, Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan, Morgan Brian, Becky Sauerbrunn and the world's best women's goalie, Hope Solo. We know them so well that they've become first-name-only celebrities, much as Brandi Chastain and Mia Hamm achieved similar status following the 1999 U.S. team's World Cup crown.
"For everybody on this team, life as we once knew it is a little different now," said Wambach, who drew the loudest cheers throughout the rain-shortened workout. "Walking through an airport, eating out at a restaurant. It's definitely changed."
* Sold-out crowd set to watch World Cup champs' exhibition match tonight
* Victory tour means winning for U.S. World Cup champs
* AstroTurf president in town to see Finley field, watch women's soccer
* Road closures planned for U.S. Women's match against Costa Rica
Since returning home from Canada with its third Cup ever but first in 16 years, the women's team has been rightly treated like royalty.
New York City threw a tickertape parade as only the Big Apple can. Hearing that two of the Cuppers were searching for tickets to attend a Taylor Swift concert, Swift's people invited the whole team, then had the singer invite them all up on stage to a standing ovation. Coach Jill Ellis was even asked to christen a ship in Europe, though her schedule forced the native of the United Kingdom to decline.
"Of course, I'm not sure about the size of the ship," she smiled. "It could have been really small."
There is nothing small about the importance of this U.S. women's soccer achievement or how these 23 team members embrace and promote it.
As the 35-year-old Wambach noted, "Our job is never over. We want to keep inspiring, keep winning."
But there is a flip side to that job, one that mildly concerns ESPN color commentator Julie Foudy, who'll work tonight's game on ESPN2 and was also a key member of those 1999 World Cup champs.
"The biggest stress is on Jill Ellis," she said. "She's already thinking about the 2016 Olympics and the fact this team still has to qualify. But there are also so many people tugging at you. It's not like pro football or basketball, where you're in the spotlight every year. With women's soccer, the window is so small. You've got to pounce while you're hot. But all this attention is also exhausting.
"I've told some of them that they've got to figure out a way to get a break, or when the Olympics rolls around they're going to feel it."
Finley is certain to feel far different tonight than Tuesday. Instead of 3,000 fans getting a free view of the champs, more than 20,000 will arrive having paid anywhere from $35 to more than $200 a ticket for the 6:30 event. Parking goes from zero to $20.
Of more importance, U.S. Soccer plans to recognize the five military heroes murdered in our town during the July 16 terrorist attack. There will be a moment of silence for the four Marines and the Naval petty officer who made the ultimate sacrifice. The U.S. team will wear black arm bands in their honor. Money raised through an online auction of the jerseys the players wear against Costa Rica will go the Chattanooga Heroes Fund.
"This is one small way for us to say thank you for all our servicemen and women do for our country," Solo said. "Any donations we can raise for these families is so important."
Added Lloyd: "What happened here was so sad. I'm so glad we're going to honor the victims before the game."
But before tonight there was Tuesday evening, and a whole lot of young girls and boys hoping to join Tittle in obtaining autographs as practice wrapped up and storm clouds rolled in.
So the players swiftly made their way to the stadium's press box side, to hundreds of kids with Sharpies hanging over the rail. Apparently short of paper products, two girls pulled their athletic socks off their feet and held them out for Lloyd to sign.
"Socks?" she exclaimed. "Really?"
Then, while briefly holding one of them close to her nose, she broke into a grin and said, "Oooh, smelly," and signed them both.
A few feet away, at midfield, sisters Zoey (11) and Sophia Mize (9) held out US Soccer banners for Wambach to sign.
"This was amazing," said a grinning Zoey, who attends Hunter Middle School and plays for the Chattanooga Football Club's youth league team. "I can't believe I got Abby's autograph."
Added Sophia, who also plays for CFC: "This was awesome. Getting those autographs was the best."
That's at least one way this team keeps inspiring. That's also one reason why this nation's impressionable young girls will one day keep the U.S. team winning.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.