What happened after Brandi Chastain’s PK and celebration, U.S. Soccer’s most iconic moment?

It isn’t easy asking someone about their undergarments, especially a former professional athlete — and an iconic one at that.

Yet sometimes, the moments of a journalist’s career when a little fortitude is needed provide the most satisfying results, as it proved in the case of Brandi Chastain.

Chastain is, of course, the game-winning star of the 1999 Women’s World Cup final, a key figure in sporting history for the way she slammed home that decisive penalty kick and how she celebrated it by ripping off her jersey in front of 90,000 at the Rose Bowl and millions across the globe, 20 years ago this week.

And finally, during a recent conversation, it was time to pose a question I’d been wanting to ask for a long time.

“Whatever happened to that iconic sports bra?”

Fortunately, Chastain has a sense of humor to match her glittering career. She’s happy to talk about the bra, and she knows its significance. Which is just as well, as it has a remarkable tale.

Perhaps the most extraordinary thing about the bra’s “What Happened Next” adventure is that Chastain wore it again, a fact she dropped casually into our chat last month.

Me: What? You kept wearing it?

Brandi: Yeah, at least a couple of times.

Me: How? Why…

Brandi: To me, at the time, it was just a piece of fabric. I came to understand later that it symbolized more than that to so many people.

And then the plot thickened.

***

After the 1999 team won the championship, there was a whirlwind publicity tour that featured a trip to see President Clinton at the White House and late-night talk show appearances. From city to city, Chastain kept the sports bra with her, then casually tossed it in a laundry hamper when she got back home. She knew it was something different, a cherished memory of a golden afternoon, but it also came in handy when she was running short on clean clothes.

“It did get laundered, exactly how many days afterwards I’m not sure,” she said. “I think it probably made me feel pretty powerful (when I wore it next). Like one of those Iron Man suits or a cape for Batman, you feel like you can go out and do anything.”

Yeah, most people don’t own something that makes them feel that way. Heck, I own an Iron Man costume (long story) and even that doesn’t make me feel like Iron Man.

Inevitably, there were plenty of inquiries from memorabilia collectors looking to buy the item. The bids got into the hundreds of thousands of dollars, but Chastain knew that once it was gone, it was gone forever. She resisted the temptation.

PASADENA, : Brandi Chastain of the US shouts after falling on her knees after she scored the last goal in a shoot-out in the finals of the Women’s World Cup with China at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California 10 July 1999. The US won 5-4 on penalties. (ELECTRONIC IMAGE) AFP PHOTO/HECTOR MATA (Photo credit should read HECTOR MATA/AFP/Getty Images)
AFP/Getty Images

Around 2008, she loaned it to an ambitious new venture, the Sports Museum of America. Located in Manhattan at the base of the Canyon of Heroes, site of today’s victory parade for the U.S. World Cup winners, the glitzy museum housed 600 sports artifacts, 1,100 photographs and 20 original films – not to mention partnering with every hall of fame in the country.

However, within a year, the museum went bankrupt amid the financial crisis — and went into liquidation. The venue’s exhibits were held in a storage locker in New Jersey, Chastain’s sports bra included. The liquidator tried to argue the item had been owned by the museum, not merely borrowed. Unwilling to give up on the item that signified both personal and athletic history, she took legal action, and eventually won. Since then, she hasn’t taken any chances with it.

I’d originally called Chastain from France, where I was covering the ultimately victorious U.S. Women’s World Cup campaign. Once we got word of Chastain’s story, FOX Sports sent a camera crew to the Bay Area to get her on film talking about it, plus her memories of a seminal time for both soccer and women’s sports.

The anniversary – 20 years since that incredible afternoon at the Rose Bowl — is today. Most of the details of that amazing win, like the normally right-footed Chastain taking the winning shot with her left foot at the direction of U.S. Coach Tony DiCicco, have been lost to the enduring image of her iconic celebration — and understandably so.

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The entire film can be found here, and it includes a moving moment late in the clip when she is moved to tears as she sends a message to the next generation of players.

In the feature, she talks about how the sports bra is now framed and holds pride of place in her home. It’s staying in the family, and she plans to pass it on to future generations. Occasionally, like for our piece or when speaking to young players she coaches, the bra will make a public appearance.

“The Rose Bowl was its unveiling, its coming out party so to speak,” Chastain said. “It has had quite the journey since.”