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THIS IS A FACE I'VE MADE

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IT'S A STRANGE FACE, LOGICALLY, BUT IT IS THE BEST AND DEEPEST FEELING YOU CAN HAVE AS A FAN

I have made this face before. Granted, I was much older than 14, since this was after Florida beat Ohio State in 2006, but I have made this same face and I remember the feelings behind it. The smiling is involuntary and, even though it's genuine, it's a little odd to physically manifest strong emotions without conscious effort. The tears are different than the crying you're accustomed to as well; they're slower, and more pronounced, and silent. You don't consider wiping them away because there's something slightly calming and grounding about feeling the drops roll down your cheeks.

But what's really strange about making this face is the pride you feel, personally, the same way you might if you were receiving a diploma or being applauded on stage or reading a thoughtful letter from someone you love. You understand that you haven't done anything or triumphed over anyone - and yet you feel this way all the same, as if you'd grown up with the players and coaches and they considered you a close friend.

Maybe you formed that attachment with a team from your alma mater, or the town you grew up in. Maybe it's a team that you didn't have any logical connection to but you made them yours all the same, when you were young and the reasons didn't need to be sensible. Maybe the attachment is purely one of nationality. Whatever route you took to this moment of vicarious joy, the end result is the same. You're uncontrollably happy and proud for a group of people that matter to you even though you don't know one another, and it's the best feeling you can experience as a fan.

Whether I realized it or not, some of that attachment was also gendered. Pete Sampras, Magic Johnson, John Lynch - I felt connected to them all in part because they represented something I could aspire to as I grew up. (Whether or not those aspirations were realistic was irrelevant, obviously.) There was no shortage of male sports heroes available then, and young boys today don't lack for them, either.

It's not a purely male-to-male experience, mind you; I still can't really think too hard about Pat Summitt without welling up. And I know women who felt just as inspired and elated as I did by championship-winning men. Ideally, being a sports fan is something that's supposed to cross boundaries, creating points of commonality where you might not otherwise see them.

If the USMNT had won the World Cup in 2014, perhaps Madison Taylor, wearing a Clint Dempsey jersey, would have smiled that same smile and cried those same tears, and whatever she felt tonight - proud, energized, indomitable, strong, hopeful - she might have felt then. But I'm glad she got to experience this strangely powerful moment of connective joy because of the U.S. women.