July 30, 2014
By Austin Miller, OleMissSports.com
OXFORD, Miss. -- Among the millions of fans who watched the 2014 World Cup in Brazil were Jessica Hiskey and Jennifer Miller, rising juniors on the Ole Miss soccer team. From beginning to end, it was a surreal experience, highlighted by attending the United States-Germany match on June 26.
"You can't really compare it to anything," Hiskey said. "I had been to USA games here in America when they're playing friendlies. It's fun, but it was never on the World Cup stage where you have so many American fans and have such a sense of camaraderie and cheering and chanting together."
Hiskey and Miller were two of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College students selected to share in the experience. They stayed about two weeks in Salvador, one of the 12 host cities, where they watched the Germany-Portugal and France-Switzerland matches.
"Where we were staying, it was about a mile walk from their main downtown, and they had Brazil colors and flags decorating the historic center," Hiskey said. "There were drum bands and people marching and dancing around the square basically 24/7. There was always festival stuff going on.
"Depending on the day, whichever team was playing in Salvador, those countries' fans would be all dressed up and having a good time in the square. It was cool to see all the cultures from around the world mix in."
From there, they acquired tickets for United States and Germany days before the match and then took a bus through flood waters the day of the game before experiencing the highlight of their trip, a matchup between their native country and the eventual World Cup champions.
As players themselves, they saw the speed of the game and the tightness and sharpness of the passes and touches. Everything, they said, was on a whole different level.
"It was incredible," Miller said. "Originally, when we went to Brazil, we didn't have the tickets, and we didn't get the tickets until we got to Brazil, four days before the game. We were really excited to be able to go, especially because we had already been to the Germany-Portugal and France-Switzerland games and we saw a lot other fans be passionate and excited for their countries, and then we had this opportunity to cheer for our country and be proud of our country."
"The whole sequence leading up to the game and the game itself was so much luck," Hiskey said. "This stuff shouldn't have happened and we shouldn't have been there, but it ended up happening in our favor out of nowhere. Every moment, I couldn't believe we were actually there."
As they turn their attention to the start of their own season, they sense the growing passion for soccer, which might also translate to larger crowds in the fall, whether it's people listening to their stories and becoming soccer fans, or their own renewed passion for the sport they love.
"It was really cool to see people from around the world share the same passion for a single game," Miller said. "It feels cool that I'm able to play it all the time too."
Hiskey, Miller and Ole Miss kick-off the 2014 season with the first-ever live event broadcast on the SEC Network when the Rebels host Georgia on Friday, August 22 at 6 p.m. CT.
Austin Miller is a writer and blogger for OleMissSports.com. He joined the staff in June 2013 after serving as sports editor of the Daily Mississippian. Follow him on Twitter @austinkmiller.