The lightning struck first in 1996, when the United States women's soccer team won the gold at the summer Olympic Games, a traditional generator of sports heroes.
Then it happened again, a year ago. After a month of matches, the United States women's soccer team -- composed largely of Olympic athletes -- beat China in a spectacular finale and captured the 1999 Women's World Cup.
Before, during and after, the nation watched, rapt, as it rarely had for any women's team sport. Players like Mia Hamm became media darlings, their names known to all. And Madison Avenue sat up and paid attention.
Or did it?
"With their great success on the field, it …