Against The Odds
Ernest and Robbie Scurry had already started their large family when Hurricane Donna destroyed their home in Galveston, Texas, in 1960. They moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, but an underground lake started undermining their home shortly after Briana, the youngest of their nine children, was born. The family then moved to Dayton, Minnesota, a nearly all-white Minneapolis suburb where they were some of the first African-Americans. But instead of prejudice, Briana found only encouragement.
"I never got singled out," Scurry later told Sports Illustrated. "My parents never let me think I was alone in anything. They taught me that I could do whatever I wanted to do, and the odds against that didn't matter." Her first love was football; when she was 11, she scored nine touchdowns in a boys' league. Scurry also competed in softball, basketball, and track. She first played on a soccer team when she was 12, and that was a boys' team, because there was no girls league. The coach put Scurry in goal because he thought she would be safest there, but she hated not being able to score. After one season in goal, she played the field for three years, then returned to
goal. "I realized I could control the game from the goal," she later explained to Sports Illustrated for Kids.
At Anoka High School, Scurry played softball, ran track, was an all-state basketball player, and became a high-school All-American in soccer. As a senior, her team won the state championship and she was voted the state's top female athlete.
Scurry earned a soccer scholarship to the University of Massachusetts, where she refined her game under coach Jim Rudy. As a sophomore, she started in goal in all 19 of her team's games, allowing just nine goals all season and recording 12 shutouts. In 1992, her junior year, Scurry posted seven shutouts in 13 starts and also played three games as a forward. To cap her collegiate career, she started all 23 games as a senior and blanked opponents another 15 times, giving her 37 shutouts in 65 starts and an average of 0.56 goals allowed per game for her college career. Scurry led her team to the semifinals of the NCAA championship tournament after winning both the Atlantic 10 conference and tournament titles. She was named to the All-New England first team and the All-Northeast Region first team and to the All-American second team. Scurry graduated in the spring of 1995 with a degree in political science and planned to go to law school, but playing soccer put those plans on hold.
After college, Scurry joined the U.S. Women's National Team, and in her first game, against Portugal on March 16, 1994, she allowed no goals. She immediately became the National Team's number one goalie and kept the job for six full seasons. In her first year with the U.S. team, Scurry started 12 games and had seven shutouts, and she was named the Most Valuable Player of the Chiquita Cup.
Scurry was a stalwart in goal as the women's team won the CONCACAF World Cup qualifying championship in Montreal in 1994. In the World Cup the following year, played in Sweden, she was the keeper as the U.S. finished a disappointing third. After cup play ended, Scurry was in an auto accident and hurt her back. She was unable to play in the U.S. Women's Cup later that year.
But Scurry bounced back the following season, starting 16 games and allowing only 11 goals with two shutouts. Her team lost only one of the 17 games she appeared in. Also in 1996, she played every minute of the U.S. team's five matches at the Atlanta Olympics, allowing only three goals as the U.S. women won the gold medal.
Scurry became the player that every teammate depended on to keep the match close. One of the world's most athletic goalkeepers, she possessed quick hands, great leaping ability, and an intimidating presence. Scurry seemed to play even better under pressure. In an online chat in CNNSI.com, she said she tried to use nervousness as a tool to help her play. "I try not so much to worry about being the last line of defense, I try to stay in my game and I make the plays I can make, and a few of the ones I shouldn't, and deep breathing—that also helps." She always seemed unflappable, even in adversity. "I don't like the other team to see me upset," Scurry aadmitted to Sports Illustrated, "because I like to win the psychological battle in a game. Being ice cold is the way I do it."
"Playing against Briana is like rock-climbing a slap of marble," former coach Rudy revealed to Sports Illustrated. "There are no weaknesses in her game."