By Wednesday morning, emotional breakdowns linked to U.S. soccer team success were fairly common. But before there was a game-winner against Algeria and all those bonkers fans in bars, there was the equalizer against Slovenia. And before there were those tens of thousands of revelers on YouTube, flinging drinks into the air and hugging strangers, there was Taylor Triplett, breaking down in tears on international television.
You remember Triplett, right? He's the 22-year old kid from Jackson, Miss. who started hugging his friend when the U.S. erased that 2-0 deficit in their second game of group play. Hugging him and weeping. A lot. On an international television feed.
"Man, I cried an absurd amount," Triplett said, when I called him Thursday afternoon. "There were definitely tears. Just totally overwhelmed by the moment. I just bawled uncontrollably."
That's pretty much what it looked like. So what was Triplett doing before he earned worldwide "crying USA fan!" fame? He's a former collegiate soccer player at the University of the South who's followed the men's national team for most of his life. He'd been to qualifiers but never a Cup, and shortly before this year's event started, he found out a friend had extra tickets to the U.S. matches. So he emptied all but one day from his vacation account and headed to South Africa.
He went to the 1-1 game against England, where he sat in a mixed fan section and got to experience the historical rivalry, complete with a few heated exchanges that weren't necessarily polite.
And then he went to the Slovenia game, expecting the U.S. to glide to a win. Instead, they fell behind, and remained behind well into the second half, which would have virtually sunk their chances. Triplett said he hadn't had a drop of alcohol that day, but his emotions were vibrating like an ear drum in a sea of vuvuzelas. Then came Michael Bradley's equalizer. Then came the waterworks.
"I guess to say I was overwhelmed probably is an understatement," Triplett acknowledged. "To be there, live, and to see that play and what it meant and to share that with people, it just totally overwhelmed me, and then you got the reaction that everyone has seen.
"It was incredible. Just kind of complete relief, just the purest of joy. I know in the clip it looks like my dog died or something, but I could not have been happier. That was by far one of the happiest moments in my life, just seeing wonderful soccer being played, being with my friends. I will always get a little emotional thinking about that. It was just a remarkable experience. I'm certainly not ashamed of it, I'll tell you that."
About 24 hours later, he left South Africa. When he got back to America, he had about 400 unanswered e-mails and texts, many pointing out that he was now famous. Someone from U.S. Soccer reached out. ESPN kept playing the replay. People he didn't know found him on Facebook and e-mailed him to tell him their own stories of emotion and relief.
Since he had already missed so much work, Triplett was at his desk on Wednesday when the U.S. won its group. (He works in Jackson for a telecom company.) His celebration was initially muted, until he heard a co-worker shouting. Eventually they ran into a hallway and embraced. Not exactly like weeping on television, but we all do what we can.
"I think I got a mild concussion when I hugged him," Triplett said. "As good as I could do for the work space, I think."