The United States Men's National Team may have lost its World Cup chances on Tuesday, but it won us a new American sports hero.
U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard racked up an astonishing 16 saves in a riveting game that went scoreless during regular play time and ended with Belgium beating the U.S. 2-1. Howard gave an extraordinary performance that earned him FIFA's "Man of the Match" award and that, deservedly, made him an instant Internet sensation.
Fans temporarily changed Chuck Hagel's picture on the U.S. Secretary of Defense Wikipedia page to one of Tim Howard. They started a Twitter hashtag of #ThingsTimHowardCouldSave (the Titanic, Blockbuster from closing). They put his face on George Washington's portrait, Mt. Rushmore and a mock campaign poster for president.
Howard, a devout Christian covered in tattoos, is a New Jersey native who started his career playing for Major League Soccer's MetroStars team. He was then recruited to play in England for the Premier League's Manchester United team in 2003, and now plays for Everton, in Liverpool. He has struggled with Tourette's syndrome since he was 10, and has become an advocate who will launch a "leadership academy" in August for youth living with the disorder.
At 35, Howard also seems to enjoy being a leader on his team. He told CBS News in June that he thinks trying to "figure out how to get a team of people to win for me is amazing." A quote in his high school yearbook said, "it will take a nation of millions to hold me back."
Yet rather than holding him back, they have been inspired by Howard. As the final moments of the game wound down Tuesday evening (even after the high hopes following 19-year-old Julian Green's goal in the second half of extra time), a nation of many, many millions did not seem deflated by the end of the U.S.'s run at the World Cup. They seemed buoyed by the experience of watching a tough fight and an extraordinary performance by an athlete at the top of his game.