Without goalkeeper Tim Howard, the United States could have lost by five or 10 goals to Belgium instead of 2-1 in extra time Tuesday afternoon in the World Cup Round of 16.
The 35-year-old from New Jersey put on one of the greatest individual performances in a team sport, and in nearly every sports bar and restaurant from de Vere’s Irish Pub in downtown Sacramento to McGreevy’s in Boston, Americans of every ethnicity pulled for Howard as if he were their son or brother.
Howard was a one-man Steel Curtain, blocking a barrage of 16 shots taken by Belgium – the most in a World Cup game since 1966. He slid to his left, dove to the right, tipped a number of balls over the crossbar behind him. His superhero efforts seemed so unreal at times, you’d have thought at some point he was going to break out the red cape and rip open his jersey to reveal the block letter “S”.
With every block made and minute passed in the elimination game that meant so much to U.S. soccer fans, there were more prayers being recited than on Sunday mornings.
And the cheers continued to grow louder throughout American living rooms and workplaces, where the bosses could no longer keep their employees from watching. An estimated 21.6 million people watched the match, including big-league baseball players who stopped to marvel at Howard’s efforts in the middle of taking batting and infield practice.
It would have been no surprise if mothers and fathers of newborn babies waited for the game’s outcome before deciding to name their sons Timothy Howard (insert last name).
And, of course, Twitter nation went through the roof. According to @TwitterData, Tim Howard’s name was mentioned 1.8 million times during the 120-minute match. Sports celebrities and entertainment stars joined the rest of the nation in lauding Howard’s performance in 140 characters or less. Many tweets made biblical references regarding Howard’s ability to save goals: “Jesus wears ‘Tim Howard Saves’ shirts.”
In the end, Howard could not save his team, his nation from defeat.
But for more than two hours Howard did what no other superstar athlete could ever do: He united a nation and made it proud.
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