Goalkeeper Howard is the US' new superhero
Americans pay tribute to goalkeeper Tim Howard after his record 16 saves against Belgium
Americans have their newest superhero.
He is United States goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose pluck and one-man defiance in the excruciating 2-1 loss to Belgium in the Round of 16 yesterday morning (Singapore time) electrified his country.
Memes featuring the 35-year-old Howard exploded on the Internet; politicians clamoured to praise him, and Wikipedia trolls even momentarily named him US Secretary of Defense after his record-16 saves against Belgium.
The buzz over that stunt became so loud that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel called his on-pitch doppelganger "to thank him for defending the United States of America at the World Cup".
"He told Howard that, with some training, he could someday become the real Secretary of Defense," Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said.
Howard's scintillating display singlehandedly kept the Americans in contention against Belgium, and cemented his spot as the nation's best-ever goalkeeper, and its newest sporting hero.
"Tim Howard could've saved my parents' marriage," quipped one Twitter user who, like many, was in awe of the Everton custodian's spectacular shot-blocking.
While the US eventually succumbed 2-1 in extra time, Howard's stellar performance earned him an avalanche of accolades in a nation that traditionally obsesses more over baseball, basketball and American football.
Howard-worship dominated the social media conversation even before the first half of the match ended in Salvador.
US Vice-President Joe Biden hailed him the "most valuable player in the World Cup", and he won gushing praise from congressional leaders, basketball icon Kobe Bryant, and even Belgian opponent Vincent Kompany.
Tweeters were calling "Tim Howard for President" - or for him to be placed on the US-Mexico border to block illegal immigration.
Some even said he was "better at defending the country" than President Barack Obama.
A petition to the White House to rename Washington's main domestic airport "Tim Howard National Airport" had garnered more than 7,000 signatures.
A meme-fest ensued, with images of Howard's countenance on Mount Rushmore or the dollar bill, or in goal wearing giant Mickey Mouse-style white gloves.
And - because it's the Internet - a diving Howard can be seen blocking Janet Jackson's exposed nipple from her famed "wardrobe malfunction" at the 2004 Super Bowl.
But, for all the humour, there was genuine praise ricocheting across the US, where many major newspapers featured Howard on their front pages yesterday, writing how another gritty performance by him and his teammates marked a turning point for US football.
"We should be proud of ourselves as a country... I think the way we rallied behind our team has been incredible," Howard told MSNBC from Brazil.
"But also being able to captivate the imagination, and hopes and dreams of a nation is really certainly part of that ride."
Thanks to his soaring popularity and stature, the New Jersey-born goalkeeper - who lives with Tourette's syndrome - will have every opportunity to help advance the causes of his choosing.
"He will always be a hero to the Tourette syndrome community," the Tourette Syndrome Association said on its website.
Bald, bearded, tattooed, and with rock-star good looks, Howard will likely have his pick of commercial endorsements, and he may even have instantaneously become the face of US football, dethroning long-time hero Landon Donovan, marketing experts said.
So what's next for the nation's new favourite son?
"Take it in stride," he told CNN. "I'm going to go home, and I'm going to relax and hide away, hang out with the kids, get some more tattoos - just be me."
We should be proud of ourselves as a country... I think the way we rallied behind our team has been incredible.
— US goalkeeper Tim Howard