Americans are embracing their newest superhero: Team USA goalkeeper Tim Howard, whose pluck and one-man defiance in an excruciating World Cup loss electrified his home nation.
Memes featuring the 35-year-old Howard exploded on the Internet, politicians -- even the president -- clamored to praise him and Wikipedia trolls momentarily named him US secretary of defense after his record 16 saves against Belgium on Tuesday.
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."
The new U.S. Secretary of Defence Tim Howard...Mr.Secretary! pic.twitter.com/el6mQcTzhk— FootballFacts101 (@FootballFact101) July 2, 2014
"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 single-handedly kept the underdog Americans in contention in their round-of-16 clash against Belgium, and cemented his spot as the nation's best-ever keeper 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 keeper's spectacular shot-blocking.
While the US squad 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.
He won gushing praise from congressional leaders, basketball icon Kobe Bryant, even Belgian opponent Vincent Kompany, and on Wednesday, along with US captain Clint Dempsey, took a phone call from President Barack Obama.
"On the call, the president commended them not only for their work on the field, but for carrying themselves in a way that made the country proud," a White House statement said.
"The president noted how captivating the team's performance was and asked both men to relay his congratulations to coach Klinsmann and the entire team on their hard work."
'Howard for president'
Tweeters were calling for "Tim Howard for president" -- or for him to be placed on the US-Mexico border to block illegal immigration. Some said he was "better at defending the country" than 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.
Tim Howard's 16 saves are the most EVER by a goalkeeper in recorded World Cup history. pic.twitter.com/YokyLzNhO2— The Sports Quotient (@SportsQuotient) July 1, 2014
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.
"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," he added on CNN.
Thanks to his soaring popularity and stature, the New Jersey-born keeper -- 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 soccer, dethroning long-time hero Landon Donovan, marketing experts said.
So what's next for the nation's new favorite 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."