How does anybody get to be as mature and respectful as Tim Howard was after his freakish goal on Wednesday?
Athletes and everybody else could take a cue from Howard after his long clearing kick became caught up in the jet stream and took a weird bounce into the Bolton goal – 102 yards from Howard’s point of impact.
Howard never celebrated, never punched the air or ripped his jersey over his head or slid along the ground in a gesture of “Aren’t I wonderful?”
Instead, he looked abashed, in solidarity with his lodge brother at the other end of the field. Later he said he felt “awful.”
Kids, take a look at Tim Howard, playing for Everton in the English Premier League, not wanting to show up a colleague. Instinctively, he knew it would be bad form.
Howard is among the classiest of athletes, but don’t take my word for it. During the World Cup in South Africa in 2010, I caught a lift from a young driver who had been escorting members of the U.S. team around Johannesburg.
Who was the nicest person he had met? Tim Howard’s entire family, the young man said. Always polite. Always thoughtful.
Howard surely would have celebrated if he had contributed to a goal in the closing desperate seconds of the loss to Ghana in the round of 16. As keepers will do when a goal is absolutely needed, he made a foray downfield, to give the Americans one more body in the melee in front of the goal.
I described the sight of Howard and Ghana keeper Richard Kingson in close proximity – “two men in colorful costumes, performing an odd airborne pas de deux.” But Ghana prevailed, sending the Americans home.
Howard was a good candidate for one hopeful lunge into space, having been a terrific high-school basketball player back home in New Jersey. In 2010, he got to meet Bill Russell, the great Celtics champion, who was giving a motivation talk to the American World Cup team.
“Did you tell Russell you could dunk on him?” I asked Howard later.
He gave me a look, half of horror, half of wry appreciation. No way, he said.
One other thing to remember about Tim Howard. He has a mild case of Tourette’s syndrome, which does not bother him during games.
In his first years in England, fans bombarded him with chants that were as vulgar as they were funny, as soccer diatribe can be. He never let it bother him, remaining as impassive toward the jeers as he was after scoring a goal on Wednesday.
Next time you hear about exhibitionist American athletes, just think about Tim Howard, not wanting to celebrate sheer luck, not wanting to show up an opponent.