Standing on a wet tile floor in the kitchen of a pizza restaurant converted into a thumping club, Teddy Roosevelt checks his iPhone. Across from him, the kitchen staff chugs away at chopping limes for the caipirinhas served to the masses outside. In a moment of reflection, Roosevelt sets his phone by his side and glances at the loosely swinging doors that lead into a dark alleyway. Soon, he knows, Will Ferrell will come through those doors. Soon, he’ll have to turn his Roosevelt costume into something more.
"This whole thing is serendipity on top of crazy on top of random," says Roosevelt, real name Mike D'Amico, a Chicago resident and former center for the Ithaca College football team. Since the United States’ 2-2 draw with Portugal, D’Amico has been on what amounts to a four-day press junket, all based on a single moment on camera. Standing in the kitchen, D’Amico can reasonably claim to wear the 2014 World Cup's most famous costume.
That costume came about as a simple result of circumstance. Knowing months ago that he would be attending the U.S.'s group games in Brazil, owning a beard that at the time went nearly down to his chest, and wanting to join all the others in costumes he saw at U.S. National Team games, an idea quickly crystallized in D’Amico’s head. He shaved his beard down to a handlebar mustache, and bought the khaki components of his costume for about $20 apiece on Amazon. D’Amico’s boisterous bravado and the real Teddy Roosevelt's mystique intertwined. Simply put, the look worked.
"I just felt like there's no better President to lead us into the jungle," says D’Amico, referring to the U.S.’s second group game in Manaus, located in the middle of Amazon country. Fittingly, it was there that this whole wild ride really began.
D'Amico attended the United States' first game, a win over Ghana, dressed as Roosevelt in seats located far from the field of play. Fans and photographers took notice. A handful snapped pictures. One of those pictures ended up on Reddit. It made the front page.
"I thought that was really, really cool," he says now, waiting in the kitchen as the staff continued cutting limes. "That would have been more than enough for me."
In the next game, in the jungle, D'Amico's alternate personality would gain new life, and a name all its own.
D'Amico doesn't remember very many specifics about the moment that turned him into a sensation. He certainly remembers what caused it, though. Jermaine Jones' thunderbolt strike had just pulled the United States level with Portugal in a game in which the U.S. had threatened the goal consistently without finding the back of the net. The stadium, particularly D'Amico's section among the American Outlaws supporters group, exploded as soon as the equalizer went in.
"People were falling over rows, beers were flying," he recalls. "I wasn't even mentally present at that time."
D'Amico says someone in the crowd sidled up next to him in the midst of the din, then turned him to face a television camera sitting fieldside.
"I really just kept doing what I had been doing before, but I looked into the camera since it was right there," D’Amico says.
The image beamed to the ESPN control room, where producers lingered on D’Amico’s joyous face for several seconds. In doing so, D’Amico unwittingly captivated a nation in the midst of epic celebration. Social media captures of the shot came by the thousands. Within hours, D'Amico's little costume had been given a new name: Teddy Goalsevelt.
D'Amico's email blew up with messages from friends and family. Then from publications and TV stations. As a creative director at an advertising agency, D'Amico could only throw his hands up, and accept the rush of publicity.
"My job is doing viral content," he says. "And this just proves you can't do viral on purpose. It was just the right image, at the right time."
Back in the kitchen hallway, D'Amico brushes his short, salt-and-pepper hair back with his fingers and puts on giant floppy hat with the U.S. Soccer logo stitched on the front. He ties his American flag bandana, first around his forehead before sliding it down over his neck. He flips the bandana around, allowing the stars and stripes show in the gap at the top of his shirt buttons, in between the collar. He slides on a pair of wire spectacles -- old-style, copper frames with no lenses in them. With no mirror in sight, he turns to his left and checks his reflection in the window of a large, unused beverage refrigerator. Things look up to snuff.
Once convivial, engaged in amicable conversation with the U.S. Soccer staff, camera people, and restaurant cooks bustling through the narrow space, his face turns a little serious. Slowly, it seems he's settling into character.
Then, Teddy checks his iPhone. He has to. There's a lot to keep up with.
"This is so ridiculous," he says, laughing. "I'm just riding a wave of coincidence."
Since his on-camera appearance, Teddy Goalsevelt has been profiled by newspapers, interviewed on an alphabet soup of television networks, and authored a Buzzfeed list. Vines, like the one above, have become a daily fixture among online World Cup banter. D’Amico’s girlfriend has taken over the management of his social media presence, which has become such a big job that she has recruited a mutual friend of the couple to lend some helping hands.
The ad agency where D’Amico works, acting entirely without his input, started "Keep Teddy In Brazil," a crowdfunding campaign aimed at extending his stay beyond the three group games he planned on and into the second round (should the U.S. make it). The fund asks for $5,000. His agency promises to match every dollar for the first $2,500 donated. It launched on Wednesday morning. By that night, it will hit $1,300 and continue to rise.
But unlike any of those things, the email that transported D'Amico to that kitchen hallway in Recife came directly to him. The subject line: U.S. Soccer Official Request.
"Dear President Theodore Goalsevelt," it began. A formal note on official letterhead came attached. U.S. Soccer President Sunil Gulati wanted him to attend the Fan HQ party in Recife, where he would be a guest of honor.
"I was in complete disbelief," D'Amico says. "I thought I was getting punk'd."
Still, D'Amico politely declined. He wasn't even in Recife -- he, along with the rest of the American Outlaws, were in Natal awaiting an overnight bus that would put them in town at 7 a.m. the following morning, six hours before the U.S. kicked off against Germany.
U.S. Soccer's response was simple: OK, we'll fly you here. Six hours later, D'Amico found himself on a small propeller plane, making the one-hour journey to Recife. There, the news was delivered: Teddy Goalsevelt would be doing something -- what, it wasn't known for sure -- with Will Ferrell.
"Crazy!" he exclaimed. “This is just…” before stopping and failing to find the words.
Arriving at the kitchen hallway, Gulati walked down the hall, greeting Goalsevelt in person with a hearty "Hello, Mr. President!" and a handshake.
"That just happened," Goalsevelt said in shock afterwards.
Just then, a producer with a video camera introduced herself.
"I'm from Good Morning America," she said.
"WHAT?!" Goalsevelt replied.
Goalsevelt said good morning into the camera. To America. The kitchen staff continued cutting limes. Then a grey van pulled into the alley behind the restaurant. Ferrell stepped out, and immediately recognized Goalsevelt from the internet.
“So, what, are you just a big fan of the Battle of San Marco?” Ferrell asked. Everyone laughed.The two continued to talk.
Then came the time to go on stage.
D’Amico returned to his hotel that night to discover that Teddy Goalsevelt had garnered a mention on Conan O’Brien’s show. Interview requests continued to pile up. Will Ferrell knew who he was.
"So that happened. That's my life now," he says, astonishment still apparent in his voice. "Where do I go from here?"
To the U.S. vs. Germany game. That’s where.