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.
The U.S. Men’s National Team rode a shock opening win against fourth-ranked Portugal, a draw against the host Korea Republic and a little help from the goalposts to advance to the Round of 16 at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Finishing second in the group meant that the MNT would have less than three full days rest to turn around and face regional rivals Mexico in the highest stakes match the two nations had ever played. With little time to prepare, in some respects the U.S. was lucky to have drawn the team with which it was most familiar.
Despite the U.S. having won four of the previous five meetings, according to U.S. captain Claudio Reyna, when the team arrived at Jeonju World Cup Stadium that June afternoon, there wasn’t much respect shown from the opposition side.
“Before the game we walked out and we were walking around the field. We had this focus and concentration as a team as you do preparing for any game,” the former team captain told ussoccer.com. “I was with Eddie Lewis, Frankie Hejduk, Gregg Berhalter and Earnie Stewart and we were ready to go – we were foaming at the mouth for this game. We looked over and the Mexicans were laughing, joking and looking at us…That was it.”
Reyna called the team over to quickly finish their pre-game pitch inspection and head back into the locker room.
“We sort of wanted the game to start, we were so ready to go,” he continued. “Back in the locker room, I remember saying, ‘These guys are laughing at us. They think they’re going to beat us easily.’”
Mexico had done efficient work to get to that point. Having finished with seven points atop a group that featured Italy, Croatia and Ecuador, El Tri’s run to the Round of 16 had the side brimming with self-assurance ahead of the match.
“They were feeling confident, but the lack of respect they showed was clear – you never do that,” said Reyna. “I would never do that in my career, even if I felt really comfortable about beating an opponent. That you’d be giggling, laughing and joking at the opponent. It was pretty clear that it was directed at us and at some of our players, and obviously we play them all the time so there’s that rivalry.”
“I remember saying, ‘We’re not losing this game guys.’ Everyone went around and you could feel it all the way through that we couldn’t wait to get out there.”
Reyna gets past Ramon Morales in the most famous "Dos a Cero" in Men's National Team history.
Injuries and suspensions limited the U.S. options, and Bruce Arena used the uncertainty to confound the Mexicans by deploying a 3-5-2 formation for the match. The switch saw Reyna move from his regular central midfield position to the right flank, with the move paying off almost immediately. Following an eighth minute foul in the Mexico half, Brian McBride quickly restarted as he saw Reyna pushing up the flank. The U.S. captain beat two defenders to the end line before centering for Josh Wolff, whose deft touch teed up McBride for a clinical finish and an equally gratifying goal celebration.
The goal set an early tone and played perfectly into Arena’s game plan, allowing the U.S. to sit in and pick its moments to counter against an increasingly frustrated Mexican side. Landon Donovan’s second- half header off an Eddie Lewis cross helped ice the game, giving the MNT its first ever World Cup knockout round win and a quarterfinal date with Germany.
“It was just a great team performance. To beat them 2-0, eliminate them and afterwards realize this was a big deal back in the States,” Reyna said.
The win raised the profile of the Men’s National Team more than any other since the 1994 FIFA World Cup, but in an age before social media, Reyna admitted the players didn’t realize how big an impact the victory had made.
“We didn’t know how huge it was at home,” he said. “We were in Korea and we knew it was sort of growing in momentum. I remember seeing some of the news clips from Mexico City where there were people in plazas and squares crying over the result – that felt good.”
U.S. supporters celebrate during the MNT's 2-0 win against Mexico at the 2002 FIFA World Cup.
Though the momentum was already building towards U.S. domination of the rivalry, the World Cup win tipped the scales. Since 2000, the MNT has held a 13-6-5 advantage against El Tri.
“From that moment on, it continued to be a real domination of Mexico,” Reyna said. “We went on and beat them all the time. That was the point where we felt we were no longer playing behind them, that we were better than them.”
“It was one big coming out party on the biggest stage.”Read more