This World Cup, the face of American soccer hasn’t been star striker Clint Dempsey, stalwart goalie Tim Howard, or even multi-talented midfielder Jermaine Jones. In fact, it hasn’t even been a player on the team at all. Instead, it’s been Teddy Goalsevelt.
Mike D’Amico, a assistant creative director at a Chicago advertising firm, has become the most famous adman since Don Draper by donning a Teddy Roosevelt costume at all of the U.S. national team’s games. Dressed in a facsimile of the 26th president’s uniform when he commanded the Rough Riders during the Spanish-American War, D’Amico has captured the imagination of American soccer fans almost as suddenly as his idol took San Juan Hill from the Spaniards.
Teddy Goalsevelt was introduced to the world on Sunday, June 22, when ESPN cut to a shot of him celebrating after Jermaine Jones scored Team USA’s first goal in the 63rd minute of its electrifying 2-2 draw with Portugal. The shot was replayed later in the match, slowed down for full dramatic effect.
The soccer superfan caught up with The Daily Beast from a mall in Natal, Brazil where he was going to buy more data for his cellphone. (He had blown through his plan since arriving in Brazil.) He was shocked at his newfound celebrity, which included palling around with Will Ferrell at a rally before the U.S. team’s “victorious” loss to Germany on Thursday
“Surprised is hardly the word,” he said. “I’m just one of literally hundreds people down here dressed in really amazing patriotic gear. I’m just the lucky dummy they cut to after scoring the goal.”
D’Amico has been travelling to Team USA matches for years, albeit to far less exotic destinations than the Amazon—Kansas City and Columbus, for example. There, he was inspired by all the fans who are wearing “these amazing getups that they love.” He pointed out that every match has multiple colonial soldiers in tricorner hats and a guy dressed as a World War II fighter pilot.
Surprisingly for a superfan, D’Amico is relatively new to the sport of soccer. He grew up playing American football and in his words, “it’s kind of an unwritten rule that when you’re a football player in the United States, you gotta hate soccer.” He started to watch the U.S. national team and follow them in 2006, but didn’t truly become absorbed in the game until the 2010 World Cup, when the United States won its group but then lost to Ghana in extra time during the first game of the knockout round.
“What a ride,” D’Amico recalled. The highs and lows, I couldn’t turn away.” After that he decided he needed to “give this a serious chance, so I gave myself what I called at the time soccer boot camp.” For one month, all D’Amico watched, read and listened was about soccer. “I went in a USA soccer fan, now I follow the Premier League, keep an eye on MLS, La Liga, Serie A and the Bundesliga,” he said.
D’Amico also had an “an amazing group of friends” who joined him in his journey towards becoming a soccer fanatic. While they didn’t join him for his soccer bootcamp, it made it easier for them because D’Amico was there to help them along as someone also going through the journey, around whom they didn’t need to feel embarrassed about using the wrong word or tactical term. “I don’t want to take credit because they got into it on their own, but having friends alongside made a difference.”
None of those friends were able to join him on the trip. “I am the only one crazy enough to spend all of his savings and use all of his vacation time, but they’ve been with me ‘virtually’ the whole way,” he said. “I honestly feel like my friends were looking forward to it as much as I was.”
D’Amico is feeling confident about the team’s next match against Belgium. “[I’m] well aware of the depth and breadth of offensive and defensive talent on that team,” he said. “You could take the second string from the Belgian team and they would all start for a lot of nations.” But he thinks Team USA has a real chance because of “its amazing chemistry and amazing heart, and that what makes the difference.” D’Amico also pointed out that the team has incredible support. “In Brazil, you can’t throw a rock without hitting an American fan.”
But while he’s optimistic, he’s reluctant to look too far ahead. He joked that he sounded like “LeBron James on the podium” when he said he was just focused on the Belgium game and Team USA winning there. But after shaving a nine-month beard in order to allow him to get the mustache needed to be Teddy Goalsevelt, he thought it was likely that he'd end up keeping that facial hair. “I feel like I’m not going to be allowed to make that choice. The Internet’s making it for me.”
Team USA, with Teddy Goalsevelt in the crowd supporting them, play Belgium in Salvador, Brazil at 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday.