One of the quirks about American sports is that it is always easier to figure out when an athlete forever became a bum or a disgrace than it is to remember the timing of when someone became a legendary hero.

Bill Buckner had a great baseball career but will forever be remembered for the groundball error that allowed the New York Mets to win Game 6 of the 1986 World Series (the Mets also won the decisive Game 7 against the Boston Red Sox).

Scott Norwood was the NFL’s top kicker in 1988 but missed a game-winning field goal attempt in the Super Bowl two seasons later against the New York Giants. Another year later, he was out of the game and went in hiding and he eventually became the symbol of the Buffalo Bills going winless in four consecutive Super Bowl appearances.

I can still recall being a kid in Southern California and hearing the name “Ralph Branca” spoken with utter disdain. Branca, who pitched for the Brooklyn Dodgers, allowed the infamous three-run, walk-off homer to the New York Giants’ Bobby Thomson in a 1951 tiebreaker game that gave the Giants the National League pennant. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that Branca was a three-time All-Star and once won 21 games in a season.

Bring up any of those names during your next visit to a sports bar and see what first response you get.

This brings us to Wednesday and the dramatic United States soccer victory. The Americans scored in the 91st minute with the leg of Landon Donovan providing the heroics.

Donovan already was a star in terms of U.S. soccer players and the most prolific goal scorer in the country’s international soccer history. But being a soccer star in a country that seldom pays attention to the sport doesn’t provide the high level of fame and recognition that goes to a Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning or Alex Rodriguez.

Most Americans wouldn’t know Landon Donovan if they passed him at the local grocery store or at the shopping mall. That splendid ESPN commercial with Donovan at the copy machine is one of the few times I’ve ever seen him on television outside of a soccer match or during soccer highlights.

Perhaps Danica Patrick can give up 30 seconds of television endorsement time – and the big-money check – in honor of Donovan.

But everything changes with the monumental late goal Donovan scored against Algeria. The United States was just minutes away from being eliminated from the World Cup with bitterness sure to follow. An official’s call stole away a victory against Slovenia and a questionable call in the first half of Wednesday’s game took away a goal from Clint Dempsey.

Going home with three draws and no victories wasn’t what we were led to expect from this version of the United States soccer squad. And it was oh-so-close to occurring.

Instead, Donovan was in the right spot after Dempsey slammed a hard shot toward the Algerian goal. Algeria’s Rais Bolhi made a superb save on Dempsey’s shot but Donovan was perfectly positioned for the rebound and drove home the winning goal.

This type of big goal – the importance, the circumstances, the drama, the ref’s earlier poor call, Dempsey hitting the post earlier – is the type of clutch play that Americans like seeing from big-time athletes.

The big stage was there for someone to be a hero and the best player in the United States answered the call.

Donovan arrived on the World Cup scene in 2002 and his debut performance was solid. But in the 2006 World Cup in Germany, Donovan was a huge disappointment and questions rose over whether he was a true big-time player.

None of that ever needs to be discussed again. Not after scoring the most-dramatic goal in U.S. soccer history. Not after coming through at the time when many players wilt.

Not with the United States moving into the second round to face Ghana on Saturday.

At age 28, Landon Donovan is now cemented forever as an American sports hero, regardless of sport.

I bet we see a lot of Landon Donovan commercials as the summer progresses.

And we will forever recall when Donovan rose from a mere soccer star to a legendary American sports hero.

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Comments
  1. The rules of soccer are very simple, basically it is this: if it moves, kick it. If it doesn’t move, kick it until it does.

  2. nice informative post keep them coming !

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