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10 surprising facts about America's new soccer hero, Tim Howard

By Ed Payne and Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 8:30 PM EDT, Wed July 2, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • The 35-year-old goalie made a World Cup-record 16 saves against Belgium
  • Howard is loaded with tattoos
  • He was born in New Jersey to an African-American father and Hungarian mother
  • His coaches say he's one of the best keepers in the world

(CNN) -- The word "epic" gets thrown around a lot these days, but there's no other way to describe what we saw Tuesday.

It was an epic battle. Team USA goalie Tim Howard on one hand. The entire Belgian team on the other.

Facing the relentless onslaught of Belgium's offense, Howard made 16 saves -- setting a World Cup record.

Hail to the goalie, Tim Howard
What's next in the World Cup?
Tim Howard inspires off the field, too

The United States lost the match 2-1 and is out of the tourney, but the nation gained a soccer hero.

Here's what you need to know about the 35-year-old Howard:

He's a devout Christian

Faith is a key part of Howard's life and shapes who he is.

"The most important thing in my life is Christ," Howard said in a 2006 interview with Campus Crusade for Christ. "He's more important to me than winning or losing or whether I'm playing or not. Everything else is just a bonus."

He was born in North Brunswick, New Jersey, to an African-American father and a Hungarian mother.

He is all tatted up

Howard loves his body art.

You want ink, you got it -- chest, abs, biceps, back.

His kids are there on his left pec. Jesus is on the left biceps. You'll find his home state of New Jersey on his belly.

There's a dove, too. A star. Some Roman numerals. The more you look, the more you find.

He is anti-fur

Howard bared his well-sculpted upper body for PETA's "Ink, not mink" campaign.

The pitch? "Fur only looks good on its original owner. Be comfortable in your own skin, and let animals keep theirs."

He lives with Tourette's syndrome

For Howard, it's not a big deal -- just part of his life. But it does come with some misconceptions.

"It's something that I live with every day. For me now in my life, it's like breathing for me. If I woke up and didn't have Tourette's syndrome, it would feel weird -- not better or worse, just different. So I'm very happy and comfortable with it," he said.

Many know it only as the "swearing disease," but only about 10% of people with Tourette's syndrome swear uncontrollably.

Tim Howard shines despite Tourette's
Tim Howard finds new publicity 'amusing'

"You know, we don't all curse," Howard told Yahoo Sports a couple of weeks ago. "I do on the field, unfortunately, to get my point across, but it's not because of my condition."

People with Tourette's syndrome suffer from involuntary tics, which can be either verbal or physical. Physical tics may include jumping or twitching. People with the syndrome describe a tic as being like a sneeze, impossible to hold in without extreme discomfort.

Twitter surrenders to Tourette's syndrome

He once scored a goal

How many goalkeepers can claim this feat?

While playing for Everton, his English Premier League team, Howard booted a ball the length of the pitch, catching the Bolton goalie by surprise.

The crowd and his teammates went nuts, but Howard told The Guardian he felt bad for the opposing keeper.

"You never want to see that happen," he said. "It's not nice, it's embarrassing."

He wasn't really that good when he started out

When Howard began his pro career as a 22-year-old goalkeeper for the New York/New Jersey MetroStars of MLS, he was known as a great athlete who could make great saves. Some reports have even said he could have played basketball in college.

But the 6-foot-3 Howard wasn't particularly good at other things, like distributing the ball after he made a nice stop. It's something he is much, much better at today.

In 2001 he was MLS goalkeeper of the year. And Manchester United, one of the most successful European clubs in history, worked out a transfer deal for him.

Howard spent four years with Manchester United before transferring to Everton.

He is the 'modern Jesus'

Even before the game ended Tuesday, Howard's incredible saves got Twitter in a tizzy.

Comparisons to Jesus abounded. Sample tweet: "Jesus saves, and so does Tim Howard."

Then came the memes of all the things #TimHowardCouldSave: Dinosaurs, the Titanic, Blockbuster from closing.

He is the 'U.S. secretary of defense'

Well, at least he was for a little while on Tuesday, according to Wikipedia.

So impressive was his performance against the Belgians that someone edited the free on-line encyclopedia, pulling Chuck Hagel from the page and inserting Howard.

The folks at Wikipedia caught the vandalism and restored the real secretary of defense to his rightful position.

Someone thinks with a little mentoring Howard might be able to make that Wikipedia change again one day down the road.

At least that's what the Pentagon says Hagel told Howard when he called him on Wednesday.

Hagel phoned the goalkeeper to "thank him for defending the United States of America at the World Cup," Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said.

Hagel also invited the team to drop by the Pentagon next time they are in town.

"He told Howard that with some training, he could someday become the real secretary of defense," Kirby said.

He is one of the best goalies in the world

Don't believe us? Just ask his coaches.

His club coach has said there is no better goalkeeper in the Premier League.

"His belief and understanding of the game and his desire to achieve more is contagious," Roberto Martinez told FIFA.com.

National team coach Jurgen Klinsmann said in May that Howard is one of the top five goalies in the world.

And, if there were any doubters, he silenced them all on Tuesday.

He is coming back in 2018 (or is he?)

This may not be Howard's final World Cup. Plenty of goalies have played in their late 30s and early 40s.

But backup Brad Guzan, who plays at Aston Villa in England, is five years younger.

Howard has yet to say whether he wants to be in the net when the team tries to qualify for Russia, host of the 2018 World Cup.

And he wasn't giving any clues on Wednesday when he talked with CNN's Chris Cuomo.

"Right now, emotions are high and that's never a time to make an important decision," Howard said. "I'll speak to the important people who matter in this process and take my time and figure it out.

"It's a long four years, but also this team is very talented and very young -- and so it's exciting."

Off the field: The men of the U.S. team

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