By ADAM SHINDER
Three months ago, 21-year-old John Brooks played a calamity of a game in a friendly against Ukraine. By all measures, the son of an American serviceman father and a German mother had wasted his chance to represent the United States at the 2014 World Cup.
US coach Jurgen Klinsmann thought otherwise.
The raw, but immensely talented Brooks got an invitation to the Yanks' pre-World Cup camp and Klinsmann gave the 6-foot-5 defender one of 23 American spots on the plane to Brazil over several more experienced hands.
Monday night, Brooks wasn't supposed to be on the field as the US opened Group G play against recent World Cup nemesis Ghana. It was only as a precautionary measure that Brooks came on for the second half in place of starter Matt Besler, who was feeling tightness in his hamstring.
Sports work in funny ways sometimes, and because of that, my head hasn't stopped spinning yet.
Brooks, one of a handful of German-American dual nationals on the US squad, was about as improbable a hero as you could find. But, in the 86th minute, he threw his massive frame into the air, got on the end of Graham Zusi's corner kick and headed the ball past Ghanaian goalkeeper Adam Kwarasey to give the Americans a heart-stopping 2-1 victory.
There couldn't have been a tenser 90 minutes of soccer for the US against the team that eliminated them from the past two World Cups.
After 34 seconds, there was elation, courtesy of US captain Clint Dempsey's splendid display of skill to lead to a left-footed finish that stands as the sixth-fastest goal in the 84-year history of the World Cup.
Then came 82 minutes of nail-gnawing, sweat-inducing agony as the Americans absorbed wave after wave of attack from the Black Stars. It was barely 20 minutes in when a hamstring injury claimed US forward Jozy Altidore, his exit leaving the team with nobody to hold the ball up and relieve Ghana's pressure. Then Besler left at halftime, and the untested Brooks came in to try and deal with Ghana's multitude of attacking threats.
Heroic defending by the likes of Brooks, Geoff Cameron, Jermaine Jones and the dreadlocked Kyle Beckerman, plus a few key saves from Tim Howard, kept Ghana off the board as long as possible, but the equalizer was coming - and a sublime combination from Asamoah Gyan to Andre Ayew provided it.
It was a good thing my hands were empty at that point, because if they weren't, whatever I might've been holding would've been violently embedded in my living room wall.
Then Brooks soared and struck his way into American soccer history, and I let out the kind of shout that usually causes a police detail to end up knocking at your door a few minutes later.
As I write this, it's about an hour after Swedish referee Jonas Eriksson blew his final whistle. I'm still in a haze, and I don't know when it'll lift.
Sunday brings a desperate Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, maybe the world's best player, on the heels of a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Germany. A win, and the US can all but lock up a trip to the knockout rounds.
I don't know if my voice can take it, but it's like the American Outlaws say ...
I believe that we will win.
ADAM SHINDER still can't comprehend what just happened.
Explain it to him on Twitter at twitter.com/RecorderShinder