- USA take on Spain with a France 2018 quarter-final place at stake
- Midfielder Jaelin Howell will be key to negating the Spaniards’ creative play
- Her father, John, is a Super Bowl winner – he and his daughter spoke to FIFA.com
If, back in 2001, when he was drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, John Howell had been told that he would eventually fall in love with the “other” type of football, he would probably have struggled to believe it.
However, the success that his daughter Jaelin has enjoyed in the beautiful game has resulted in the 2002 Superbowl winner and 2006 runner-up currently touring Brittany with his family and friends, cheering on the USA midfielder and her team-mates at the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup France 2018. On Monday, the Americans face a decisive duel with Spain, in their third and final Group C fixture.
“It’s fun to get involved in something because your children are taking part in it,” said John Howell. “I really didn’t know anything about soccer, but I’ve become a huge fan, and now I love watching La Liga, the Premier League, the World Cup, men’s football and women’s football.”
|JOHN HOWELL||JAELIN HOWELL|
|40 years old, ex-professional American football player||18 years old, footballer|
|Position: Safety||Position: Defensive midfielder|
|Career: 6 years in NFL with Tampa Bay Bucaneers & Seattle Seahawks||Career: Player for Florida State University Seminoles & USA's national U-17 side|
Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano talked about being “Closed for football” during FIFA World Cup™ tournaments, and the Howell’s home in Denver, Colorado was in a not dissimilar state during Russia 2018.
“We planned our days around the World Cup,” recalled John with a smile. While Jaelin was training for “her” World Cup, he would keep track of the matches on his mobile phone, but when he was at home, the daily routine never changed: he would get up early (due to the time difference), make a strong cup of coffee (“We both love coffee,” he said), and get set for a festival of football.
“We’d watch the first game, and the second, and then the third. Jaelin says that I have a ‘man-crush’ on Ronaldo…maybe I do!” he laughed. “He’s my favourite player.” His talented offspring prefers Lionel Messi, but she also looks up to footballers who, like her, dominate the middle of the park, like Luka Modric, or France star Eugenie Le Sommer, the player she admires most of all.
Despite his achievements on the field, John Howell gets more excited about the sporting feats of Jaelin and her brothers – they play American football at college level – than his own. “Yes, I won a Super Bowl and played in another one, and that was fantastic. But when it comes to your children, it’s just different,” he explained.
“When they suffer, you suffer even more, and when they do well, you’re almost happier than they are. The thrill of seeing Jaelin succeed is ten million times more intense than what I felt when I was playing.”
Consequently, after watching the Stars and Stripes’ resounding 6-0 victory over Paraguay, a result that kept their destiny in their own hands as they strive to reach the quarter-finals, John was smiling from ear to ear.
Experience on tap
Being able to benefit from the experience of an ex-professional athlete who also happens to be a family member is a major advantage, according to Jaelin Howell. “My dad has taught me so much about the mentality used in American football, and that’s helped me to become the player I am today,” she said.
John added, laughing: “When she was a teenager she wasn’t very receptive. She would say things like ‘I already know that’, ‘I don’t understand you’ and ‘It’s a different sport’, but now we have wonderful, mutually respectful chats together.
Does the former Seattle Seahawks safety have any specific advice to pass on? “Mentality before reality!” John said without hesitation. It is a maxim with which Jaelin and her team-mates are extremely familiar. “My slogan tends to make them laugh, and then they shout ‘MBR!’ back at me, and that makes me laugh too,” he continued.
“I think they think my dad’s a cool guy,” said Jaelin, laughing. “Sometimes they ask me what he thinks. They like listening to him because of all the experience he has.”
Before locking horns with Spain on Monday in a match USA will likely need to win to qualify, Jaelin will doubtless ensure that she implements her father’s wise advice.