Matt Hamilton had just gotten off a plane in Los Angeles and was returning my phone call when a woman tapped him on the shoulder. He excused himself for a few seconds and I could hear bits and pieces of a muffled conversation.
He got back on the phone and apologized.
“Someone on the plane just recognized me,” he said with a bemused chuckle. “She works for a men’s clothing line and told me to shoot her an email if I need something.”
Ah, the life of a stud curler.
One month ago, Hamilton, of McFarland, was an anonymous member of the U.S. Olympic curling team led by skip John Shuster, a former bartender who works part time at Dick’s Sporting Goods and who finished last in Vancouver and second-to-last in Sochi.
The “team of rejects,” as they called themselves, couldn’t even get support from USA Curling’s high-performance program. But after a 2-4 start at the Pyeongchang Games and a pep talk from Mr. T — the Knute Rockne of curling, apparently — Team Shuster bounced back to win the gold medal, beating powerhouse Canada twice along the way and upsetting Sweden in the final.
Talk about an electric slide. The out-of-nowhere performance quickly was dubbed the “Miracurl on Ice.”
All of America seemed to get, ahem, swept up in the curlers’ story. Former Packer Donald Driver was among those who jumped on board early with Twitter shout-outs and Team Shuster’s slow-motion march to the gold went viral on social media. A “Stone Gold Champs” T-shirt is one of the top-selling items on Team USA’s website.
What was it about these otherwise perfectly average Midwestern Joes that so captivated a nation?
“I think there’s a couple things,” Hamilton said. “One, we’re mic’d up during our games and we’re on the ice for 2½ to 3 hours. You feel like you’re building a relationship with people, like they can get to know you.
“The other part is we look like normal dudes. No one on the team is an Adonis by any means. We’re fit, but we’re very relatable. I think people like that.”
Whatever the reasons, the mustachioed Hamilton and his teammates suddenly are living the life of A-list celebrities. There was the obligatory whirlwind New York City tour, where they rang the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange and appeared on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Then it was off to Washington, D.C., where they participated in a ceremonial puck drop for an NHL game.