Six months ago, Sam Gordon was just your typical nine-year-old. The native of South Jordan, Utah, liked reading and science, and she loved playing sports. But one day last November everything changed. Her father, Brent, posted a highlight video of Sam, with her ponytail sticking out of her helmet, making crazy cuts on the football field as she sprinted past boy after boy in her coed youth league. "I put the video up so that Sam could look back on it in a few years and be able to say, 'Hey, remember when I beat all those boys?' " he says. "I thought it was something she and her friends could enjoy in a few years."
But in less than 24 hours, the video had 100,000 views and Sam was an internet sensation. Since the video went viral, she has been interviewed by Katie Couric, got her picture on a Wheaties box, visited the NFL Network studios (where she tackled football legend Marshall Faulk), received an award at the Cartoon Network's Hall of Game show, and had one-on-one training with soccer star Abby Wambach and other members of the United States Women's National Soccer Team.
"It's been crazy and exciting, and it has changed my life," says Sam. "At first it was just exciting to be on TV, but now people know me and that can really help me in the future with sports or school."
It has been a whirlwind few months for Sam. Among her many highlights was a personal invitation to the Super Bowl from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Sam sat with him during the game and got to joke around with him. "At the Super Bowl we were all singing along to Beyoncé, but he wasn't singing and didn't put the lights on his fingers [during the show]," remembers Sam. "So I tried to make him."
The first athlete to reach out to Sam was Wambach. After her video hit the web, Wambach tweeted, "Sam Gordon, heard u were a fan. I am one of yours." The team invited Sam, an avid soccer player, to Glendale, Arizona, where she got to watch them beat Ireland 2–0. "I met everybody on the team," Sam says. "Abby Wambach gave me a tour of the stadium. I got my own jersey with [my name and number] on it."
She even joined the U.S. women's team at practice and kicked the ball around with some of her idols. The team also threw the pigskin around with Sam. "All they wanted to do was play football with me," she says with a laugh. "Abby Wambach has a really strong arm."
Get Ready for More
As talented a football player as Sam is, soccer is the sport that she wants to pursue longterm. Sam says she is likely done playing football, except for perhaps flag football, as she focuses on soccer. After turning 10 in February, she has her sights set on joining the under-14 National Team Development Program.
Sam says she prefers soccer to football because she doesn't have to be the center of attention. "Sometimes playing football, I feel too much pressure to be the one with the ball all the time, and if I make a mistake I let the team down," she says. "In soccer I have more fun with the girls on the team, and if I miss the ball I have teammates to help."
To help her achieve her soccer dreams, Sam, a center midfielder, plays for several local soccer teams and works out with former NFL and college football players doing speed and agility drills a few times a week. Even though Sam has already met many big-name stars and had many awesome experiences, she's just getting started. Rest assured this won't be the last you hear from Sam Gordon. Who knows, maybe her next big video highlight will be from the 2023 World Cup.
Photos: Kohjiro Kinno for Sports Illustrated (Top); Courtesy of Brent Gordon (In-game and Wheaties box); Jason Kempin/Wireimage (Cartoon Network)