You never saw Johnny U barking at a vanquished opponent, or Brooksie bragging about another acrobatic grab and throw from the hot corner, did you?

Nope. Just like Iron Man Cal, they let their performances speak for themselves as they loped off the field, head and eyes down amid thunderous cheers.

Understated plays well here. Always has.

That Phelps is a little more demonstrative than the older Baltimore superstars makes him no less humble in our eyes.

For one thing, he was never bold enough to predict he would win eight gold medals in Beijing, yet he attempted the unthinkable challenge — 17 races against world-class athletes in a little over a week — with a quiet, confident approach.
He simply went about his business, much like he did before he became an athletic icon, “Saturday Night Live” host and pitchman for heaven knows how many products.

Like Brooks, Johnny U and Cal, it’s just not in Phelps’ nature to draw any more attention to himself than necessary, a trait that goes back a long way.

Just ask his Towson High American Government teacher, Gerry Brewster.

His introduction to Phelps came after Brewster asked all of his freshmen to stand and talk about themselves.

When it was Phelps’ turn, the conversation went something like this:

“So, Michael, what do you like to do?”

“Swim.”

“Are you any good?”

“Not bad.”

“Won any meets?”

“A few.”

That exchange, it should be noted, came after Phelps had already set several age-group records and was a threat to become the youngest U.S. male Olympian in 68 years, a feat he accomplished by qualifying for the 2000 Games in Sydney at the ripe old age of 15.

“Other students didn’t really know much about swimming,” Brewster said. “So he wasn’t a celebrity, like the football quarterback. But he kept at it, kept his focus on swimming. He made enormous sacrifices, giving up almost every weekend to swim while his buddies were out. I give him a lot of credit.”

Even then, Phelps was not looking for acclaim. He simply wanted to realize his full potential.

And because of that drive to succeed, folks in his hometown are bursting with pride.