Contrary to what some fans expected, the sun did come up on October 17, 2017.
Some fans couldn’t sleep, the grief and confusion keeping them awake through the night. Those who did, woke up to the reality that it wasn’t just a bad dream, but a living nightmare. Grief and anger paralyzed the entire fan base as they tried to process the news. The question most were trying to answer was, What did we miss?
“When I woke up on Tuesday, at first I thought maybe it was just a dream, but I checked, and it wasn’t,” said John Zidar. “So, the same feelings washed over me again. It was so important to me. The rituals, the tailgating, going to game, the friendships, the podcasts. I put tons of hours into the Crew every week. All that would be taken away. It wasn’t just the Crew and soccer. It was taking away the podcast, the artistic expression through #TIFOSWEAT, taking away the binding of friendships. When I went into work on Tuesday, everybody looked to me to be the local Crew fan. Everyone was looking to me for answers, like I worked for the team and knew something they didn’t. I was in total pain.”
Ben Hoelzel tried to go to work but couldn’t finish the day. “I went home and for some reason I still can’t explain, shaved half my beard. I just walked around the house that way in a daze and started drinking by myself.”
Mark Vuchenich posted on Facebook that he was done with the league. He said, “My friend, Blake Compton commented on the post and said, ‘If you care so much about it, why don’t you do something about it?’ It totally pissed me off at the time, but he was right, and it ultimately motivated me.”
Many fans acted upon their despair in an attempt to get to work doing something productive, at least. Darby Schaaf pulled a list of all the Crew business sponsors from the team website, put them into a spreadsheet, and posted it on Twitter with the note, If anyone else wants to do something, here is something I’ve started doing. Schaaf said, “At the very least, I was going to go down fighting and making noise. I honestly didn’t think that day that I could change anything. How do you win a fight against billionaires?”
Tom Davis was walking into work when his mission became clear. “I love building websites. It’s become a hobby. Maybe that’s how I can help.” Little did he know then how momentous his contribution would be.
“I was emotionally devastated when I woke up on Tuesday morning,” said Steve Abreu. “It was like a stab in the back. I was just shattered. People ask me what my favorite team is. Since I live in Boston, they can’t believe it when I say the Columbus Crew. Why? I grew up with the Crew. They are in my blood.”
As one of the supporter group leaders, Donny Murray was getting pinged by people who either wanted to find out more or wanted to help. He checked Twitter and the news, and the reality hit him like a ton of bricks. “The more I read and texted back and forth with people, the more it sunk in that this was real. I went to work but didn’t know what to do. There was a lot of confusion. People were expecting me to have the scoop or some kind of plan. I knew all the supporter group leaders’ email addresses, so I fired off an email letting people know we weren’t going to sit still, we were starting to plan an approach. We all knew we needed to do something fast.”
News spread through social media that a gathering was being planned for Hendoc’s Pub that evening. Fans needed to be together. To mourn. To vent. To cry. Just to shake their heads in disbelief together. What else could they do?
When Morgan Hughes woke up, he felt relatively normal for a split second, as though maybe he just had a nightmare. Then he felt the dried tears around his eyes, and it hit him. He didn’t even remember crying. “But I must have,” he said. “It reminded me of the tears I cried when Tom Petty died just a couple weeks earlier. I was annihilated when he died. I forced myself to stand in the shower and listen to Into the Great Wide Open and sing those songs until I could stop crying.”
He tried to go about his day. He got dressed, throwing on a Crew jersey like he did every day without even thinking twice about it. He went to work and went to the managers huddle that began every morning. But no one talked about work. All the focus was on Morgan. His team was dying. Morgan was dying. Any empathy was replaced with curiosity, an expectation that Morgan had all the answers. Why is the team moving? How can Precourt do this? Is it because attendance was low? Why can’t we build a downtown stadium and keep the team here? “They made me relive every single thing that was going on. I had to be the analyst. The expert. It was horrible. After that, I remember walking around the office. I know my legs were moving, but I don’t remember much else.
“It reminded me of when Trump won the presidency. It was like a post-apocalyptic thing. So surreal. A cruel joke. At 2:45 that afternoon, one of my co-workers came into my office and told me to go home. He said, ‘I get it. This isn’t good for you. Go home and take care of yourself.’ I went home and walked the dog. That’s the great thing about dogs. They need to be walked. As little Bailey stopped to piss on every blade of grass, I started looking at Twitter. That’s when I got a direct message from Chris Doran (then Crew TV color analyst, now radio play-by-play announcer).”
Doran: Morgan, though I’m holding out slim hope that somehow Precourt is holding city officials hostage in hopes of getting a stadium deal, I’m absolutely gutted by the potential reality of the Crew moving. It gets deeply emotional when one considers the commitment and loyalty people like you have shown the club throughout the years. I’m grieving for you and the supporters. I hope something positive comes from all of it.
Hughes: Thank you my friend, I truly appreciate that. Had to leave the office early which is not something I normally do. I feel like a person in a war movie after a bomb goes off and they just stand up and look at everything in slow motion for 20 seconds while their ears are ringing, except the 20 seconds has lasted for 18 hours now.
Doran: Completely understand, Morgan. Beyond the public grief, I must say, this pisses me off. Thanks for letting me get that out.
That message from Doran transformed Hughes’ emotions of hopelessness into stone cold rage. “At that moment, 5:00 p.m. on October 17th, that was all I needed to hear.”
Hughes wrote back: My crippling depression has officially given way to powerful anger, I needed to hear that, so thank you. I’m not going to take this shit lying down.
Hughes grabbed his computer bag, threw it in the back of his car and headed to Hendoc’s. Not to mourn, but to get to work saving this team.
As he started to drive, he rolled all his windows down and cranked Tom Petty as loud as he could. Once again, as he did when Petty died, with tears streaming down his face, he sang along.
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