Dates? A good schedule doesn't need dates. It just is.
Major League Soccer is 20 years old. The league was founded in 1994, and took the field in 1996. In 1997, it saw its first rebranding. In 1998, it set about two more logo changes. In the 18 years that soccer has been played in the United States under the banner of the Major League Soccer enterprise, there have been 18 rebrands or logo changes. It's so common, that one might say that soccer is rivaled only by rebranding as MLS's raison d'être, and more revision and honing of franchise identities seems assured to continue year after year for the foreseeable future.
This week the Columbus Crew, MLS's first team, will unveil its new crest. The unveiling of the logo that will symbolize the "New Crew" era, will leave only one team from the original 10 with a crest that has largely gone unchanged. This is a landmark moment, not only for the team and its supporters, but for the sport of soccer in the United States. Yet, in true Columbus tradition, the importance of this moment will likely go largely uncelebrated by the league, its corporate sponsors, its media partners, and the national soccer media at large. If so, that's fine. Columbus, Ohio has been the most important city for American soccer, and the Columbus Crew have been the most reliable pillar for Major League Soccer, since 1994. The league does not exist in its current form without Columbus. The league, most likely, does not exist at all without Columbus. These are truths, whether MLS 2.0 through 2.9 and the television networks acknowledge the essential importance of the Black & Gold, or not.
The original crest—a symbol of Columbus, Ohio's role as the structural foundation and the constructive character that's given a spine to American Soccer since 1994 and a home since 1999—is about to be replaced. The three workers on the crest of the Columbus Crew have done their work. They are moving on. We've known this was coming for more than a year, now. Some have welcomed it and some have dreaded it. Nevertheless, the day is almost here. It will be a momentous day. It will be a good day.
Earlier this year (May, to be exact), Steve Abreu, Gabe Shultz, Larry W. Johnson, and myself—long-time Columbus Crew and MLS fans, all—thought it would be fun to look back at the history of rebrands in MLS, and rank them from best to worst. Or, more accurately, we would rank them according to which ones we personally thought were most successful and which were least successful. We wrote what we thought, shared our thoughts with one another, and then we waited for October to share it with everyone.
In the mean time, one expansion team announced their rebrand (Orlando City), another expansion team started operating under their initial crest (New York City FC), and the whole entire league announced its new logo. We included our thoughts on Orlando City, but did not include NYCFC or MLS, because Orlando City was, like the others in this list, a rebranding for a team.
Gabe, a professional graphic artist in Columbus, identified the 18 major and minor rebrands in MLS history. Larry, also a professional graphic designer in Columbus, compiled and ordered our answers. Steve, a patent and trademark attorney in Boston, contributed his answers from a "posher-than-imaginable hotel room" while on business in Hong Kong (this project, literally, spanned the globe). Together, we're coming at you with a lot of American soccer history and fun, and, to quote a great man, if you're not careful you may learn something before it's done.
Here are the results of our rankings, 1 to 18. The final results are the averages of the rankings of the four individuals. Our individual rankings for that team are below each team, along with our explanations. I've ordered our individual explanations by which of us were the closest to the final result for that team going first, which of us was farthest from the final result being last.
1. Vancouver Whitecaps, 2011.
Steve Abreu. Vancouver Whitecaps 1st
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps - The best rebrand in the history of MLS is the redesign of the mid-90's SURGE-cola reminiscent Vancouver Whitecaps logo to the timeless angular beautifully-fonted mountains and reflections of mountains in water crest. It just so happens that the reflection of the mountains forms a VW for Vancouver Whitecaps. A unique shape encapsulating a unique vision. Simple, breathtaking and deserving of the No. 1 spot.
Gabe Shultz. Vancouver Whitecaps 2nd
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps - A self-contained logo that shows off the city's iconic landscape with a subtle "VW"—very clever. The use of the "it's everywhere" font Gotham is the only disappointment.
Justin Bell. Vancouver Whitecaps 2nd
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps - The drop off from 1st to 2nd is big, but Vancouver's new crest is clever and clean.
Larry W. Johnson. Vancouver Whitecaps 6th
2011 Vancouver Whitecaps - Did well here, better than Montreal. It's something fans will look back fondly on, won't tire as some others on this list.
2. Los Angeles Galaxy, 2007.
Gabe Shultz. Los Angeles Galaxy 1st
2007 Los Angeles Galaxy - The shift of emphasis from a whole galaxy to a single star is just too perfect.
Larry W. Johnson. Los Angeles Galaxy 1st
2007 Los Angeles Galaxy - Works, fits city without trying.
Justin Bell. Los Angeles Galaxy 1st
2007 Los Angeles Galaxy - Clearly, the best rebranding in league history.
Steve Abreu. Los Angeles Galaxy 9th
2007 Los Angeles Galaxy - LA Galaxy decided that its prior excellent history of winning cups wouldn't be enough to satisfy the legions of new fans Beckham was surely to bring, so they decided to emulate Real Madrid with no real reason. The 2007 LA Galaxy crest is totally without meaning. It's like eating air for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and fourthmeal.
3. Orlando City, 2014.
Steve Abreu. Orlando City 4th
2014 Orlando City - Orlando City, 2014. Now that's what I call a Logo (volume 17)!
Justin Bell. Orlando City 4th
2014 Orlando City – I think that Orlando City and its supporters are going to be generally hard to take for a few seasons. There seems a sense of entitlement is bubbling to the surface of Orlando City soccer culture that reminds one of adolescent rage and acne—or like the “We Deserve Butter” seasons of Toronto FC. Look, a billionaire ripped your team from Austin. You're about to take a bunch of MLS veterans from other cities via the expansion draft. Kaka was gifted to you by the league. He'll eventually feel like he's being held back by his teammates, and MLS will probably alter major rules so his years in the shadow of Cinderella's Castle aren't anything less than a fairy tale. Anyway, this logo is a pretty great update of the crazy red-headed lions that the USL side sported since leaving Texas. Yes, it's a little reminiscent of Disney's Lion King and has barely anything to do with soccer, but that's okay. It looks like Orlando. A purple team is welcome. We need a pink team, next. Seriously.
Larry W. Johnson. Orlando City 5th
2014 Orlando City - Maybe this one should go down as the only modern rebrand to be recieved well on social media. It works fine enough. Lesson here is that the meaning behind the 'solar flares' / lion main has already changed with the loss of Chivas USA. Ultimately... hey! It's purple and it looks sorta like something Disney would do for latest Lion King show off broadway. Which fits because of Orlando.
Gabe Shultz. Orlando City 10th
2014 Orlando City - The monolithic lion/sun illustration is a handsome upgrade in style and tone. Unfortunately the rest of the logo is hanging on for dear life—the shield shape seems to counter the roundness of the lion, and the type—despite the custom letter interplay—my god, you could fit a witch AND a wardrobe between that 'L' and 'A'.
4. Colorado Rapids, 2007.
Gabe Shultz. Colorado Rapids 4th
2007 Colorado Rapids - From everything wrong to a lot of things right. The color scheme upgrade was huge. The shield shape feels mountainous. Oops, how did that soccer ball get back in there?
Steve Abreu. Colorado Rapids 2nd
2007 Colorado Rapids - Colorado's 2007 change from black and blue (after having been green and blue) to burgandy and sky blue is the league's second best rebrand of all time. Colorado has always been the team comfortable in every color, and every league needs a team in burgundy, so why not Colorado? Colorado pretended to be Inter Milan for a few seasons and it didn't catch. Now it's up to Montreal to pretend to be Inter Milan. Colorado's always screamed out "Aston Villa!" to me, and clearly to whoever made this change. The chevron-shield badge design perfectly surrounds the mountain motif; the typeface makes sense. While the inclusion of the soccer ball is regrettable, in 2007 cities still needed to be reminded which sport their MLS teams actually played. A glass of burgundy in honor of this redesign.
Justin Bell. Colorado Rapids 8th
2007 Colorado Rapids - Has Colorado been in a constant state of rebranding since 1996? I like what they've had since 2007, but it feels like they're always itching for another change. The recent electric blue 2nd kits, for instance, and new-ish Colorado flag motif are great.
Larry W. Johnson. Colorado Rapids 10th
2007 Colorado Rapids - Better, stadium later but it is boring as all. What is interesting is that Colorado appears to be moving to new colors already, incorporating state flag now too.
5. New York Red Bulls, 2006.
Gabe Shultz. New York Red Bulls, 3rd.
2006 New York Red Bulls - It's unfair, but tacking the team identity to a cool brand did wonders for me as a spectator. I was excited when they rebranded. It felt legit.
Larry W. Johnson. New York Red Bulls, 3rd.
2006 New York Red Bulls - Full sponsor, links up with worldwide brand, probably better than Harrison NJ deserves.
Justin Bell. New York Red Bulls, 3rd.
2006 New York Red Bulls - The RedBull Energy Drink FC joke was always going to be a risk, but it's easier to deal with when you have a beautiful stadium and billions of dollars backing up your team.
Steve Abreu. New York Red Bulls, 17th
2006 New York Red Bulls - Everything about your favorite soccer team is for sale to the highest bidder. Every single detail is for sale. Everything you love about your team could be owned by your least favorite company tomorrow if enough money was offered. I give you Red Bull New York.
(Tie) 6. Montreal Impact, 2011.
Justin Bell. Montreal Impact 6th
2011 Montreal Impact - When one considers the xtreme! 90s-ness of L'Impact Montreal's USL crest, the current MLS crest is both classy and modern. Impact still seem to be trapped in fads, however, and it's going to need revision, soon.
Gabe Shultz. Montreal Impact 7th
2011 Montreal Impact - I remember being disappointed by all the trendy stuff jammed into this… the hipster type, the gradients, the ribbon thingy, the kinda-3D style. But they had the sense to lose the soccer ball YET SOMEHOW it looks even more like a soccer team logo. Huh.
Steve Abreu. Montreal Impact 8th
2011 Montreal Impact - I like Montreal's old crest. It came straight out of an era where you could name a team IMPACT! unabashedly. The new crest comes straight out of the era where three graphic designers sit in a conference room with a team's PR flacky and they read the city's wikipedia page for design clues. Unfortunately what came out was just a hodge podge of ideas, but hey, at least there's no soccer ball.
Larry W. Johnson. Montreal Impact 9th
2011 Montreal Impact - A more serious looking upgrade, not too bad. I remember a video that accompanied this when it was released and it worked but, again, feels too tight, too clean. It also moved colors close to a few other MLS teams out there. All have the same feel.
(Tie) 6. Portland Timbers, 2011.
Steve Abreu. Portland Timbers 5th
2011 Portland Timbers – Portland's modernizing of its axe seems reasonable to me. The new font is miles better. Why not? Welcome to MLS, Portland.
Justin Bell. Portland Timbers 5th
2011 Portland Timbers - Portland's MLS version of the USL version (great) of the NASL version (good) is fine, but the cartoonish axe is silly. And why does MLS insist on adding shadows and more colors to create the illusion of depth? It looks minor league, which is exactly the opposite of what they're trying to do. Stop. Don't do this to the Crew. Please.
Larry W. Johnson. Portland Timbers 2nd
2011 Portland Timbers - Just because they are sticking with what already worked. Do it right the first time, LESSONS.
Gabe Shultz. Portland Timbers 18th
2011 Portland Timbers - The old Portland logo was simple, recogizable, expertly composed and crafted (OK, not the type), symbolic, and still felt relevant in 2011—with only two flat colors. The new version—while certainly passable—is a hamhanded, naive attempt to improve all that original beauty with modern design trends. Bleh.
8. Houston Dynamo, 2006.
Steve Abreu. Houston Dynamo, 7th
2006 Houston Dynamo - Houston 1836, we hardly knew ye! I'm generally in favor of scrubbing racially insensitive material from crests, so I'm putting this change in seventh, though the resulting Houston Dynamo crest is basically San Jose's old horrifying crest, only in orange. Still, someone with some sense decided that the team perhaps should not be named after a great battle defeat of the team's likeliest fans, so you have to applaud some realism entering into the mix. Would it kill Houston Dynamo to rebrand again please?
Justin Bell. Houston Dynamo 9th
2006 Houston Dynamo - This feels like the forerunner to most of the crests that followed through 2011 (San Jose, Toronto, Portland, Seattle, Kansas City). In lieu of a symbol we give you words. Lots of words. And over-stylized fonts. Lots of that. And, of course, a soccer ball. Over all, just, so, so very, very MLS.
Larry W. Johnson. Houston Dynamo 4th
2006 Houston Dynamo - Fine, part of the look works because they launched a new stadium plan around the same time. Without the shield outline and soccer ball it does sort of look like a TV show logo.
Gabe Shultz. Houston Dynamo 13th
2006 Houston Dynamo - This is not an indictment of Houston's current logo—In fact I think both of these are really good—it's just that the 1836 concept was way more meaningful. It's a shame "1836" was offensive to a key demographic.
9. Seattle Sounders, 2009.
Larry W. Johnson. Seattle Sounders 8th
2009 Seattle Sounders - I remember liking the thick black outline but I do think this one will tire sooner rather than later. Something that works in Seattle is that the pro teams sort of keep style/colors similar. Even the old Sonics still line up. There is a lot to be said with keeping it familiar.
Gabe Shultz. Seattle Sounders 8th
2009 Seattle Sounders - It's not like an all-type logo was ever practical anyway, but it's also not like two crazy overlapping shields is much better. It looks professional, so that's nice.
Justin Bell. Seattle Sounders 10th
2009 Seattle Sounders - Worst current outline for a crest in MLS by a mile. Seriously, what the hell shape is this? And we get it—Space Needle. Wow. What makes it even worse is that there was a circular crest design that a fan did back in 2007 that blows the doors off of this. It features Chief Sealth, the great chief for whom the city is named. It was simple, historic, and inspiring. But the Sounders are preposterous so the current crest is perfect for them. Good job!
Steve Abreu. Seattle Sounders 13th
2009 Seattle Sounders - Seattle Sounders had a reasonable word mark and they changed it to the weirdest shaped crest in the league. Why not just make the Space Needle the shape of the crest? What is going on here? Is the blue thing a pointy home plate? I don't understand this. It is awful. Die.
10. FC Dallas, 2005.
Justin Bell. FC Dallas 7th
2005 FC Dallas - The Burn was an insane name for a soccer team and it had an insane horse with insane lightning bolt legs and it was insanely exhaling fire. It was a Goyaesque nightmare in soccer crest form. In fact, a better name for the team would have been Dallas Nightmares. FC Dallas' combination of eurostyle name and Texas longhorn crest is an awkward mashup, but it's better than being insane. OR IS IT?
Gabe Shultz. FC Dallas 5th
2005 FC Dallas - No frills. A nicely composed shield, with a well-illustrated longhorn, with a quasi-occult homage to its predecessor stamped into its forehead.
Steve Abreu. FC Dallas 14th
2005 FC Dallas - I have fond memories of the Dallas Burn. Ariel Graziani, Jason Kreis, the Cotton Bowl full, etc. A real team. One of the originals. The Burn was a terrible name (not Wiz terrible, but terrible) but at least it wasn't lazy as all fuck FC Dallas. That is the worst team name in the league. I'm sorry. It is also awful. So is their dumb steer. The new crest is all kinds of awful. Awful awful awful. I hate it. Bring the Dallas Burn back.
Larry W. Johnson. FC Dallas 16th
2005 FC Dallas - Good for an NFL team, maybe it works in that way? The first one was so bizarre. Maybe underselling this one. Because it is a good design, just can't get past how non-soccer-y it is. Maybe that fits though, Texas and all.
11. DC United, 1998.
Gabe Shultz. DC United 12th
DC United 1998 - Also better in a sad way. The eagle is illustrated better, the shield shape is better, the type is clearer, but all those things are still not very good.
Justin Bell. DC United 13th
1998 DC United - For those who don't know, DC has a weird eagle on its crest that is neither inspiring, nor intimidating. This change in '98 made the weird eagle slightly less weird, yet no more inspiring or intimidating.
Larry W. Johnson. DC United 15th
1998 DC United - Really don't think it was it needed, and love the old one because I feel it was the only one someone put some time in with in 95. Also, why does the new one have a soccer ball in the belly? It looks like the Trans-Am logo from the late 70s was shot in the belly with a soccer ball, complete with the clipart star and all.
Steve Abreu. DC United 3rd
The change of DC United's crest in 1998 made their quasi-nazi motif less nazi, and that's good enough to make the podium. The crest hasn't been changed since.
12. San Jose Earthquakes, 2008.
Steve Abreu. San Jose Earthquakes 12th
2008 San Jose Earthquakes - San Jose in 2008. This change was utterly meaningless. Everything listed below here is a change so pernicious that it ranks below San Jose missing the opportunity to retire its Kindergarden-classroom crest.
Justin Bell. San Jose Earthquakes 12th
2008 San Jose Earthquakes - Didn't I just get done talking about this crest? I actually thought the recklessness of the seismograph worked. I mean, if the big one's coming, why not go nuts? It's crazy that in between 2000 and 2008, the 'Quakes left for Houston, came back (kind of), and still didn't take the opportunity to change their crest, identity, or anything, in any real way until 2014.
Gabe Shultz. San Jose Earthquakes 11th
San Jose 2008 - It's a bummer to make a few minor tweaks to upgrade something when it really needed a great many major adjustments. It's better but in a sad way.
Larry W. Johnson. San Jose Earthquakes 14th
2008 San Jose Earthquakes - Never be afraid to change, no matter how small. That said. You made a mistake the 1st time. Be more careful.
13. Sporting Kansas City, 2011.
Larry W. Johnson. Sporting Kansas City 11th
2011 Sporting Kansas City - I think this one is giving Crew fans pause. It stays as high up on my list as this because the team has been so successful in generating excitement around the team. The logo is bloated and the interlocked "SC" commands way too much space and just floats there. There is too much design for design sake with the elements.
Steve Abreu. Sporting Kansas City 16th
2011 Sporting Kansas City - Sporting Kansas City didn't have to be way down here. The change from KC Wizards to Sporting Kansas City was necessary and is an example of everything that can go right when someone who cares buys your team, but this crest is really, really dumb and it's just such a shame. Sporting KC is the best Gillette can get?
Justin Bell. Sporting Kansas City 17th
2011 Sporting Kansas City - This should be last, honestly. For all of the plaudits and praise that this overwrought, pointlessly complicated, repurposed deodorant logo of a meaningless rebrand gets, this should be last. It's horrible. And it's swollen. Why in the hell is it swollen? Someone lance this boil on the corporate brain of MLS before it needlessly affects Columbus' 2015 rebrand.
Gabe Shultz. Sporting Kansas City 6th
2011 Sporting Kansas City - Everything's about to burst, the type is tiny and stretched, the "SC" has to be explained to, like, everyone, I assume, and "Sporting" is just such an eyeroller. BUT, it feels like a brand now, where Wizards never did. They have nice clothes [never say, 'lifestyle brand'], and their commitment to the color scheme has a lot of merit. I also like the subtle state line.
14. San Jose Earthquakes, 2014.
Larry W. Johnson. San Jose Earthquakes 12th
2014 San Jose Earthquakes - Poor 'quakes, just can't get it right. so dark, so... nothing. I have this ranked with Sporting KC because they are both corporate looking and very stuffy.
Gabe Shultz. San Jose Earthquakes 16th
San Jose Earthquakes 2014 - What a dud. The new Quakes logo goes out of its way to cover up every interesting idea had somewhere in the design process with safe, expected, blandness. And a soccer ball right in the middle, mocking me.
Steve Abreu. San Jose Earthquakes 6th
2014 San Jose Earthquakes - San Jose's logo has been a total disaster ever since they buried the Crashcorpion and adopted the sunshine soccer ball. This year's redesign, while not perfect, finally allows for the registration of the logo as a copyright, since it is now no longer just a mashup of public domain soccer ball and sun ray clip arts. Also, I like chevrons. Nice change, San Jozy.
Justin Bell. San Jose Earthquakes 18th
2014 San Jose Earthquakes - Like this, for instance. The only reason why this new horrible San Jose Earthquakes crest exists is because people in positions of influence within MLS think the SKC rebrand is great, as money is the most important thing in the business of sports and sincerity in sports is for saps. While I wasn't fully on board with his vision for the skyline-adorned Columbus Crew redesign, M. Wills' reboot of the San Jose rebrand was like most of his work—excellent. In that project, he showed how a little creative thoughtfulness can go a long way.
(Tie) 15. Kansas City Wiz(ards), 1997.
Justin Bell. Kansas City Wiz(ards) 16th
1997 Kansas City Wiz(ards) - Wiz, we hardly knew you. Wizards, welcome. We'll hardly remember you.
Larry W. Johnson. Kansas City Wiz(ards) 18th
1997 Kansas City Wiz(ards) - A goddamn mess of a rebrand, original was God's gift to soccer in the USA.
Steve Abreu. Kansas City Wiz(ards) 10th
1997 Kansas City Wiz(ards) - The WIZ to Wizards change was so necessary that the people who thought up WIZ should have been fired, hunted down, spat upon, towel dried, spat upon again, taunted, and hung to a flag pole by their boxers. The only reason that this change is so low is because they had an opportunity here and they picked "Wizards." Whatevs.
Gabe Shultz. Kansas City Wiz(ards) 9th
1997 Kansas City Wiz(ards) - There is no wrong direction you can run when you are running away from that Wiz logo.
(Tie) 15. MetroStars, 1998.
Steve Abreu. MetroStars 15th
1998 MetroStars - New York/New Jersey MetroStars had a reasonable crest in 1997, it was quirky and it was MLS 1.0 but it was unique. They changed it to a crest that could be designed by a person who you explained soccer crests to, but who had never seen one before, and who was blindfolded, and had their dominant hand tied behind their back. The 1998 crest sucked hard.
Justin Bell. MetroStars 14th
1998 MetroStars - No more taxi cabs and skyscrapers. This and the DC United changes are of a piece. Of course, DC United is still living with their 1998 changes. I love love love love love love that the soccer ball on the MetroStars crest and the Kansas City Wiz(adds) crests were exactly the same. Single entity, single soccer ball.
Gabe Shultz. MetroStars 17th
1998 MetroStars - Something to nothing. That psychotic Radio City 90s redux may have been ready for a change, but it had life… Its replacement had nothing of the sort. I hate critiquing design this way, but brevity is a rule in POWER RANKINGS, so: it looks like clipart.
Larry W. Johnson. MetroStars 7th
1998 MetroStars - They saw a need to fix the original, but to something that means absolutely nothing? Bold in the laziness.
17. San Jose Earthquakes, 2000.
Steve Abreu. San Jose Earthquakes 18th
2000 San Jose Earthquakes - San Jose had a cool-ass scorpion and a reasonable team name and then they changed it to some cartoonish nonsense that was vaguely reminiscent of some soccer team that came before. Ugh. The change to Earthquakes stilted the team's growth, caused it to move, and then stuck around like a cockroach through two further rebrands. Go away San Jose Natural Disaster Crests.
Gabe Shultz. San Jose Earthquakes 14th
2000 San Jose Earthquakes - I always felt like the Earthquakes logo was trying to appeal to guys on choppers. Also shout out to the Clash for having the only lowercase letters in the POWER RANKINGS.
Larry W. Johnson. San Jose Earthquakes 13th
2000 San Jose Earthquakes - Ok, but now getting down the list. Means some of these efforts are really questionable.
Justin Bell. San Jose Earthquakes 11th
2000 San Jose Earthquakes - Here's where it gets bleak. If the drop from 1st to 2nd was big, the line from 10th to 11th is an event horizon beyond which is Nothingness. But SJ going from Clash to the 'Quakes at least had historic inspiration. The SJ crest, however, has been a mess since 2000.
18. Colorado Rapids, 2001.
Larry W. Johnson. Colorado Rapids 17th
2001 Colorado - Do want to go back and try to make that circular logo better, something good there. This looks exactly like something I would have designed in Quark or Pagemaker back in the early 00s.
Gabe Shultz. Colorado Rapids 15th
Colorado Rapids 2001 - The choice to contain the worst color scheme in soccer history within a circle was essentially a matter of public safety. That giant soccer ball makes me cry.
Justin Bell. Colorado Rapids 15th
2001 Colorado Rapids - Not much to say here. Another turn of the tube in 20 years of kaleidoscopic crest changes.
Steve Abreu. Colorado Rapids 11th
2001 Colorado Rapids - Colorado went from a crest that featured rapids to a crest that featured a Spacely's Sprocket. Just NO.
And say my glory was I had such friends.
-William Butler Yeats
"The Municipal Gallery Revisited" (1939)
This is the 28th part of 28 in 28. Early on, I knew exactly how this series was going to end. The hard part, as it always is, was getting here.
It's been great to read the comments and feedback about these posts during the last month. My favorite comments were some variation of "This is my favorite yet" or "Favorite one so far." Those kind of comments came in almost daily, and from many different people. To me, it meant that at least one person saw something new in that design that they liked, and maybe they hadn't thought of before. Getting people thinking about possibilities has been my main intent with 28 in 28. But, before I get too far into recapping this month, I think I'll move on and save the reflection for tomorrow.
This is 28: Be Massive, My Friend.
I don't know how many Columbus Crew matches I've been to since 1996. It's in the hundreds, easily. There are a handful of matches that I remember very well. One of the matches that I remember most vividly was on August 20, 2011.
The Crew were first in the Eastern Conference at the time, and they were playing the Philadelphia Union who were just below them on the table. The Crew starting XI was William Hesmer, goalkeeper; Josh Gardner, Julius James, Chad Marshall, and Sebastian Miranda, defenders; Robbie Rogers, Kevin Burns, Emmanuel Ekpo, and Justin Meram, midfielders; Emilio Renteria and Andres Mendoza, forwards; and Robert Warzycha was the manager.
The Crew won the match 2-1 behind a very strong performance by Robbie Rogers, and a goal-a-piece from Renteria and Mendoza. Hesmer was his reliable cup-winning quality in the victory, making a couple of spectacular saves to hold the Union to one goal.
It's not unusual to remember the hard-fought victories when something like first place is at stake. I don't remember the August 20, 2011 match for that reason, however. I remember it because of the manner in which Crew fans remembered another Crew fan who had passed away the week before.
I didn't know Joel Reynaga beyond being someone whom I'd seen at every Crew match for years, give a hi-five to if I was standing nearby when the Crew scored a goal, nod "Hello" to and chat briefly with at a pre-match tailgate. He was one of the familiar faces that I became used to seeing with his drum and La Turbina Amarilla shirt around the stadium. That familiarity is one of the best parts of being a Columbus Crew fan, actually—even for someone like me who likes to keep a low profile at the bars and pre- and post-match gatherings. No one can know everything about everyone, but we come back to Crew Stadium in March of each year, see the familiar faces and meet new ones, and we're revitalized by the knowledge that we have 8 or 9 warm months ahead of us, together and for the same team until fall. Even though there were so many changes that happened in 2011—and a lot of ups and downs—that feeling of friendship remained strong.
Before the match on August 20, as the Nordecke filled up, dozens of supporters from the different groups brought with them yellow carnations. The Reynaga family came to the match and stepped onto the Crew Stadium field in front of the Nordecke with Joel's drum set up in front of the La Turbina Amarilla and Hudson Street Hooligans sections. Then, all of the fans who had brought in yellow carnations passed them to the front of the Nordecke. As we handed the flowers to those in the front rows, they piled them onto Joel Reynaga's drum. The pile grew higher and higher. The simple gesture of passing the carnations forward, and laying them together was one of the most moving tributes I've ever been a part of or seen in a soccer stadium. It was simple, strong, deeply felt, and honest. It was true. It was a demonstration of sympathy and love for the Reynaga family, who must have been profoundly heartbroken so soon after the loss of Joel. This was a section of the most raucous soccer supporters in the United States brought to tears—not for the loss of a game or the end of a season, but for the loss of a friend.
There are several photographs from that day taken by Sameh Fahmi, the amazing photographer and contributor to the Massive Report. Sam edited some of the photos and video that he took from that match and put them together into a video that he shared on his Facebook page.
Carnations, like roses, are flowers of strong symbolism. The only state in the union to have a carnation as their state flower is, of course, Ohio. The red (or scarlet) carnation is our state flower, while the white trillium is our state wildflower. The red carnation has been the flower of Ohio since 1904, and was made so by the state legislature in remembrance of President William McKinley, who died in 1901.
The yellow carnation has many different meanings, but my favorite explanation that I've heard for what a yellow carnation symbolizes is "We will find each other when life is difficult." That's exactly what the fans were saying with the dozens of flowers brought for the Reynaga family and La Turbina Amarilla on August 20, 2011.
We will find each other when life is difficult.
Friend is a powerful word to me. It's become easy in our time to sell things by asserting that by purchasing some item or participating in some event puts you in the company of a family of some sort, yet friend is sometimes a harder word to say. It's noticeable to me how often people will call someone "brother" or "sister" as a synonym of "good friend." It's almost as if doing so provides a comfortably ironic separation or distance, whereas saying that someone is a good friend is an assertion of a closer bond.
I was talking to my good friend Alex Thomas, of Cafe Del Mondo and La Turbina Amarilla, the other day about this very thing. How incredibly meaningful and unbreakable that bond between blood relations is, and yet I couldn't help but think while we were talking about how strong our Crew supporter friendships are—how remarkable is this tie that I have with people to whom I'm not related, and with whom I don't see for months at a time just because it's winter—the Columbus Crew offseason.
And the older I get, the more I think that while family is sacred, what everything comes down to in this life is this: We must be friends.
The motto that has developed of its own organic momentum among Crew supporters since the mid-2000s has been "Be Massive, My Friend." I love that motto. Attempts have been made to appropriate it into a marketing slogan, but those who try to do that miss the point entirely, and put at risk the wonderful authenticity of that sentence and what it means. It grew in popularity and in meaning because it just made sense. It was the best way for a fan base to value its identity when no one else valued them, and for that fan base to value the identity of their city when it wasn't valued by the league. The people—not an individual, not an employee, not an agent, or a director, an owner, a manager, a supporter, or a distinct supporters group—the people created it, shared it, amplified it, and are defined by it. Every team in the world is "something 'til I die." Dallas 'Til I Die, Salt Lake 'Til I Die, Sounders 'Til I Die. Rose City 'Til I Die. And on and on and on...
No group of sports fans anywhere in the world have a motto like "Be Massive, My Friend." Columbus Crew supporters have it. It's ours.
A moment like the one that happened before the Columbus Crew match on August 20, 2011 only happens because it is not controlled by someone who wants to make a commercial out of it. A moment like that happens because of friends—maybe who don't even know each others' names—coming together of their own choosing, desiring to say and do something that can only be given freely, and accepted freely, but never, ever owned. When we talk about the real moments in the lives of a soccer supporter, or why it's critically important that soccer support remain organic and not overly marketed, controlled, regimented, and directed, these are the moments that we mean.
Being a friend is a simple thing to be when times are good, just like being a fan is an easy thing to do when the team is doing well. The terms "fair-weather friend" and "fair-weather fan" are common. A lot of supporters of the Columbus Crew understand that, because times for our team have not always been good, and because times for each other have not always been good, either. We have to keep reminding each other that it's important to support each other. It's important that we have a symbol that reminds us that "We will find each other when life is difficult."
"Be Massive, My Friend" is another way to say exactly that. It's a spirit that has existed in Columbus since 1994 when 11,500 people put down season ticket deposits for a team that didn't even have a name, colors, badge, or players. Be Massive, My Friend asks us to become better, and to share the work, weight, duty, victories and losses with one another. It means to be better, and to respect one another, even the strangers, as friends.
"I am loath to close," said Abraham Lincoln, just before he spoke about the importance of friendship in his first inaugural. I sort of feel the same way at the end of this. The conversation continues, and the work goes on. There is more to say, but not for today. Be Massive, My Friend.
I still had to write the accompanying essays for the designs. I guess I didn't have to do that, but I wanted to—especially for these last two. The one you'll see now is important, I think, because it's about the origins of the Columbus Crew. The one you'll see later—the finale—is, well, it's going to mean a lot to me, and, hopefully, to you, too. So, even though it's really tempting to just post the images and finally get a weekend off, I wanted to take the time to write these last two essays. I think it's the right thing to do.
Now, on to 27: Original 96.
In 1996, Columbus finally became the home of a major league sports and premier division soccer team. The origins of the Crew go back to before 1996. The story is very interesting, but it's also not readily available. One has to do a little bit of digging through various sources to discover it. That's to be expected, though, since those were still the nascent days of the public world wide web, and not every little happening was posted, archived, recorded, and shared online. Still, the stories are available if you look.
For instance, if you visit the "Important Dates" page at thecrew.com, you can see that the team's name, logo, colors, and uniform were announced on October 17, 1995, but that's about all the information that there is about that day. If you look around a little more, the details about the announcement are available and really interesting, and they say a lot about what Columbus was like when the Crew was being built.
The announcement was held at Mekka. Mekka was a popular nightclub and music venue in the 90s that has since closed, and I believe is now an empty lot a couple of blocks west of where Huntington Park sits today. Local bands and DJs played Mekka, and national acts stopped in, sometimes unannounced. Prince played an unannounced show at Mekka in 1999. OAR played Mekka quite often, and I remember seeing The Crystal Method there around the height of their Vegas popularity in 1998. It doesn't seem like that long ago that Mekka was, well, one of the meccas of music in Columbus. I looked for video of the Crew announcement on October 17, 1995 and, while I'm sure it exists somewhere online, the best video that I could find was of Gaga, an infamous Columbus electronic band, almost setting fire to one of the performance spaces at Mekka with a flame thrower 4 days after the Crew announcement.
The Columbus Dispatch sports reporter Craig Merz wrote on October 17, 1995 that the Crew announcement was being held at 12:15 pm that day at Mekka, and that at 1:00 pm Major League Soccer was to hold a press conference to announce all 10 original team names and logos. "League officials are expected to announce the allotment of 10 'marquee' players, one to each team," Merz wrote. In part seven, Africa, I described how the Crew's marquee player was eventually announced to be Doctor Khumalo.
In the article, Merz reported that the name Columbus Crew was submitted by Luis Orozco of Dublin, and selected by Lamar Hunt, general manager Jamey Rootes, and adidas. The other finalists were Columbus Explorers, Columbus Falcons, Columbus Kickers, and Columbus Pride. Merz quoted Orozco in the article about why he suggested the name. "I thought that soccer is somewhat of a team contest and put that with Columbus and his crew on their voyages."
Merz reported that more than 650 different nicknames were submitted. "Entries ranged from the serious (Eclipse, Navigators) to the bizarre (Evil Squirrels, Hooligans) and A (Acorns) to Z (Zuts). In between were a few interesting ones: Alley Cats, Armada, Brushstrokes, Cowtown Eleven, Convicts, Fighting Cows, Fighting Farmers, Goalrillas, Rickenbackers, Scioters, Socrates, Sons of Heaven, Spirit of Columbus, Wardens and Xtreme."
Can you imagine the Columbus Sons of Heaven or the Columbus Scioters raising the MLS Cup in 2008?
The next day, October 18, 1995, Merz described the event:
A black and gold logo features three construction workers wearing hard hats. The theme was reiterated throughout the press conference by the work zone barriers placed around the Mekka nightclub to the meal served in lunch pails.
"It reflects the core value of this organization," said Jamey Rootes, Crew general manager. "The colors are very aggressive and popular but at the same time traditional."
There was also a lot about attendance expectations.
He (Rootes) believes the Crew can lead the league in attendance. Columbus topped the MLS with 11,000 season ticket deposits. […] The Crew will play 18 home games—16 regular season and two against international competition—in Ohio Stadium. There will be 19,000 sideline seats. Rootes expects to average more than 15,000 per game. […] The capacity may be expanded to include seating in the north end zone for some games.
Sorry, Seattle, but Columbus invented expanded seating in a 100,000 seat football stadium.
Merz also reported that the "top ticket is the $14 upper box seat in B deck. A lower box ticket is $13 for adults, $9 for children and students. […] An upper box season ticket costs $226.80."
In 1994, MLS set 10,000 season ticket deposits as the threshold for a city to be chosen as a charter member of the new league. Columbus was the first city to achieve that mark, and had more than any of the other potential candidates at 11,500. The Columbus Crew was the original Major League Soccer team.
This fact isn't trumpeted by the Crew or MLS. I don't quite understand why it hasn't been more utilized in Columbus Crew marketing over the years. Consider the role that being the first professional baseball team has played in building and sustaining the identity of the Cincinnati Reds over the decades. The Reds' origin story going back to 1869 is something that sports fans are reminded of on every opening day of every Major League Baseball season. It's central to the Reds, and to Cincinnati. Baseball Almanac describes the Reds this way: "…they will always have a strong franchise lineage. One that traces back to the dawn of the professional games and their role as keeper of the historic flame they lit by birthing the Red Stockings in 1869." The Columbus Crew should be understood as lighting an historic flame for American soccer in 1996, and then again in 1999 with the first soccer specific stadium in MLS. This is a city of soccer pioneers. We should embrace that distinction.
To that end, in three of the 28 in 28 designs, I've included the slogan "The Original Major League Soccer Team." I think this redesign of the crest is a perfect time to assert that privileged position. If there is any interest at all in replacing "The Hardest Working Team in America" with a new motto, then "The Original Major League Soccer Team" is a great candidate. Original 96 design is partially built around that idea, as well as two others.
The second inspiration is the original 1996 uniform of the Columbus Crew. It gets a lot of criticism in hindsight as being garish or dated. I disagree. It's one of two of the original ten MLS uniforms that had a clear identity—the other being D.C. United's. The strong black and gold colors and lines made the 1996 uniforms stand out. The elongated chevrons are unique, and as graphic elements lend themselves to a strong historic identity. I've included the shapes in two of the previous crest designs. We've also used it as inspiration for the 2014 Massive City FFC scarf design that we'll be selling to raise funds for #TIFOSWEAT.
The number 96 has been included in every design but one during 28 in 28. Even my sort of goofy design that was inspired by The Outsiders featured a 96. Maybe the fact that the second part of the series was called "96 Forever" was a clue as to what my intentions were for the month. The 96s have been large and small, sometimes central to the design and sometimes ancillary. I think they have all been important, though, because the 96 represents something important not only for the history of the team and the league, but also for the city of Columbus.
Coincidentally, in 1996 there was another important redesign of another important symbol of Ohio. The State Seal of Ohio was updated in 1996. I've used this as inspiration for this design, with a few adjustments. Instead of 13 sun rays, there are now ten to represent the charter members of Major League Soccer. The sun rising over the mountains to the east from the Ohio State Seal here symbolizes the new era of the Columbus Crew. The shape of the original crest anchors this design, and includes the new slogan "The Original Major League Soccer Team."
…it was as if "astronaut" were an honorific, like "champion" or "superstar,"…
-Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff, chapter six, "On The Balcony"
But, what if Crew in "Columbus Crew" meant more like the first definition of crew in my dictionary: "a group of people who work on and operate a ship, boat, aircraft, spacecraft, or train." It's not quite as synonymous with team, but it's not too far off.
I'm kind of a space nerd. Not like a sci-fi, Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who space nerd. More like an astronomy and NASA space nerd. More like an I-know-what-stars-are-due-to-go-supernova-sooner-than-others space nerd (hold on, Betelgeuse, hold on). I've been this way since I was four. If you follow MassiveCityFFC on Twitter or Facebook, you've probably noticed that I frequently tweet and retweet, post and repost the latest rocket launch, solar-flare outbreak, Mars rover news, deep-space Hubble images, International Space Station video, astrophysics discovery, and so on. It may not be soccer-related, but I think it's important to share. My favorite Latin phrase has long been Per aspera ad astra—Through hardship to the stars. If you want to know why, watch the video at the beginning of this essay.
According to NASA, Ohio is the birthplace of 25 astronauts. All of them are models of what human beings can achieve (I mean, these people have been in space . . . SPACE!) and we should recognize them all. But there are four that, I think, stand out, and on whom I'd like to model this new redefinition of Crew.
John Glenn is the first Ohio astronaut. On Mercury-Atlas 6, he became the first American to orbit the earth. In 1998, he became the oldest person to ever fly in outer space. He also became the only person to go into space on a Mercury program mission and on a Space Shuttle program mission. He is the last living Mercury astronaut. He and his wife, Annie, are in their 90s, now, and they live in Columbus.
Neil Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He was an astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs, and the first human being to walk on the moon during Apollo 11.
James "Jim" Lovell was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He was an astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs. On Apollo 8, he became one of the first human beings to leave Earth orbit, reach and orbit the Moon. He is one of the first human beings to see the dark side of the moon. He was also the commander of Apollo 13.
Judith Resnik was born in Akron, Ohio. She was the second American woman to fly in outer space. She flew on two Space Shuttle missions. Her first flight was on the first flight of Space Shuttle Discovery in 1984. Her second flight was Challenger flight STS-51-L, which exploded during launch. In 2010, she was one of 10 final nominees chosen as a possible representative for Ohio in the National Statuary Hall, along with such historical greats as the Wright Brothers, Jesse Owens, Ulysses S. Grant, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Thomas Edison.
Imagine the work of thousands of human beings that went into lifting these Ohioans into space. Imagine the struggle of innumerable generations of life on earth that led to this handful of Ohioans to achieve their feats. Imagine the effort and the risk. Imagine the hardships.
This design is about a new definition for a New Crew, but also about keeping the historic importance of Ohio's accomplishments in mind when we seek to symbolize our identity. The four arcs rising out of the shape of Ohio, reaching for the star above the crest, represent the four astronauts discussed above. The globe in the center is the Earth and the Moon and a soccer ball, too. Yes, one has to really make a giant leap to tie space exploration and soccer together, but that hasn't stopped me before.
And besides, there are some similarities. Soccer is the world's game, after all; and, as Neil Armstrong said while he stood on the surface of the moon, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
And when our team wins the cup, what do they get to put above their crest?
Earlier in 28 in 28, we talked about the skyline of Columbus as a symbol of the city. I wrote that while the skyline has become popular to use in logos and ad design, the skyline in silhouette leaves me feeling a little empty, like the soul of the city, or something alive is missing. I also argued that without a singular internationally (or nationally, for that matter) recognizable skyscraper, our city's skyline just doesn't function as a symbol on a scale beyond local theme. It works for an important local government organization like the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, but does it work for a soccer team that should strive to compete globally? It's an important question to ask when considering the Columbus skyline in the Crew's redesign.
If Columbus ever had a nationally recognizable skyscraper, it was the American Insurance Union Citadel—known today as the LeVeque Tower. In part 22 of 28 in 28, I mentioned the historical importance of the LeVeque Tower. It's not the tallest building in the skyline anymore, and certainly not the newest; but its story and stature far surpass the other skyscrapers in our skyline. In the video posted above from The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus historian and executive director of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, Ed Lentz, tells the remarkable origin story of the AIU Citadel/LeVeque Tower. Also in that video, architect Robert D. Loversidge of Schooley Caldwell Associates explains the current renovation of the LeVeque Tower and the vision for the building going forward.
In brief, the LeVeque Tower was originally called the American Insurance Union Citadel. The American Insurance Union named the building "Citadel" rather than "Tower" or "Building," and I think that is significant. It says something about the socially progressive ideals of John Jacob Lentz, the founder of the AIU, and about his respect and honor for the common good and the public trust that the people of Columbus and Ohio valued so sacredly in the early 20th century—something that I talked about in part 21 of this series, Centennial Crest, 1912.
The construction cost of the AIU Citadel was $8 million. Considering that Columbus Crew Stadium cost $28.5 million to construct in 1999, $8 million for a skyscraper sounds like an incredible bargain. But adjusting 1924 dollars to 2014 dollars, the cost today for the AIU Citadel would be more than $110 million. Now you can imagine what an enormous amount of money $8 million was in 1924, particularly when the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression lay only 5 years ahead.
I know that I've said it about 20 times already, but the story of the AIU Citadel is remarkable. In 2011, filmmaker Seth A. Moherman made a fantastic documentary about the history of the building called The Citadel. Thankfully, it is available for us to watch on his Vimeo channel. It's a little more than an hour long, and you should really watch it. It will knock your socks off. I also highly recommend reading Mark J. Lucas' excellent story in 614 Magazine about the AIU Citadel that I linked to in part 5 of 28 in 28.
For this design, I chose to highlight the idea of the "Citadel" as bastion of civic pride, rather than symbol of corporate wealth. The insignia and framing elements are meant to concur with the LeVeque Tower's Art Deco symmetry. Along the side are the iconic light standards of Crew Stadium, and at its base are the bare bones shapes of its girders. Columbus Crew Stadium is sacred civic and national ground. Combined with the ornate Art Deco style of the AIU Citadel/LeVeque Tower, the two buildings reflect our civic pride, and fits with the everything old is new fashion of our nostalgic age. We must press for progress while we carry the traditional themes of the Columbus Crew forward.
I mentioned earlier in this essay how the population of Columbus was a hub of progressive social values and civic interest in the late 19th and early 20th century, and held sacred the humble, honest hard work and worth of the common citizen, the importance of the commonwealth, and the value of the public trust. I think it's important that we remember that when we go forward as Ohioans, but also as supporters of our local soccer team.
Anthony Precourt has done and said so many great things in his brief time as the owner of the Columbus Crew, but nothing has been more important that what he said on the very first day of his stewardship of our team.
"This club, and any sports franchise for that matter, should be a sacred community asset. That's how we're going to treat the Crew."
In that statement are the echoes of our forebears John J. Lentz and Washington Gladden, the man who has been called "The First Citizen of Columbus." Anthony Precourt's words and values make me hopeful for our soccer team, and for our city, too.
One more thing. Recently, the Columbus Crew have been promoting Columbus Crew Stadium as a fortress...
I must respectfully disagree.
It's a Citadel.
That's the greatest rock band in the history of the world. They're from Dayton. They're singing a song about Ohio from the 1996 album Under The Bushes Under The Stars. The album was released on March 26, 1996. The Columbus Crew played their first game 18 days later on April 13, 1996. You can hear a lot of the way that Ohio was in 1996 in Under The Bushes Under The Stars. You can hear a lot of the way Ohio still is in 2014 in that album, too—but nobody sees it, these days.
About this song, Robert Pollard is quoted by James Greer on page 118 in the book Guided By Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll that "The thing about growing up in Northridge, and probably any blue-collar town, is just what you do is you get married right away. Have kids, have a family, get a job and everything. That's what 'Redmen and Their Wives' is about, that concept, that notion. That's what you do. You don't even know what else there is. I was part of that. […] I escaped it, but it cost me. Your destiny's already laid out for you."
Sometimes you must do something that you don't want to do. Some of us have entire lives comprised of nothing but things that we don't want to do. Some of us are fortunate and have very few moments like that. I've been thinking about this during the last couple of weeks. For me, the most recent instance of doing something that I didn't want to do took the shape of splashing out a bunch of money to get my wisdom teeth removed after years of putting it off. All things considered, that's really not all that bad. I'm thankful that I get to do something that I want to do, now.
For 28 in 28, the time has come to talk about something a lot of Columbus Crew supporters don't want to do, and that something comes in a color that you're most likely going to hate...
To Columbus Crew supporters, red is the equivalent of a quadruple tooth extraction, maybe throw in a root canal or two, no anesthesia, of course. For instance, if you're up for a bit of a detour, read through the first few posts in this BigSoccer thread from 2011 discussing the possibility of a Crew third kit. Immediately, the idea of a red uniform was brought up:
"Crew in Red? Never. Ever. Please. […] Crew should NEVER be in red. Better dead than red, right? ……… right?"
"A red jersey for us is out of the question."
These fans, and many others with similar opinions, can relax. Anthony Precourt has said more than once that the colors of the Columbus Crew aren't changing, which is a relief. Last year, well before any of us in Columbus knew who Anthony Precourt was, I made a prediction on a Massive Report podcast that at some point in the next couple of seasons the Columbus Crew would have to introduce a third kit color that would include red and/or gray. At the mere mention of red being included in the team colors, a lot of people sort of got angry. That wasn't surprising.
Some form of the phrase "Better dead than red" is frequently said by Crew supporters. It took the form of tifo in 2009 during the height of the Columbus-Toronto supporters rivalry, and seemed an appropriate response when the most hated opposition supporters group of Crew fans at the time was, definitely, the Red Patch Boys. Those old angers faded as TFC became worse and worse and their fan base became less and less interested in their team and traveling. Still, there are several very good reasons why Columbus Crew fans reflexively and wholly reject red. Those reasons are as follows:
1. Chicago Fire
2. D.C. United
3. Toronto F.C.
4. The Ohio State University Buckeyes
In the interests of full disclosure, I graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, and I'm fond of my alma mater. I was an English and History of Art major, and my focus was mainly writing. It was in a rhetoric and propaganda class that I first read David Ogilvy's classic Ogilvy on Advertising. The first lines of that book are "I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don't want you to tell me that you find it 'creative.' I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product."
Buy the product. That's what the question of a red Columbus Crew jersey really comes down to. Consider the upcoming announcement of the new adidas 2014 Columbus Crew jersey and the emphasis that MLS puts on promoting its teams' jerseys. As I write this, we are mere days away from a special event unveiling the 2014 home jersey. This is about selling the new Crew jersey, and selling the new Crew jersey is about selling new Crew tickets. It's pretty important, in the scheme of Major League Soccer things.
Soccer teams change their uniform styles, colors, designs, cuts with more frequency than any other major sport. Take, for example, what the Cleveland Browns face when merely considering changes to their traditional uniforms in 2015. Chief marketing officer for the NFL, Mark Waller, makes it clear how important the uniform is to the business of an NFL franchise. Tony Grossi quotes him as saying "Ultimately, (the uniform is) the expression of the club and the brand the fan is most familiar with. They wear them. They buy them. And it's the strongest identity they have other than the game itself."
Other than the game itself. One might even argue that updates and changes to the uniform are much more important than that for MLS teams. Soccer supporters tend to buy their team's uniforms precisely to mark the years in the history of their teams—no matter the changes from tradition, no matter the form of the team, no matter the shirt sponsor (something that NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL franchises and clubs do not need to consider). A Jim Brown uniform from 1963 is largely identical to a Bernie Kosar uniform from 1990 and a Brandon Weeden uniform from 2013. Putting aside the not-so-subtle appearance of orange pants that have erupted onto the scene now and then over the years, the Browns—like the Packers, Bears, Giants, Steelers and other old football clubs—really don't change much. How often do you ask your Browns fan friends "Is that a 1988 or a 2008 jersey?" Would they even know?
It's not at all the same of soccer fans. Columbus Crew supporters know the difference is between the 2008 and 2010 uniforms, and they probably have both the home and away jerseys from both years. In the case of the 2014 jersey, I bought one sight-unseen the day that preorder opened up. Why? Because it's the Columbus Crew 2014 jersey, that's why. I know that's not usual to buy a jersey before seeing it, but I can guarantee that a lot of the current fan base will eventually buy them when they do see them. The trick is coming up with a new jersey that grows that fan base. What gets people's attention? Because once they buy a jersey, they become a fan.
What gets people's attention? Red does. A red jersey would sell. Not that I would like it—at least not subconsciously, but it would sell. You know that it would. It would sell because red sells. Red has a physiological and psychological impact upon us. Red increases the heart rate, creates a sense of urgency, and is more apt to result in impulse purchases. Scientific studies tell us that human beings are attracted to red. Red boosts sexual attractiveness to other human beings. Red conveys power and attracts attention. Perhaps our attraction to red is subconscious, and perhaps the origins of this "red effect" lay in our evolutionary past. Perhaps, we can't help it. To paraphrase Robert Pollard's quote above—That's what we do. We don't even know what else there is. Perhaps, it is in our blood.
David Ogilvy chose red, too. He chose red for his company during a time—post war 1948—when the color red could not have had a more negative meaning for those in the major capitalist advertising centers—London, New York—where he sought to succeed. The phrase "Better dead than red" meant to convey an extreme and real-world meaning in those days. But Ogilvy didn't need scientific studies to know the power of red to sell. He more or less created the concept of "brand imaging," and he understood that the image of "an extremely exciting and passionate company, a company full of rebels and mavericks" was what he wanted to convey for his brand. Also, Ogilvy wanted a color that was "most associated with selling." The color that accomplished that was red.
In the end, that is what modern sports franchises and businesses are doing. They are not creating. They're selling. In his book, Ogilvy quoted another ad man of his time, Rosser Reeves, "Now, what do you want out of me? Fine writing? Do you want masterpieces? Do you want glowing things that can be framed by copywriters? Or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?"
That's the mindset. You're the judge of whether that mindset has done more harm than good to culture and society over the decades of Mad Men marketing. What's undeniable is that people today buy a lot more, consume a lot more, produce a lot more, sell a lot more.
Value, however, takes many more forms than just sales. So, are selling jerseys worth it to include red in a uniform or crest when red is so despised by the people who pour their hearts into that crest and wear that uniform?
This edition of 28 in 28 is about thinking of a way in which red could legitimately be included in the crest to allow for the possibility of a future red jersey option and the sales that would certainly come with it. The colors of the Columbus city flag are gold, white, and red. The colors of the Ohio flag are red, white, and blue. The official state colors are red, white, and blue. The state bird is the cardinal, the state flower is the scarlet carnation. The Black & Gold colors of the Columbus Crew should stay the primary colors of the team. That is not in question, but there are legitimate ways to incorporate red into the color scheme of this team.
Some of what I've written here may sound like a cynical, sales-driven, money-hungry, marketing-based defense of modern football. Those who know me know that that is pretty much everything I try to not cultivate in soccer support. It's just that there is a different kind of art to advertising, which is what we are talking about here, and we can see the outcome of it in recent MLS rebrands. We will certainly see much more of that in the Orlando City, New York City FC, and Miami branding to come in the next 2 years. The irony of the situation is that the crests and logos, designs and drawings that defined the early eras of soccer and sports logos are more popular now than ever. And, in comparison, those were done with no sense at all of the rapacious consumer culture that drives every aspect of sports fandom and life in general in our consumer economy.
The standards and crests that we hold dear from those bygone ages were, literally, designed to represent the values and aspirations of the club. "Merch," "swag," "gear," were not primary motivations behind the crests and badges of soccer clubs. They are now, though. It's, pretty much, all that matters.
Case in point: last summer, I went to Indianapolis to watch the Inter Milan vs. Chelsea F.C. soccer match at Lucas Oil Stadium. Merchswaggear was everywhere—and, with very few exceptions, it was all Chelsea. Why? Because that's what was going to sell. The lines for this cheaply-made extraordinarily expensive stuff were 30, 40, 50 people deep. They were all waiting in line to buy Chelsea merchswaggear. I cannot even begin to estimate the tens of thousands of dollars that was earned on merchswaggear, alone. But that's why the people were there, to get their Chelsea merchswaggear as a souvenir/remembrance/memento of that one time that they waited in line for 60 minutes to buy merchswaggear while their team played for 90 minutes on the field in the other room.
As a supporter of the Columbus Crew, I have put my trust in Anthony Precourt to lead this crest redesign in a thoughtful and considerate way. I don't think crass consumerism (a la the SKC rebrand and its Axe body spray I believe that we will win, bro aesthetic) is what Anthony Precourt wants for the Columbus Crew. But, maybe it's the way that MLS is moving and he can't stop it. In that case, there's always a wild card. There's always red.
Regardless of what happens, I hope to live to see one of two things happen: Either Guided By Voices play at Crew Stadium after a big victory over a big team, or "The Official Ironmen Rally Song" and "Don't Stop Now" become supporters' anthems that we sing from the stands. Like this particular essay, it would be the Spirit of '96 coming full circle.
Elijah Pierce from Zach Wolf on Vimeo.
Living in and around Columbus since I was a kid, I've been to a handful of Elijah Pierce exhibits over the years. Pierce was a barber, pastor, and artist in Columbus, Ohio for more than 60 years. The first time I remember seeing his work was on a field trip during my freshman year in high school. I doubt that I knew anything about him then, but I did write my one-page essay for art class about the carvings that I saw on that trip. I don't remember much more about that, but I do remember trying to make an Elijah Pierce-inspired sculpture out of clay. It broke. Some things just aren't meant to be made out of clay.
The last time that I saw a full exhibit of Elijah Pierce's art was a little more than a year ago. The Columbus Museum of Art had a terrific exhibit of his work called "The Essential Elijah Pierce" in commemoration of the Columbus 2012 Bicentennial.* I went to the Columbus Museum of Art alone on a weekday in fall 2012, spent a few hours walking through the rooms at my own pace. I have to admit that a couple of times I kind of teared up a little. It felt to me that Pierce was present in his art, and that's not as easy to do as you might think. Designs and works of art sometime escape the hand of their creators and leave them behind. Perhaps that's what people mean when they say some art lacks soul, leaves the viewer cold, or lacks sincerity. There's no Elijah Pierce woodcarving that lacks sincerity or soul.
Pierce was a self-taught woodcarver. He began carving as a boyhood hobby, made small carvings for his wife and customers at his barber shop when he was a young man, used his art in his work as a pastor, developed his craft over decades, and, by the time he came to the last two decades of his life, had honed it into art that is still admired and acknowledged around the world.
The amount of work, its scope and beauty, created over the course of his long and remarkable life can leave one overwhelmed. That, and the undeniable power of his integrity. The sculptor Frank Gallo said of Pierce, "Beside him, I feel like a poseur, an imitator. He is motivated solely by love of what he does, and his work has both naiveté and a deep understanding of his subjects."
Artistic sincerity—sincerity, in general—is not always a comfortable trait to be confronted with, which is why art is often rejected by people who are made uneasy with sincerity from their fellow human beings. So much of our culture sustains us with the easy-yet-fleeting comfort food of sarcasm combined with the junk food nourishment of quick consumption. That irony often manifests itself in marketers' reliance upon the familiar feel of retro chic, though tweaked with our own sardonic claim to ownership of it, like being proud of our own ability to "dominate" 80s-era video games, "take" 70s-like Polaroids on Instagram, or "owning" a "new" pair of Zubaz—in 2014.
So many contemporary conversations are laden with decades-old pop culture references, and the more obscure the reference the more cache one earns. MLS soccer podcasts are replete with these pop culture preambles. Grantland basically exists because of Bill Simmons' aptitude for those kind of references. But should the economy of ironic nostalgia be criticized? It sells, after all. We talk it. We embrace as we mock. We let our unease with progress, with the future, and with the unknown produce our symbols, our standards and our "lifestyle brands." We complain, a little, at first...
…and then we buy them. We buy the hell out of them, own them for a little while, and then we let them go and buy more. In participating in the analgesic cycle of nostalgic lifestyle branding we inevitably feel an encroaching hollowness and wonder why we can't express ourselves the way we want to without a lifestyle brander raiding nostalgia, the original thought of our forebears, turning theirs into ours—but ever so slightly ironically owned, to assert our superiority. In comparison, the art of Elijah Pierce sincerely embraces us. When one is confronted by sincerity, one can either embrace it, or its parody. It's a pertinent choice for those of us who live today in this age of irony.
For those of us who have sincerely loved the sport of soccer despite its second-class, sometimes third-class status in the United States over the years, that pertinent choice is even more clearly definable. We are proceeding into what I suppose could be called MLS 3.0—where everything identifiable that was original, modest, tenuous, and (sometimes) organic in MLS 1.0 that survived the success and (sometimes) the pomposity of MLS 2.0 is about to evolve into pure property: possessed, marketed, sold and controlled by an select few. We should recognize before it is too late that the true growth of MLS has not been steered by the investors and marketers who are ever so eager to take credit. It's been organic, and driven by the creative supporters of the teams. The people who have put up with the neglect and sometimes hostility for our support of soccer, and did so when the cost was high, the reward rare, and the effort Massive. The perfect example is the slogan "Dare To Be Massive," which means nothing to anyone were it not for a handful of extremely smart, passionate, proud and funny soccer supporters who had been disregarded by the sports marketing intelligentsia and MLS, until it became too Massive to ignore (or until money could be made). Now, "Massive" is literally described as one of the Crew's marketing slogans. Now, money can be made. That is a fine thing, but let's hope not at the expense of sincerity, honesty, integrity.
This is important to keep in mind when redesigning the Columbus Crew crest. When we turn this into yet another Major League Soccer rebranding, we risk everything that is sincere and authentic. The production of the new crest will certainly go through the same process that the Sporting KC rebrand went through, and the San Jose Earthquakes rebrand went through after that. Anthony Precourt has spoken already of how much admiration he has for how Kansas City rebranded the Wizards into Sporting KC. Perhaps the second most important aspect of that rebrand—next to the $208 million stadium (which somehow manages to have some of the worst turf in the game)—was the crest.
San Jose, too, has made their new crest the second most important part of their rebrand, next to their coming new $70 million+ stadium. They're all slick. They're all shiny. They're all focus-grouped, sloganeered, market-tested nothings. It's the result of a desultory corporate process that's given us two of the most meaningless crests in soccer in Kansas City and San Jose, and a stadium naming-rights partnership with Lance Armstrong: the paragon of 21st century sports business failures in integrity.
The life and work of Elijah Pierce is a model for us going forward into an unknown future—a standard to live up to as we shape a new era to our vision. What would an Elijah Pierce-designed crest look like? That's a really good question. The very idea of having such a thing in the marketing-rich environment of today seems inconsistent with this artist. Pierce created carvings of sports figures and Columbus athletes during his life, including Ohio State football players. I think a Crew player or two would have likely stopped in for a trim or a shave at his barbershop over the years had the Crew existed in the 1950s, 60s, 70s. As an enormously important person in the history of our city, I can't help but want to include something inspired by him in a series that is offering up as diverse of a set of ways of thinking as I can in 28 days.
What I've done is seek out parts of his body of work that could be adopted into a soccer crest design, and then extrapolate from others something about soccer, or our city, or the spirit of it. Building off of what I wrote in "Columbus Means Dove", I used the dove from Pierce's work Pilgrim's Progress. I also used one of the baseball players' cleats that he carved. The idea is to create something that looks hand made, carved out of wood with a pocketknife, and like a piece of folk art that would help pass down the sincerity of local soccer club tradition to generations to come.
Today, there is an eleven-feet tall bronze statue of Elijah Pierce on the campus of Columbus State Community College. To me, it has a bit of the same austere dignity as the three workmen from the current Columbus Crew crest. Elijah Pierce lived 92 years. International acclaim and adulation for his decades of work and for him as an artist didn't come until he was nearly 80.
"For 30 or 40 years, only a few of your people knew about me," he is quoted as saying. "Now I know the joy of making other people happy. The Good Lord has blessed me. People are calling me a celebrity, but the Bible says you have to humble yourself to be exalted. I'm just the same old Elijah Pierce."
*"The Essential Elijah Pierce" is currently on exhibit at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville, Kentucky through March 16, 2014.
In this 28 in 28, we're going to do a bit of a prequel to my E. Simms Campbell and Barbasol inspired crest from 1944, in which I imagined that the Columbus Crew Soccer Club played its first match in 1896, rather than 1996. Today's crest will imagine what a special crest redesign for the Columbus Centennial would have been like in 1912. It's the Columbus Centennial Crest.
The Official Program of the Ohio Columbus Centennial called it "an occasion for the commemoration of all those things which the capital of Ohio represents today,—the great history of the state, the immemorial achievements of her sons and daughters, of her glorious deeds in the progress of peace and in the stern shock of war."
Advertisements and postcards for the centennial seemed to be quite popular (I spend a ridiculous amount of my online life on the Columbus Metropolitan Library website, if you couldn't tell). There were shows with Broadway actors who would eventually become movie stars.
There were songs written for the occasion. For instance, there was "Fair Ohio, Dear Ohio" by Nellie H. Evans and Charles T. Howe—published by the Centennial Music Company—in which Ohio is called the "Fairest gem within the cluster / That adorns Columbia's breast."
There were events and rallies for tens of thousands. The crowds were enormous. Miss Ethel West of Raymond, Ohio wrote to her sister that "the crowd is so large one can hardly get through." And, even back then, everyone was making love.
There was a strong theme of populism, community, and citizenship in those celebrations and events. In the Official Program it was written "There is no man so humble but has his part in the affairs of the Commonwealth; no man so obscure that he is not an integral factor in the state, with a share in its history, and with a right to be proud of the men and events which have made Ohio what she is, a great State among great States, a widespread influence in the land, a leader in the Nation."
It's noticeable today, a time when wealth is not common and shares of history and institutions of community interest are the exclusive premises of the wealthy and powerful, how often the "humble" citizen was spoken of, and in such sincere and reverential terms. It's also noticeable the humility of Columbus, the city. This was the 100th anniversary of Columbus, after all, though the city sought no special honor, instead choosing to share the anniversary with its greater community of Ohio. "The several counties and the larger divisions of the state will participate most actively in the celebration, and while Columbus, the point where the event will take place, must lend great aid, its individuality will be subordinated to wider interests, although playing a prominent part. No one portion of Ohio, alone, has contributed to the upbuilding of the successful structure of statehood."
Reading that, I can't help but think that perhaps the persistent anxiety that we in Columbus often express about our lack of identity, or being bothered that we're known around the world as "Columbus, Ohio" isn't an accident of geography or history. Perhaps it's the result of 200 years of humility, leadership augmented by partnership, and contribution to greater ideals and communities. Perhaps its something that we should be proud of, as our fellow citizens of 100 years ago were.
Last year, 2013, the United States Soccer Federation did a lot of promotion of 100 years of soccer in the United States. The Centennial of Soccer marked the 100th anniversary of the USSF, not soccer in the United States. The first attempt at organizing soccer in the United States was the American Football Association in 1884. The league confined itself to New England, however, and when other parts of the United States sought inclusion into the AFA, the league refused. In 1911, the American Amateur Football Association began to rise to become a truly national organizing body for soccer, and, eventually, the AAFA became the United States Soccer Federation. The AFA continued for a few more years before being surpassed by the USSF.
I'm imagining that if the Columbus Crew were one of the first clubs to join in with the new American Amateur Football Association, perhaps they would have paid tribute to the Centennial anniversary of Columbus on their Black & Gold jerseys. But it wouldn't have been ostentatious, festooned with laurel leaves, ornate stitching, grandiose historical elements or flowery references to past wars or great accomplishments. It would have been humble.
I chose a shield shape that was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, and a typeface called Cochin, which was designed in 1912.
I like this one. It makes me proud. It's humble and strong, like Columbus.
All of your irony, all of your nostalgia, all of your referential pop-cuture expression, all of your homage, all of your brand hyper-awareness, all of the creation of your own identity through appropriating the creativity of those who came before you, all of your clever meme re-posts, indeed, all your base, are belong to him.
Roy Lichtenstein's origins as a productive artist were in Columbus. He studied at The Ohio State University and discovered new ways of seeing through his teachers. His first exhibits were in Columbus and, then, around Ohio. He earned two degrees from Ohio State and taught here early in his career. The Wexner Center has been a hub for world-wide traveling Lichtenstein exhibitions. His roots in Columbus are strong and deep and continue to grow years after his death. Today, every visitor to Columbus who arrives at Port Columbus passes by Lichtenstein's Brushstrokes in Flight, (1984).
Along with Andy Warhol and Robert Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein envisioned, created, and completed a sort of feedback loop by turning everyday images from mass produced comic strips and advertising into painterly-composed, artfully-crafted paintings and sculptures. The painters that preceded him in the early 20th century revolutionized the way reality was presented in painting, and presented new ways of seeing that were first rejected by general society. They were criticized as being base, trivial, immature, or even degenerate. Yet, eventually—as these things always do—the themes and styles that those visionary artists unveiled were gradually, slowly embraced and incorporated into everyday life—advertisements, products, day to day fashion, and other commercial art. Lichtenstein reversed that, and turned those day to day objects back into painting, but with his own impression—an artist's impression.
"I intend to unify," Lichtenstein said of his style. He flattened the hierarchical structure of so-called high and low art. He was a conduit between the worlds of the gallery and the supermarket. Post-modernism effervesced into actuality via Ben-Day dots, painted individually by an artist rather than printed by a reproductive machine.
It's fun to imagine how Lichtenstein would imagine a soccer team's crest. I think it would simple, referential (of course), challenging of tradition, and, most importantly, fun. I've given it an honest try, here.
Please, take an hour and watch this BBC special about The Tate Modern's comprehensive 2013 exhibition, Lichtenstein: A Retrospective. Or, if you cant find an hour, I hope you can find 10 minutes to watch this excellent video produced by the Tate Modern.
For today, I thought I'd update something I've worked on in the past, but present it as a soccer crest. We have a tradition as Columbus Crew fans and Crew television announcer Dwight Burgess of calling our team's all-yellow uniforms "Massive Banana Kits." I've always liked that. Hopefully, we keep that tradition alive with new all-yellow uniforms in the upcoming uniform unveiling early next month.
In the spirit of the Banana Kit, this crest redesign is based on a familiar corporate logo. It's an image that I've worked on before, but never used for anything until now. Rick Thomas asked me a couple years ago if he could create a two-stick version of that particular image, and of course I said yes. It's still one of my favorite two-stick banners.
Needless to say, I wasn't in shape to spend a lot of time on this today. I hope you all can forgive me. As I write this, I'm in the midst of what will probably be about a 20 minute long moment of clarity right after I've taken my pain medication, so I'm going to write as fast as I can. If I start talking about my bike being stolen and evil clowns, or me and Princess Leia inviting the Klopeks over for a barbecue, you'll know that moment of clarity is up.
Beyond that, today's crest is dedicated to Crew and United States Men's National Team legend Frankie Hejduk and inspired by his favorite musician. I did a version of this back in 2012 when the USMNT played Jamaica in a CONCACAF World Cup qualifying group stage match at Crew Stadium. I've wanted to do something new with it since then. It seemed like a good opportunity to repurpose it.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow and being able to work more on this project. There are lots of ideas still going through my head for these last two weeks of 28 in 28, and Pee Wee Herman and the Klopeks just showed up on bicycles so I should probably go. Time to reapply the ice packs and fire up the barbecue.
Since we're at the half-way point (and since I haven't had a day off in, literally, weeks) I thought it was time to do something a little off-beat and also time to take a bit of a break. So no long essay to accompany this design. Instead, I thought I'd let you guys do a little of your own research. The name of this design gives a clue to its inspiration—probably way too obvious of a clue, actually.
What I'm thinking is this: figure out what inspired this design, then, see if you can locate it somewhere. The first person to email a picture to us of themselves with a "Go Crew!" sign standing by a version of what inspired this design will get a Massive City FFC T-shirt. This might be tough, or maybe someone will get it right away. We'll see...
Thanks for making the first two weeks of 28 in 28 a lot of fun. I suppose all that's left to be said is @!#?@!
My great friend Pete Dully has said many things that spring into my memory now and then. One of those things is what I heard him call Columbus, Ohio a few years back when he got back home after a long trip overseas. "It's great to be back in The Heart of The Heart of It All," Pete said. I'm sure that my friend Pete is not the only person, nor the first, to ever refer to Columbus, Ohio as "The Heart of The Heart of It All," but he was the first person I remember hearing say it, and it comes to my mind sometimes still, several years later.
"Ohio, The Heart of It All!" has been around for decades. If you lived in Ohio back in the mid-1980s, you remember when the Ohio Division of Travel and Tourism created the slogan. "Ohio, The Heart of It All!" was everywhere. I remember seeing and hearing it on television commercials when I was a kid. It was on signs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, advertisements, road maps, license plates, buttons, stamps, hats, and pretty much anything you could imagine. It caught on and, since I still remember it 30 years later, it must have been a really good ad slogan. I still like it. And if Ohio is the heart of it all, then Columbus is arguably the heart of the heart of it all. Pete Dully has a way with words.
Today is Valentine's Day, and hearts abound. The most famous soccer club to use a heart for a badge is Hearts of Midlothian F.C. of the Scottish Premier League. That club's association with the heart symbol goes back to its origin in the 1870s, but the name goes back centuries. There are no past or present MLS teams with a heart on its crest, and I could find no past or present North American Soccer League team with a heart on its crest, either. It's strange that it is so rare, because the heart is such a ubiquitous and important symbol—both religious and secular, domestically and internationally.
For the Columbus Crew, the heart is more than just a symbol. It's always on our minds. The Crew and its fans support two wonderful heart research funds: the Connor Senn Research and Symposium Fund and the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund. Kirk Urso is an incredibly important figure in the history of the Crew. It did not surprise me to hear some fans say that a mention or symbol of Kirk should be included in the new Crew crest redesign. I won't talk much more about that here. Within only a few weeks, Steve Sirk—the preeminent Columbus Crew journalist and author of A Massive Season—will release his book about Kirk Urso (I am honored that Steve asked me to help with the art and design portions of the book). What I have read of the book is absolutely wonderful, and there is little more that I could write here that would do the life of Kirk Urso justice. I will say that in doing this crest redesign, he is on my mind.
The other part of the design is Ohio. This week, my good friend D.J. Switzer at Wrong Side of the Pond wrote a really good article about the connection that soccer supporters around Ohio have to the Columbus Crew. You should read it. It, too, has been on my mind a lot during this 28 in 28 project. So, Ohio is an important part of this crest. The shape of the badge is a stylized silhouette of Ohio, and the concentric circles are meant to refer to the "O" of the Ohio flag, as well as that good old riddle, "What's hi in the middle and round on both ends?" If you don't know, listen to this song. Even if you do know, listen to that song. It's awesome.
One more thing I kind of feel that I should say, though I've been wondering if I should. A few years ago—the beginning of 2008, to be exact—I got very sick. I'd just graduated from Ohio State, and stupidly cancelled my student health insurance expecting to have a job very soon. In the mean time, I got sick and, as a result, my heart became inflamed. I ended up in the hospital, doctors and nurses rushing around me, doing tens of thousands of dollars worth of tests and injections and all of that stuff that human beings do to keep other human beings alive, because I very nearly wasn't. Eventually, I got better, but it changed me in some profound ways. I learned that the heart is in every crucial way our foundation. Our brain may be who we are, but one's heart is essentially what makes that possible. I consider people more than I did before, because I consider that they, too, have hearts like mine. Strong one moment, fragile to the point of breaking the next. I still don't feel as strong as I did before my heart almost stopped working, but I feel stronger for other people than I did before. Now, to me, it's almost like there's one true heart that we all share.
Maybe it's because I helped Steve Sirk a little with his book about Kirk Urso, but I've been thinking a lot about that lately. I guess I felt the need to say it. I haven't told many people that about me, and certainly not to strangers, until this. Maybe that's kind of what Neil Young meant in his song.
It's these expressions, I never give
That keep me searching for a Heart of Gold...
I mentioned in an earlier post how Argentina has been a source for some of the greatest players to play for the Crew, including our current captain Federico Higuain. Argentine soccer is on another level than what we are familiar with as fans of MLS. The level of play, the greatest players in the world, rivalries, competitive intensity, stadium experience, and the supporters culture are very different than what we have in the United States and MLS. Even the Pope is an Argentine football supporter. There are obvious structural and societal reasons for the differences between Argentine soccer and MLS, and while we can admire or aspire to perform on a more Argentine level, we can be happy to know that there are many talented players who have made the move to MLS, and surely more to come in the future. Our players will be better because of the influence of Argentina.
I thought that it was a must to do an Argentine-style badge as a redesign. It took surprisingly longer to do than I expected it would. Drawing the letters in a way that would make them fit into concentric circles and still be legible as "Columbus" was not as simple as I thought it would be. I did no fewer than 4 (seriously, four in 4 hours…so much for free time) revisions today, and finally arrived at one that I liked. It's interesting to me that so many clubs in Argentina have this style of badge—from the Primera Division, to farther down the Argentine soccer pyramid. Yet this style is far less common in other leagues in other nations. There's never been a crest like it in Major League Soccer.
If a team is going to try it, why not Ciudad Massive.
-James Thurber, My Life and Hard Times, chapter five, "More Alarms at Night"
from James Thurber: Writings & Drawings, page 169.
That is true. Every word of it. That was published in 1933 and nothing written since better describes our big little city.
I mean to talk up James Thurber later in this 28 in 28 project, so I won't say much about him in today's post, other than to say he and Kurt Vonnegut were and are, in my opinion (for what that's worth), the two greatest American humor writers (sorry Mark Twain) and two of the 10 best American writers, period. Considering my recent penchant for proclaiming greatest this and greatest that, you'll please excuse my biases, but whatever. I'm right.
Columbus is indeed a municipality that believes it's being followed, and, in a sense, it is. We seem to be a town where people from larger, more blustery, more bombastic cities inevitably think we're years behind them in every way imaginable, and, therefore, they deserve the things that we have that they don't have. Think about that for a second. Or better yet, don't. It's not worth it.
It's better to politely let those people go on about their cosmopolitan major-league metropolises, all the while knowing what James Thurber wrote in 1933—that "Columbus is a town in which almost anything is likely to happen and in which almost everything has"—is true.
We're not the only quirky town around. There are lots of cities with unique character—even Orlando. Local quirkiness is often a marketable selling point for a city. Austin, Texas, for instance, is an off-beat town, and in order to celebrate their definitive weirdness, they coined the phrase "Keep Austin Weird" around 2000. "Keep Austin Weird" became so popular that, of course, someone just had to make money on it, and thus the inevitable trademark claim by someone who didn't create it and subsequent fight over who "owned" it. Portland, Oregon—in an atypical display of hipster mimicry—did the most un-weird thing weirds do, and weirdly copied Austin's weirdness, insisting that Portlanders "Keep Portland Weird," too. Maybe that's one of the things that confuses people about Columbus. We haven't had a campaign to demand of ourselves that we be weird. How weird can we be if Columbus can't even brand its weirdness in a time when weird cities are normal? Weird.
Anyway, Columbus doesn't have many widely recognizable symbols that people see and immediately think "Hey, Columbus, Ohio." The city has at various times over the decades sought one out, going as far as rallying around an awesome grass-roots movement to build a mountain. Jackie Mantey wrote a terrific article in Columbus Alive last month that examined our past identity quests (a must-read). I'm of the opinion that, for the city, it's rather a good thing that it's indefinable by a trademark-able symbol or slogan. It's better to be indefinite if creativity, openness, and progress are what drives you. Once the seals start sealing, the marks start marking, and the capsules start encapsulating, we lose one of the core qualities that makes this place special—it's irrepressible, perpetual re-creation and unveiling of itself.
In that way, paradoxically, the city is sort of its own symbol. We live in it. It's a real place that's also kind of not real, which I think is the way that a massive city with a massive university at its core inevitably must be. Columbus retains the feel of an academic campus, but on every block there's the reality of a massive city, with its consequential struggles, and consequential achievements that are as real as life and death. Some might interpret what I'm saying to mean that ours is a city with a split personality or an identity crisis; on the contrary, ours is a city with a growth personality and a identity inquisitiveness—or even an identity indulgence. Such a city is a culmination of hundreds of thousands of individual citizens discovering who they are and how they relate—growing, learning, becoming better, being new, indefinable, and open. Being Massive.
When I started getting into this project, I looked around for what was available to us in terms of civic emblems that we could adapt into a Columbus Crew crest. Columbus, like I suppose every other city in the world, has an official civic seal, and it's been used by Crew supporters before. One day in April 2012 I was standing in the Crew Stadium parking lot before a match and I looked down saw this.
It was just a utility cover placed there in 2010, according to the date below the shield, like other utility covers all around the city. It occurred to me that this was as close to Crew Stadium as I'd ever noticed the Columbus seal. I liked the way the grass and clover surrounded the cover, so I took a picture and posted it on Instagram or Pinterest or someplace, but it didn't occur to me at the time that the city seal would make a good subject for a banner. Thankfully, someone else did.
For years, Rick Thomas has set the standard for tifo and supporter's culture in this city. He's produced banners, signs, two-sticks, tifo of dozens of sizes, shapes, and themes. He has lead the way as a supporter and artist, and his work has been invaluable to Columbus, the Crew, and soccer culture in this nation.
In the summer of 2012, he created this: an enormous flag, hand-sewn and hand-painted, with the seal of the City of Columbus. It's a massive flag in every way that we mean that. It stood out and clearly raised the bar for tifo in Columbus. It's really a piece of art. Since then, the image he painted onto that flag has been adapted, imitated, reproduced, sold on shirts and various other Columbus Crew items, even tattooed, but it was a hard-working artist and Crew supporter who had the vision to bring the Seal of the City of Columbus into Crew Stadium and Columbus supporter culture. He made it happen because while great ideas belong to all of us once they're made real, it takes a visionary to show us the way.
We have so many people who are making amazing things, and we can and will do much more. Like the tifo displays that we do in Crew Stadium, our city is a vision that is always unfolding. Be happy that we are a city of visionaries who can see it and workers who can make it. Be proud that This Is Columbus.
Because the Columbus seal has already been used in ideas for crest designs that I've seen around and in other things as well, I thought that I would offer a more stylized version. Streamlined in some regards, changed entirely in other aspects, with some additions here and there. I removed the eagle because it's too close to this, which is not great, and this, which is worse. I kept the Blackletter, Olde English-style font from the seal and replaced the Christopher Columbus ship with the "96" which I think is important to have on the badge. The laurel leaves are nice, and not unusual in famous soccer badges, so I kept them, and I placed the 16 stars from the seal in the open field on the shield, with the 17th being the star above the crest. I think this looks like a classic soccer badge now, somewhat reminiscent of Uruguayan club Penarol, rather than a city coat of arms, or seal.