27: ORIGINAL 96.

Before I get to the last two designs, here's a brief update. I explained in the introductory post to 28 in 28 that the goal was to create a new Columbus Crew crest every day of the month of February. Friday was February 28, and a little after 10:30 pm that night, I finished up the 28th and final design for this project. It was for me kind of a moment of relief combined with accomplishment. Yet, as I sat here thinking about the last 28 days, I realized something else—I wasn't quite done.

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."