On Saturday night, at halftime of the Crew’s eventual 1-0 victory over the New England Revolution, Frankie Hejduk became the second legend inducted into the Crew’s Circle of Honor. Hejduk played for the Crew from 2003 to 2010 and most famously captained Columbus to the 2008 MLS Cup title, scoring an iconic goal to seal the 3-1 victory over the New York Red Bulls.
Here’s a special Notebook all about Frankie’s big night…
Back in the spring, Crew fans narrowed the Circle of Honor nominees down to five finalists: Mike Clark, Frankie Hejduk, Brian Maisonneuve, Guillermo Barros Schelotto and Robert Warzycha. At the time, I figured the race to join Brian McBride in the Circle of Honor would come down to Hejduk or Schelotto. Would it be the captain of the 2008 championship team? Or would it be the MVP of the championship team? I was torn. One guy was the heart and soul of the best teams in Crew history. The other guy was the best player on the best teams in Crew history. For a while, I dreamed that the two of them could somehow go in together because they are so intertwined and integral to the Crew’s history. Maybe at the induction, they even could have recreated their famous game-clinching goal at MLS Cup, where Schelotto brilliantly scooped the ball into the path of Hejduk’s out-of-nowhere run into the New York box. (I had once been at a Browns game where Frank Ryan and Gary Collins recreated their famous post route, which produced three touchdowns in the Browns’ 27-0 victory over the Baltimore Colts in the 1964 NFL championship game, so why not Guille to Frankie?)
Alas, there could be only one inductee for 2014. It would be impossible to argue against either Hejduk or Schelotto. In the end, Frankie emerged as the inductee, and he was the perfect choice for so many reasons. Of course there is his distinguished playing career, but it’s hard to quantify (yet easy to see) the impact that he has had on soccer in Columbus. He was so popular and magnetic that once he retired, the Crew hired him to be Frankie Hejduk, although they gave him the title “Brand Ambassador” so that his business cards wouldn’t look like a redundant typo.
It’s also fitting that Hejduk joined McBride as they can serve as twin pillars for the first 15 years of Crew history. There’s something symmetrical about seeing “McBride 1996-2003” and “Hejduk 2003-2010” up there. When looking at the upper deck on Crew Stadium’s west side, one will see a continuum of excellence that covers 15 solid seasons, with one year of overlap that served as the passing of the torch between the two legends. This the strongest and broadest possible foundation on which to build the Circle Honor. For the next several years, every conceivable inductee will be linked to one or both of these iconic Crew players.
So it had to be Hejduk. Guille’s time will undoubtedly come. When it does, I hope they put his name next to Frankie’s, so I can imagine a soccer ball being scooped between them, joined forever on Crew Stadium’s upper deck the way they are joined forever in my memory.
The Hejduks are famous for their tailgating. One of Frankie’s most legendary moments was a beer-chugging tailgate with fans while serving a one-game suspension in 2008. Later that year, Frankie’s mom, Judy, generously hosted Crew fans at a pregame tailgate at MLS Cup. So it’s only fitting that Frankie’s Circle of Honor experience started with a pregame tailgate among family, friends and fans.
After nearly losing track of the time, Hejduk rushed inside the stadium for his pregame duties and to give the Crew players a pregame pep talk. Look at this ridiculous photo…
Frankie’s good cheer is so infectious that even when he’s hyping up the team, half of them are smiling. Wil Trapp looks like a little kid posing for his yearbook picture. It’s as if someone had asked The Chise to say cheese.
“Dude, I was just telling them to be ready to battle,” Hejduk said. “I was telling them to be ready to fight and to scrap and to go all out. I told them to look around at this crowd, and that’s what all these people want to see. They want to see a team fight and scrap and give everything they have.”
For all the smiles and laughter in that photo, the team took Frankie’s words to heart. In a hard-fought game with playoff intensity, the Crew clawed three vital points from the overrun Revolution.
For the halftime ceremony, Hejduk took the field with his family. Among them were his parents George and Judy, his wife Elissa, and his children Nesta, Coasten and Cali. Also joining him on the field were Crew President of Business Operations Andy Loughnane and former Crew players Dante Washington, Duncan Oughton, Tom Presthus, Rob Smith and inaugural Circle of Honor inductee Brian McBride.
The ceremony started out innocently enough with a video tribute. Between goal highlights and clips of Frankie obliterating opponents (including a young Eddie Gaven!) with flying tackles, congratulatory words came from a parade of Massive Champions, each earning a round of applause from the fans as their image appeared: Oughton, Gino Padula, Chad Marshall, Danny O’Rourke, Brian Carroll, William Hesmer, Andy Gruenebaum, Brad Evans and Sigi Schmid. Although not affiliated with the Crew, Landon Donovan and Matt Reis made cameo appearances. Naturally, Crew Sporting Director and Head Coach Gregg Berhalter and assistant coach Josh Wolff, both longtime teammates of Frankie’s with the U.S. Men’s National Team before their current roles on the Crew’s technical staff, also offered their congratulatory words.
At the conclusion of the video Berhalter summed up the moment thusly: “This is a tribute to all the hard work and everything you mean to this club and the city of Columbus, so congratulations.”
After the Crew presented Hejduk with a framed graphic featuring all of his various Crew jerseys over the years, centered by an image of him hoisting the MLS Cup trophy in 2008…and after #TIFOSWEAT unveiled its own eight-jersey tribute with the words “One love, one heart, one captain and one Crew!”…and after the shroud was removed to officially reveal “HEJDUK 2003-2010” on the facing of the upper deck….the Crew’s Megan Kingston took a necessary roll of the dice—she handed Frankie Hejduk a live microphone as the halftime clock ticked down.
Pacing back and forth in his black “Columbus ‘Til I Die” t-shirt, with a Crew winter hat on his head and black and gold bandana around his neck, Hejduk delivered his sermon.
“All I feel is a lot of love, man,” Hejduk told the sellout crowd. “I feel a lot of Columbus love. I feel a lot of Crew love. I feel a lot of Ohio love. This is what it's all about. I have my family here from San Diego and you guys made me feel like family, from the minute I stepped here in Columbus, with open arms, open everything. I mean, it was the best experience I've ever had in terms of how I felt as a family member.
“My family always made me feel, even in times where things went wrong, that I was better than I was. You guys made me feel the same way here in Columbus. Even when I had those games where everyone was like, 'Frankie, whoa, what the heck is he doing?', you guys stood behind me if times were good and if times were bad. And that's what a family does—they stick together.
“I'm so honored, so privileged, to be a part of this community, to be a part of this city, to be a part of this club. We have a bunch of legends here sitting right in front of me, and they have a lot of love for everyone too.
“I want to thank you, I want to thank the organization of the Columbus Crew, my family—my mom, dad, wife, kids, everyone...you guys supported me from day one. I love you guys. I love you Columbus.”
As the speech neared what appeared to be its conclusion, and as the scoreboard clock counted down (20 seconds, 19 seconds, 18 seconds…) and as the teams took the field prepared to start the second half, Kingston frantically waved her hand across her throat, giving Hejduk the urgent “cut” signal.
Kingston’s performance Saturday night will always rate highly in the annals of comically futile hand gestures.
“You know how I have to end this,” Hejduk said. “Let’s get this whole stadium rocking. You guys know this song. I love Columbus and this is the song I'm going to sing.”
Of course. A song. A song with a buildup. A song with a prolonged chant that would prompt Frankie to dance around. So Frankie sang into the microphone…
I love you, I love you, I love you
And where you go I’ll follow, I’ll follow, I’ll follow
Because we support Columbus, Columbus, Columbus
And that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it
While dancing around, Frankie finally handed the microphone back to Kingston. But he was far from finished. He gathered everyone around, took McBride’s hand into his left and his mother’s hand into his right hand, then led everyone on a run across the field to the Nordecke, where the entire entourage raised their held hands and bowed together like the cast at the end of a Broadway show.
Game presentation is normally a clockwork affair. On Frankie’s induction night, the second half started whenever it could start.
“Frankie said he’s so hyped up that he’s going to run on the field and tackle someone,” former Crew midfielder Rob Smith told me shortly after the second half kicked off. In a matter of moments, that would be sort of true.
In the 48th minute, Federico Higuain put the Crew in the lead with a brilliant free kick strike. Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark turned and pumped his fists at the crowd, then jogged to the side of his net to take a celebratory swig from his water bottle. He didn’t quite get there. Hejduk hurdled the sign boards and all but tackled Clark during his own personal goal celebration.
“He’s got so much energy,” Clark would later say, via understatement, about their celebratory encounter.
After he finished with Clark, Hejduk hurdled the sign boards again then jumped up on the railing and climbed into the crowd in the northwest corner, prompting more bedlam as fans rushed to give Frankie a high-five or to snap a selfie for posterity’s sake.
As Judy Hejduk watched her son create hyperactive havoc wherever he went, she turned to me and laughingly delivered the line of the night: “He’s going to be the first person to get inducted and kicked out of the stadium on the same night.”
In the tunnel after the game, I congratulated Frankie on a terrific speech. His response floored me.
“Why, what did I say, dude?”
All I could do was laugh, even as Frankie explained he was so caught up in the moment that he seriously had no idea what he even said. He had just let the words pour out. Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch offered a brief recap of the family-themed speech and assured Hejduk there would be video of it.
“Great, dude,” Hejduk said. “I’ll check it out.”
Brian McBride was the surefire, no-doubt-about-it first inductee into the Crew’s Circle of Honor. In terms of public demeanor, he could not be further from Frankie’s wild surfer dude persona. McBride has always been a calm, thoughtful presence. There’s a genuine heartfelt warmth to him, but it doesn’t go supernova like it does with Frankie.
I jokingly told McBride that Frankie’s Circle of Honor induction was just like his.
“There’s some similarities and there’s some….”
McBride’s voice trailed off and he smiled.
“Frankie’s awesome,” he said. “I think we all knew that it was just going to be a fun night. You never know what Frankie’s going to say, but he said it perfectly. I think that when you speak from your heart, you speak the truth and I think the truth came out. Add the passion and the fun and the ability to bring everybody else into his celebration, it makes it special.”
Bringing everybody into the celebration meant an unexpected sprint to the Nordecke.
“Frankie pulled us all together on the field right there before it started and said, ‘We’re all gonna run.’ We were all like, ‘Okay.’ Then, when it started, we were running with Frankie’s mom and she was like, ‘I’m doing this!’ She went through it and then off the field she said, ‘That’s the fastest I’ve ran in 30 years!’ It just shows how much fun….his mom’s awesome. Knowing Frankie and his family, you know they are genuine and special people. Frankie deserves this more than anybody.”
As a teammate with the U.S. Men’s National Team and the Crew, and later as an opponent when McBride finished his career with his hometown Chicago Fire, McBride remembered Hejduk on the field as an intense competitor.
“You never had a play off,” he said. “If you went up against Frankie, whether it was in a game or in training even, you knew that there wasn't a time you could just say ‘Alright, I'm going to take a touch and he's not going to be right there.’ It's infectious, just like he's infectious with the crowd. It translates to the teammates. It translates to what he epitomizes as a player. That's intensity. You always loved having Frankie on your team.”
Being the only previous member of the Crew’s Circle of Honor, McBride was uniquely qualified to understand what Hejduk experienced on Saturday night.
“It’s something you never think about as player, so when it happens, you never know what the emotions are going to be,” he said. “It’s an honor. It’s an honor beyond what you start playing the game for. When it comes, at least for me, the emotions take over. You flash through all of the memories you have—your growth as a player and a person—and you get choked up when you’re talking. It’s a very special thing and it’s nice that the club does it. The more that this league grows, the more that you see teams getting a personality and a history, and the way they embrace the players and past players who have brought the soul and the character into it. Columbus has done that and it’s a special thing.”
A quick postgame chat with Notebook Hall of Famers Dante Washington and Duncan Oughton…
SS: “Halftime. What happened?”
DO: “I mean, it was Frankie. What do you mean, ‘What happened?’ What was expected to happen, happened. It’s Frankie! He talked. Then he wasn’t meant to keep talking, but he kept talking and it was great.”
DW: “The worst thing you can ever do in life is hand Frankie Hejduk a microphone with a time limit on it. Especially at a live event. We all looked at each other and we were like, ‘Uhhh, you guys are (bleeped.)’”
SS: “Were you aware there would be a fitness component to the proceedings? Did you train for it?”
DO: “I didn’t realize that we were going to have to sprint to the Nordecke. I was thinking it would be more of a casual jog or a fast walk, but sheesh, if I didn’t need knee surgery before, now I definitely do.”
DW: “We’ll be right next to each other. It’s the knees.”
SS: “What was your favorite part of the evening?”
DO: “All of it. Well deserved.”
DW: “For me it’s being around everyone. Like this guy…” [Dante nods toward Duncan.]
DO: “Very nice, thank you. I second that.”
At Frankie’s afterparty at Barley’s downtown, I couldn’t help but think of what a magical night it had been. The Crew not only picked up a huge three points, but they did so by playing with Hejduk’s manic feistiness. And it was cool to see Eric Gehrig deliver an MLS Team of the Week winning performance at right back on the night that the Crew honored a legendary Columbus right back.
I of course reflected on Frankie’s amazing career in Columbus, both on and off the field. I thought of the trophies, the long hair flying as he dashed up and down the right side of the field, the wild two-footed tackles that somehow won the ball while escaping red cards and injuries, the iconic goal at MLS Cup 2008 and all of the laughter and insight from our postgame BS sessions after everyone else was gone and Frankie had steamed up the entire locker room by turning every showerhead on as hot as it would go.
I thought about how seemingly everyone in Columbus has a Frankie story, whether it be Nordecke tailgaters, OSU students playing soccer tennis on the Oval, or an 11-year-old girl who broke her arm and suddenly found herself wearing Frankie’s championship ring on the ride to the hospital, Hejduk having given her the ring based on nothing more than instant compassion and an overriding belief in the goodness of humanity and the Crew family.
I looked around the room and saw so many people having a good time. Friends, family, players, coaches, alumni, front office and fans mingled together. To see Frankie, McBride, Berhalter and Wolff was like being at some sort of Dos A Cero convention. To see Dante and Duncan holding court once again is always a blast. To see McBride and Josh Williams have a conversation was so cool, knowing that McBride was Williams’ idol growing up and that when Williams had rib removal surgery after being diagnosed with blood clots this summer, McBride picked up the phone and called him to share his own experiences with the same rare procedure. Once the idol and the idolizer, they are now peers—two generations of Columbus Crew players with a missing rib bone who had the pleasure of calling Frankie Hejduk a teammate.
Everywhere I looked, I saw smiles, laughter and genuine interaction.
As we said our goodbyes at the end of the night, Frankie summed it up best:
“Dude, it’s all about bringing people together and sharing happiness.”
Mission accomplished. Not just from when he showed up at Saturday’s tailgate, through the Circle of Honor ceremony and until he closed Barley’s later that night, but from the moment Frankie Hejduk first set foot in Columbus.
Questions? Comments? Think Frankie would make an awesome commencement speaker? Feel free to write at email@example.com or via twitter @stevesirk
Steve Sirk’s new book, “Kirk Urso: Forever Massive”, is available at the Crew Gear store or by ordering online HERE. All proceeds go to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund for congenital heart defect research.