On Friday night, Columbus Crew SC endured a last-second heartbreaker against the Chicago Fire, allowing the tying goal on the final play of the game, thereby erasing a 2-0 second half lead and squandering two points against an old rival. The aggravation of that result will fade over time. What will live on is a legendary week of rivalry trolling by Crew SC and its fans.
It started with the creation of the @POTUS twitter handle, which is the official twitter handle of the President of the United States. Since Barack Obama is in office, the @POTUS account followed his favorite Chicago sports teams: Bulls, White Sox, Bears, and Blackhawks. Noticing the omission of their “Bridgeview-based friends”, Crew SC started a White House petition asking Obama to “take pity and follow the Fire.” On Monday evening, the club then tweeted at the Fire to let them know they were trying to help them out.
Twelve hours later, four Crew SC fans would meet in the MAPFRE Stadium parking lot and embark on a whirlwind trolling mission of their own.
Morgan Hughes, one of the leaders of the #TIFOSWEAT group that makes the large and elaborate visual displays that sometimes accompany the kickoff of Crew SC matches, had become irritated by the endless of hype of newbie MLS rivalries. With the Seattle Sounders coming to town, and their fans’ penchant for acting like they invented MLS, plus with all of the hoopla surrounding the first-ever New York Red Bulls vs. New York City FC match, Hughes felt that most of the old-school MLS rivalries are getting short shrift these days. He thought of how New York vs. D.C. United has a long and intense history, yet New York vs. NYCFC was getting the hype. With Chicago’s visit to Columbus looming, that was another legitimate MLS rivalry overshadowed by MLS 3.0 newbie-ness.
“That, to me, feels like actual substance,” Hughes said of long-standing MLS rivalries that have the weight of nearly two decades of on-field history behind them.
Justin Bell, another prominent #TIFOSWEAT member, agreed. “It seemed to me that MLS was trying to make everything about New York Soccer Warz, with a Z, which is insane and stupid. Morgan wanted to do something like that, except about the Chicago-Columbus thing.”
Hughes recruited Bell, Katie Mitchell, and John Zidar for a secret mission. They only knew that they were going to Chicago on Tuesday, May 19, and that they were going to have fun.
“We wanted to do something that would be a little different and cool,” Hughes said. “Also, with #TIFOSWEAT, we never say, ‘Boooooo this.’ We always say, ‘Yaaaay Columbus!’ We want to keep it that way, so we just kinda came up with the idea of going to Chicago and doing something.”
“It was Morgan’s brainchild,” said Mitchell. “He just told me where and when and to be ready. I was there and at his service.”
The night before their departure, Bell received a text from Hughes. A photo showed four full backpacks at the ready. “I saw all those backpacks lined up and it was like, oh man, this is some real cloak and dagger stuff.”
At their 6:00 a.m. rendezvous in the MAPFRE Stadium parking lot, Hughes revealed the plan.
“It was like a scene out of Goodfellas,” Bell said. “He makes us come around and he opens up the trunk and there are the four bags. So I grab my bag and look through it and there’s a bunch of scarves and magnets and those placards that say ‘We support Columbus.’”
This would not be a haphazard operation. As the main logistics coordinator for #TIFOSWEAT projects. Hughes produced a spreadsheet that mapped out their day with militaristic precision. It listed a schedule of targets, what they would do, and how long it should take. The sheet was further broken down into sites they would visit by car, by foot, and by bicycle.
“It was pretty impressive, actually,” Zidar marveled.
On Wednesday May 20, the first tweet about the mission appeared. Using the hashtag #312ForCrewSC, Hughes posted a photo of the following missive:
The group began their journey at Soccer House, the headquarters of the U.S. Soccer Federation.
“That was really cool,” said Bell, whose penchant for randomly walking off to do his own thing would become a recurring theme. “That was where I really wanted to wander. I just wanted to walk around the neighborhood because it’s a historical part of Chicago. It’s the oldest free-standing neighborhood in Chicago. It didn’t get destroyed by the fire. There’s a park down there that is gorgeous. It’s friggin’ beautiful. And all those homes around there are amazing. And then there’s the U.S. Soccer Federation, which is right there in this old house. It’s got a wrought-iron fence, so that’s the picture I took of them posing in front of it.”
Never mind the order of the tweets. The United Center was the group’s second stop. It was also the most daunting. Not only did they need to gain access to the fenced-off iconic Michael Jordan and Bobby Hull statues, but they had to do so amidst an offloading bus full of photo-happy tourists and the ceaseless parade of Chicago Bulls employees walking past. The group parked and walked over to the Jordan statue.
“It’s right next to the main entrance,” Hughes explained, “and there are all of these front office people coming and going and you can just tell that they hate their lives, since the Bulls just got eliminated, as you are well aware. They were so miserable, and I was thinking that’s probably good because they probably don’t care about anything now. If they were still in the playoffs, they’d probably be on high alert for people in Ohio sports team swag, but they had no souls whatsoever. They were depressed.”
After 15 minutes, while Zidar and Bell were off on their simultaneous Bobby Hull statue mission, Hughes and Mitchell finally found a quiet moment between tourist hordes and front office zombies.
Hughes scaled the chest-high fence, pulled himself onto the five-foot high granite base, and then successfully lassoed a Crew SC scarf around Jordan’s neck near the top of the 12-foot tall statue.
“I was thinking, ‘Hurry up and don’t fall,’” Mitchell said of her thought process as Hughes executed the scarfing. She then snapped photos of Massive Michael.
Zidar had an easier time with the Hull statue, as there was less human traffic and it’s not as imposing of a structure. He tried to lasso the stick from outside the fence, but his scarf toss came up short, so he hopped the fence and laid the Crew SC scarf over Hull’s stick while Bell snapped pictures.
“By the time we finished the hockey one and got back over there, Morgan was hopping out of the Jordan one,” Zidar said. “It all worked out with perfect timing. But that was another instance where Justin wandered off. We were like, ‘Dude, we need to leave right now. There’s a giant yellow scarf on the Jordan statue and we’re all standing here in Crew gear, so it’s pretty obvious who did it.’ I mean, that’s not just a statue. It’s the icon for the whole city.”
But Bell had wandered off to see if he could find a way into the United Center to get a photo of the Crew SC badge next to the hockey ice. Failing that, he wanted to take a few more shots of the Jordan statue.”
“The worst part about this was Justin wandering,” Hughes said. “Katie, John, and I were very focused. We had the spreadsheet. We had the directions. We weren’t here to sightsee. We were here to troll and get out. Justin is a very Universal Unitarian artist guy, which I love, but he’s all like, ‘I’m here to see and experience and take pictures and walk very slowly in directions that my friends are not walking in.’ So we were all, ‘Let’s get the [heck] out of here.’ We had just scarfed Michael Jordan and Bobby Hull in the span of three seconds and we wanted to get the [heck] out of there, and we turn around and Justin is just gone. We cannot find him.”
“I just took my time,” Bell said. “I kind of took the long way around and by the time I got to where the car was, they were gone. They were already driving in case it was, like, hot pursuit. Whatever.”
In retrospect, there was no security presence to make a big deal out of their harmless scarfing prank.
“There were abandoned security vehicles all over the place, but I don’t think we saw a security guard at the United Center,” Hughes said. “Nobody really cared. They were all so depressed. I didn’t see any Blackhawks people. It was all Bulls people. And now that I think about it, they were all wheeling stuff out of the United Center. I’m guessing their lives were pretty much over and they were just clearing off their desks.”
Soldier Field does not have a Walter Payton or Dick Butkus or Jay Cutler statue out front, so Bell and Zidar figured a field shot was their best bet.
“I went and talked to one of the security guards,” said Bell. “He said there was a tour, and the tour costs $20.00. I was like, ‘Yeah, but what if I just want to come in and hang out?’ He was like, ‘Well, you can’t really do that.’”
Not that it stopped Zidar from trying to find a way into the stadium outside of the scheduled tour hours, but he never found a way to the field.
“It would have been nice to get inside, but it wasn’t worth it,” he said. “We were more concerned about getting to as many spots as we could than we were about getting inside Soldier Field.”
Near Soldier Field, the group encountered a Chicago Police Department vehicle. The officer did not wish to be part of any photos, but he said taking a picture with his vehicle would be fine.
“Katie and I posed for the picture,” Hughes said, “but while we were talking to him, John put the magnet on the back of his car. I didn’t even know it. The guy drove away and John was like, ‘Did you get a picture of the back?’ No. So then we sprinted after the car. John went back up to him and pretended to ask directions. He was pretending to be confused. So while he was asking questions, I took the picture of the magnet.”
“He already started driving away so I had to run and catch up to him,” Zidar said. “Basically, what is happening in that picture is I am standing at his window, pretending to ask him directions for something we already knew how to get to while Morgan sneaked up behind and took a picture of the magnet. I asked him how to get to The Bean, which I’m pretty sure was like 50 feet away. He looked at me like I was crazy, and I was like, ‘Well, we’re not from here. We were going to rent bikes, but we might drive to it.’ I was just trying to stall because Morgan did not run to catch up. They were all just walking. So I’m standing there trying to [B.S.] this cop into giving me directions long enough for them to catch up and take the photo. It worked out.”
During the police photo shoot, Bell had once again wandered off to do some more exploring on his own. Here are a few of his photos with some of his comments.
Panorama: “I was taking these panoramic pictures of Chicago. That was what I was doing during the cop thing.”
Amphitheater: “There’s the Frank Gehry designed amphitheater. It’s a really cool building and it’s made out of metal. We had those magnets so I just wanted to stick magnets all over it, but they didn’t want to wait for me, apparently. So that was another time I just wandered off. It’s a concert venue in the middle of the park. Chicago’s a really cool place.”
The Bean: “They were trying to get to the sculpture that is the big bean. So I wandered up to them while they were in mission mode, trying to get pictures and stuff. They wanted to stick something on there, but you can’t because it’s not metal. It looks metal, but it’s not metal.”
WBEZ: “There’s a statue of Columbus (in Chicago), and I was trying to figure out where that was. It was around the corner and down the street, and I couldn’t figure out a way to get there. I was also trying to get a sticker on the WBEZ radio station, which is where Ira Glass has ‘This American Life.’ Also, ‘Wait, Wait Don’t Tell Me’ and all those other NPR shows. I was trying to get into there, but the doors were locked. I put the ‘We support Columbus’ sticker in their window. I didn’t stick it there because I didn’t want to [mess] up their window, but I just set it there and took the photo.”
The fountain: “We went to the fountain in Grant Park. The wind was blowing really hard so it was hard to take a picture of it. The sun was on the opposite side of the lake, and the wind was coming off the lake, so when I rode around to the other side I got sprayed with water. That was my one artistic photo of the day.”
Navy Pier produced some fun photos, including one of the funniest tweets of the bunch:
“We went to Navy Pier and scarfed the sea captain,” Bell said. “Now we know what the SC stands for. It stands for Sea Captain.”
The group also took part in a mutually beneficial photo shoot. At the bike rental place at Navy Pier, an enthusiastic group of students exuberantly approached and said they were on photo scavenger hunt and they had to get their picture taken with strangers, plus they got bonus points if the strangers took off their shoes. Mitchell and Hughes did so, and as a quid pro quo, the kids help up the Crew SC scarf.
“I cropped out our naked feet, because that would have looked weird,” Hughes said. “But we were like, ‘Absolutely we will take part in this!’ They were helping us more than we were helping them, and they never knew it.”
“It was win-win for everyone,” added Mitchell.
As if fence-hopping, pedestal-climbing, car-chasing, and general wandering weren’t enough exercise, the group upped the ante by renting bicycles so they could zoom in and out of Chicago traffic to reach additional targets.
“I bet we rode 20 or 25 miles total,” Bell said. “We really had to push it because we were going from one place to the next, bam bam bam. It was awesome. It was the most fun. That was pretty much what I hoped it would be. That alone was worth the whole trip, riding on a bike through downtown Chicago while on a mission. We had places to be. There were a few times where we almost got killed. John was totally the superstar of that, by the way. The phrase that popped up later in the night was ‘beasting it.’ John was totally beasting it with the bike.”
Zidar lives downtown and is an avid cyclist, so weaving through heavy downtown traffic was second nature to him. He was also skilled at tagging vehicles and road signs with magnets as he pedaled past.
“I was sticking magnets on things all day as we were biking,” Zidar said. “I got a bus. I got a mail truck. Some signs. The biking was a blast. Morgan and I were having so much fun. I told Morgan, ‘I could stay here all week and ride these bikes around.’”
He almost didn’t make it through the day, however, as an inattentive motorist nearly caused him to flip his bike. Bell couldn’t believe his eyes.
“He was leading the pack and we were in the turn lane and this guy with a very expensive car threw open his door just as John was passing by,” Bell recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh [crap!]’ But John just zoomed around him. That was awesome.”
Whenever it came time to purchase food, drink, or anything else that was required, Hughes paid using a prepaid gift card. Since the gift card is a debit transaction that is not tied to an individual, the sellers were guaranteed to get paid once the card processed, regardless of the signature on the receipt. Hughes took major advantage of this fact.
For example, at a Chicago sports bar where Bell listened in on two yuppies “straight out of a Bret Easton Ellis book” discussing, in great detail, how the Cubs were going to dominate Major League Baseball for the next seven or eight years, the Ohio contingent’s beers were apparently paid for by Eddie Gaven, who scored the game-winning goal when Columbus defeated the Fire in the 2008 Eastern Conference Final.
“It was the rare Eddie Gaven appearance,” Mitchell said.
“I think he used Chad Marshall for the bikes,” Zidar recalled. “I can’t remember who he used for the pizza. He was using different names all day.”
“There was an Andres Mendoza and a few others,” Bell said.
“I signed every receipt with a different Crew player’s name,” Hughes confirmed. “For example, Eddie Gaven bought us those beers and someone named Federico H. bought us tickets at the Willis Tower. It was very nice.”
Once the tallest building in the world, and still the second-tallest building in the United States, the Willis Tower is the definitive Chicago landmark. The #312ForCrewSC mission would not have been complete without a visit to the observation deck, called the Skydeck, which stands 1,353 feet above street level.
This, however, posed a problem.
“Justin was freaked the [heck] out,” Hughes said. “He can barely stand on a ladder at #TIFOSWEAT. It terrifies the [crap] out of him, being on a ladder. And then it’s like, ‘Hey! Welcome to the tallest building in the western hemisphere! Or the northern hemisphere! Or whatever the [heck] the hemispheres are!’”
“I’m terrified of heights,” Bell admitted. “I shouldn’t say terrified, but they make me very uncomfortable. Like, ladders make me very uncomfortable. If I look up and see someone on a ladder I freeze for a moment. It’s always been that way. I’ll still climb up on stuff, but I have to make myself do it. I have to say to myself, ‘Okay, take a step. Now breathe.’ Stuff like that. So when they were saying they wanted to go to the Willis Tower, I was like, ‘Oh man.’ That was an experience. They wanted to get a picture on one of those…oh man, it freaks me out just thinking about it.”
Bell is referring to The Ledge, a glass-bottomed protrusion that looks straight down on South Wacker Drive. Without the acrophobic Bell, the rest of the group got their picture taken while standing on The Ledge.
“I don’t know what was more fun—” Zidar said, “—us going up there or us ripping Justin the whole time for being scared of heights.”
“You’ll see that Justin wasn’t in that picture of us in the clear box because he’s a coward,” Hughes declared. “It was awesome.”
“Awesome” was not the word of choice for every participant.
“It was terrifying,” Mitchell said. “I made the mistake of looking down before we stepped on the glass, so I made Morgan and John go on it before I would stand on it.”
“It was definitely a little unsettling,” Zidar agreed. “I was the first to step out, and you know the glass is plenty strong, but there’s always that thing in the back of your mind going, ‘What if?’ But it was nice. You get a great view of everything. There was a big dirt field off to the side so we made lots of jokes about that being the practice field for the Fire.”
His stomach in knots just thinking about the very concept of The Ledge, Bell wandered off as he is prone to do.
“I wanted to do like in Ferris Bueller, where they put their face up against the window,” Bell said. “But I would get maybe a foot away from the window, and I’d be like, ‘No, no, no.’ Everything in my body just stopped. I got a bunch of cool pictures from up there.”
Bell snapped some good photos of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan, but even when facing in the other direction, he could not get the photo he wanted.
“I tried to find Bridgeview from the Willis Tower, so I was looking for a tire fire,” he said. “There was no smoke, so I couldn’t find it.”
The exhausted #312ForCrewSC gang drove back to Columbus on Tuesday night. Hughes took to prank calling the voicemail boxes of Columbus Crew SC front office personnel in an effort to stay awake. The group got back to their cars at MAPFRE Stadium at approximately 2:00 a.m.
“It was a 20-hour troll job,” Hughes said. (To see more photos and tweets, search the #312ForCrewSC hashtag on twitter.)
The fruits of the #312ForCrewSC adventure played out slowly over the next few days, with images appearing on social media in dribs and drabs across many different personal and group accounts. This created some amusing confusion.
“We were laughing at the tailgate on Friday because people seemed to think we were there all week,” Zidar said. “We kept getting twitter messages and Facebook messages from people who were like, ‘Oh man, where are you guys at today? We’d love to buy you a beer or get in on a photo.’ Someone told us, ‘You guys better leave by noon on Friday or else you won’t get back in time for the game.’ Everyone seemed to not realize that we did it all in one day, which made it even funnier. I just imagined angry Chicago Fire fans running around the city trying to find us.”
Striking a blow for MLS 1.0 rivalries, and proudly representing their club and their city while trolling a longtime rival, the #312ForCrewSC gang felt that their sleep-deprived escapades were well rewarded by fellow fans of the Black & Gold.
“I think when we saw the response from everyone, that kind of upped the level of awesome,” Mitchell said. “I think a lot of people had fun with it, and that makes it worth it.”
Questions? Comments? Disappointed by Oprah’s “no cameras” edict when she had the gang over to her house to watch her well-worn bootleg DVD of the 2008 Eastern Conference Final? Feel free to write at firstname.lastname@example.org or via twitter @stevesirk
Steve Sirk’s latest book, “Kirk Urso: Forever Massive”, is available at the Crew SC Shop or by ordering online HERE. All proceeds go to the Kirk Urso Memorial Fund for congenital heart defect research.