Kei Kamara’s 43rd minute goal was the perfect jump-starter for the much-anticipated halftime event. The top five moments in Black & Gold history would be unveiled, plus all of the former players on hand would be introduced to the crowd and would receive their very own 2015 Columbus Crew SC jersey.
They didn’t know that last part.
“We were going into it blind,” said Brian Dunseth. “When we saw a mini table out there and there was something covering it. Dante was like, ‘Are they giving us jerseys?’ Basically, all they told us was that they were going to say something quick and then we were supposed go to the left or the right. And then at the last second, there’s Andy and there’s Anthony, both standing out there. It was a really special moment.”
“That was awesome,” added Mike Clark. “I had no idea that we were going to be getting a jersey. It was a nice little touch to an already awesome weekend. Those jerseys are nice. I like the little star on there representing the MLS Cup championship, so it was nice to get a new version.”
One by one, the former players were called out onto the pitch to receive their jersey from Crew SC Chairman Anthony Precourt and President of Business Operations Andy Loughnane.
Goalkeeper David “Chucky” Winner (1996-1998)…midfielder Billy Thompson (1996-1999)…midfielder Rob Smith (1996-2000)…goalkeeper Tom Presthus (2000-2003)…defender Gino Padula (2008-2010)…defender Brian Dunseth (2002-2003)…forward Dante Washington (1996, 2000-2002, 2004)…forward Alejandro Moreno (2007-2009)…defender Mike Clark (1996-2003)…forward Stern John (1998-1999)…goalkeeper Brad Friedel (1996-1997)…midfielder Duncan Oughton (2001-2010)…defender Frankie Hejduk (2003-2010)…forward Brian McBride (1996-2003).
The reception from the fans was something the former players will never forget.
“It’s emotional, is what it is,” said Alejandro Moreno. “The love, the support, the appreciation…the moment I started walking around the hallways and people started singing the song of my name, and the moment I got out there and heard it, it brings you back like you’re about to start an important match and they’re singing, and you’re scoring a goal and they’re singing. It brings you back to the moments that we all want to play for. That’s to win games and to win trophies and to be successful for people who care about you.”
“I really enjoyed it,” said a smiling Stern John. “The fans were awesome. You think the fans won’t remember you, but they remember us. The reception we got at halftime went really well. I am going to give that shirt to my son. He’s going to be very happy.”
Dante Washington was impressed by the diversity of the former players sampling on the field, and also noted that there are so many others worthy of such a salute in the future.
“So much history was represented all the way from 1996 forward,” Washington said. “You could just feel the energy in the stadium at halftime when they were introducing the guys that were there. And that was just a very small subsection of players who represented this club. It’s like “Wow!” when you start thinking about the different people who played here. There’s no shortage of talent. Hopefully we can get more guys back. That way the newer fans are able to touch and feel what the history of the club is like.”
After being introduced, the players then turned their attention to the scoreboard where the top five moments in Black & Gold history were unveiled. (More on those later.) To nobody’s surprise, the 2008 MLS Cup championship topped the list. That doesn’t mean the unveiling was void of surprises, however.
After the unveiling of the number two moment, the scoreboard went dark. When the pixels re-lit, they revealed a motion picture image of a Black & Gold icon. Although he could not return to Columbus to be part of the celebration on account of his coaching obligations with Lanus in Argentina, the incomparable Guillermo Barros Schelotto recorded a home video to introduce the number one moment.
“Hello, Columbus,” Schelotto said. “I am honored to announce the top moment in club history and have been part of the team to win the MLS Cup championship in 2008.” Then he gave the fans a wave.
Not only did the crowd go nuts, but the legends on the field were also delighted with the surprise appearance by Guille the Great.
“It was nice to see his face and hear his voice again on the big screen,” said Duncan Oughton.
“I didn’t know that was going to happen,” said Clark. “Everyone was glued to the screen and that was pretty neat. The crowd obviously had a huge reaction. That was pretty cool that he was able to be included and got to do the unveiling of the Crew’s top moment.”
“I thought that was really cool,” added Dunseth. “He was somebody who had a ton of success and raised the bar for the organization. We were all standing there saying that was really, really cool. Alejandro Moreno and I looked at each other and said it at the same time.”
Moreno agreed, saying, “As I’m watching the countdown and I see Guillermo giving his message, it brings back a lot of emotions and a lot of good moments.”
After one last set of group photos with their jerseys, the 14 former players began a stately procession toward the Nordecke. This procession lasted for a few steps until Frankie Hejduk revved his motor and made everybody run.
Dante Washington explains: “We all were in agreement that once Frankie wants to go to the Nordecke, we’re not running. We told him. I said something to him and I think someone else said something to him, because when I told him we’re not running, he said, ‘Nah, bro. We’re not.’ Somebody must have already said something to him because he shot that answer out way too fast. So then we started walking and then the next thing you know, there we all are running. Pulled hamstrings, sore knees, bad backs…”
Brian McBride had previously experienced the race to the Nordecke during Hejduk’s Circle of Honor celebration, so he tried to warn everyone. “There were a few guys that were like, ‘I thought we said we were walking!’And I was like, ‘Listen, Frankie doesn’t walk.’ We were ready for all that and it was really good.”
This sprint to the corner proved to be ample fodder for many Duncan Oughton jokes.
“Frankie said we were walking over there,” Brad Friedel explained. “We got about three steps in and he said, ‘Right! We’re running now!’ I was prepared. I was fine with it. I don’t think Duncan was fine with it.”
“Actually, they did prepare us a little bit,” Clark said, “but I wasn’t aware it was going to be a sprint. I was a little concerned about Duncan. I thought he was going to have to stop about half way over there and rest before we got to the Nordecke, but it was really cool. You pretty much know to expect that with Frankie.”
“I think Frankie has that energy every day,” said Gino Padula. “Duncan, he is in unfit for sure. He couldn’t run it. The rest of the guys, we were in really good shape.”
“He should worry about himself!” Oughton shot back when told of Padula’s comment. “Now that I have a new knee, it wasn’t so bad. More it was hopping over the board that was the hard part.”
The players did indeed hop over the signboards to spend a few minutes with the Nordecke.
For a player like Clark, it was his very first Nordecke experience. “I’m jealous that we didn’t—I mean, obviously we had crazy fans back then, but it’s just neat that they’ve built a tradition up like that. It was really cool.”
Alejandro Moreno was so fired up that he was ready to play as a second-half substitute after getting in a good run and soaking up the energy from the Nordecke.
“I’m fit, baby!” he declared. “I’m fit. I can give you a solid ten minutes. It was great. They had me pumped up. I was ready to go, but….ten minutes. There’s only so much.”
As we walked back upstairs once it was all over, Dunny turned to me and said, with equal parts amazement and gratitude, “Sirk, I’ve never been a part of something like that.”
I commented that it seemed like those 15 minutes on the field at halftime really got to him. He said it was true. Although he makes his home in Utah and has a strong relationship with Real Salt Lake, Columbus still continues to have an enormous pull on him. He spoke of the cherished friendships that he has maintained to this day, winning that first title with the 2002 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, and going to a team and a city that really wanted him and had such an important and lasting impact on him as a person. A dozen years after the trade that broke his heart, he stood on that field and soaked it all in.
“All those memories came flooding back to me,” he said. “I got choked up and had tears in my eyes and I was super appreciative for the opportunity to be a part of that.”
Dante Washington didn’t appear to get teary-eyed, but also expressed a deep sense of appreciation for the enormity of the moment.
“That was awesome,” he said. “Top 20 moments in 20 years, that’s a difficult thing to boil down. For someone like me who was here in 1996, although I wasn’t here for the first game and I wasn’t here that long in ‘96, to be able to look back and see the old jerseys and see the old faces and some of the newer ones, it was really neat to walk back through time and you’re standing next to and among some of the people who were all part of it. To share that review of the history of the club with some of the guys who you played with…everyone out there had some part of it.”