OBETZ, Ohio — It’s hard to imagine the hulking 6-foot-5 Andy Iro playing soccer in a skirt, but that almost had when he was just a wee lad growing up in England. The Crew defender related the story as the best April Fools Day prank he can remember.
“It was me very first footie game," he recalled. "I was 7. Some of the coaches told us they lost the jerseys so we had to wear the girls’ uniforms. Back then they wore skirts. They made us wear them but as soon as we walked out they said, ‘We’re just playing’ so we got changed.”
Gee, Andy, couldn’t that scar a guy for life?
“I was scarred by the 9-0 beating we took after,” he joked.
Every team has a jokester or two to keep things loose and lively in the locker room and each club has someone as the brunt of pranks. Thursday was April Fools Day and the natural target for the Crew was second-year defender Eric Brunner, as usually is the case.
“He’s a fun, gullible kid,” defender Chad Marshall said earlier in the week. "I’m sure someone will get him."
When Brunner slipped on his socks before Thursday’s practice, he found it saturated with Icy Hot pain relief balm, a standard substance midfielder Duncan Oughton will place in a player’s boxers if he feels the victim was a little too agitated on the practice field.
Brunner got off easy, but midfielder Eddie “The Quiet Assassin” Gaven said more shenanigans might be in order Thursday night.
“I know they don’t mean it in a mean way,” Brunner said. “I do my fair share of jokes, too. Mine are kind of funny. There’s been a few where people didn’t know I did it but I can’t tell you them. I’ll hide people’s stuff and not let them know where their things are.”
He was victimized by Oughton during the preseason trip to Dallas last month.
“I like cookies,” Brunner said. “I went to play pool and when I came back my bed was completely made. I went to get in. It was really freezing in Dallas so I was excited to get warm. I go in and there’s cookie crumbs in my bed. I completely open my sheet and there was a ton of cookies. That was a pretty good one.”
Gaven discovered at an early age that not everyone has a sense of humor.
“We were playing this game in my second year with the MetroStars [in 2004] using this foam ball," Gaven remembered. "The game was someone serves it to you and you have to hit the ball at the person’s name they called out -- at the person or inside their locker. Jonny Walker was just walking in that morning; maybe he had a bad night. I don’t know. Someone called out his name so I drilled the ball at him, hit him in the arm.
“He comes walking over," Gaven continued. "Doesn’t say a word, twists off the lid of his coffee and throws it all over me and turns and walks away. I’m just standing there, burning basically from the hot coffee, completely shocked. Seventeen years old. That’s the last we ever played that game.”
Yet Gaven bravely carried forth with a new game when he joined the Crew in 2006 and was reunited with U.S. Under-17 teammate Tim Ward. They started the Fumble Game in residency and it carries to this day even though Ward is no longer with the Crew.
“Eddie’s a silent assassin,” defender Jed Zayner said. “His prank is every single day hitting something out of people’s hands, walking by them and laughing in their face.”
That, essentially, is the Fumble Game, although there are rules. If the attacker attempts and fails to knock an object out of the pursuer’s hand the victim gets to slap the attacker in the face. If a drink falls and liquid comes out of the container then the attacker gets to do the slapping. If no liquid escapes the assaulted one is the slapper. Most of the team has been involved at some point but lately the battle has come down to Gaven and O’Rourke in the season-long World Cup of The Fumble Game.
“They count how many points they get each day,” Zayner said. “We’re the judges.”
“It’s not even close,” O’Rourke said. “I definitely have [Gaven] on the year.”
There are no boundaries.
“You can fumble anybody, anytime, anywhere,” Gaven said.
Gaven has learned to avoid Oughton because he prefers punches to slaps.
“When you’re carrying two or three water bottles and you’re carrying stuff and he whacks it out of your hand it’s more annoying than anything,” Oughton said. “I told him every time he tries to fumble me I’ll whack him up side the head so he learned pretty quick. He doesn’t do it anymore.”
There’s somebody else Gaven would leave alone: “Jonny Walker. I would not fumble him, especially on one of his bad days.”
Besides, he’s having too much fun tormenting O’Rourke.
“It’s gotten to the point where I’ll be grocery shopping and he doesn’t live anywhere close to me and when I pick something off the shelves I’m looking around to make sure he’s not going to fumble me,’ O’Rourke said. “We’ve taken it to a new level. I’ve hidden in spots for 15, 20 minutes waiting for him to walk by. I got him. Then there’s been times I’ve waited 15, 20 minutes and he’s seen me and completely ruined it. He’s crawled into my hotel room, it was a suite, so he had to crawl through it and I saw him in a mirror crawling. I was sitting at my computer.”
This seemingly childish game promises to go on and on.
“Forty years from now, Eddie Gaven’s going to look up my address and show up on my doorstep and fumble something out of my hand,” O’Rourke said. “He’ll hand me my mail or my newspaper then fumble it.”