Monday, March 3, 2014

28: BE MASSIVE, MY FRIEND.

Think where man's glory most begins and ends,
And say my glory was I had such friends.

-William Butler Yeats
"The Municipal Gallery Revisited" (1939)


This is the 28th part of 28 in 28. Early on, I knew exactly how this series was going to end. The hard part, as it always is, was getting here.

It's been great to read the comments and feedback about these posts during the last month. My favorite comments were some variation of "This is my favorite yet" or "Favorite one so far." Those kind of comments came in almost daily, and from many different people. To me, it meant that at least one person saw something new in that design that they liked, and maybe they hadn't thought of before. Getting people thinking about possibilities has been my main intent with 28 in 28. But, before I get too far into recapping this month, I think I'll move on and save the reflection for tomorrow.

This is 28: Be Massive, My Friend.

I don't know how many Columbus Crew matches I've been to since 1996. It's in the hundreds, easily. There are a handful of matches that I remember very well. One of the matches that I remember most vividly was on August 20, 2011.

The Crew were first in the Eastern Conference at the time, and they were playing the Philadelphia Union who were just below them on the table. The Crew starting XI was William Hesmer, goalkeeper; Josh Gardner, Julius James, Chad Marshall, and Sebastian Miranda, defenders; Robbie Rogers, Kevin Burns, Emmanuel Ekpo, and Justin Meram, midfielders; Emilio Renteria and Andres Mendoza, forwards; and Robert Warzycha was the manager.

The Crew won the match 2-1 behind a very strong performance by Robbie Rogers, and a goal-a-piece from Renteria and Mendoza. Hesmer was his reliable cup-winning quality in the victory, making a couple of spectacular saves to hold the Union to one goal.

It's not unusual to remember the hard-fought victories when something like first place is at stake. I don't remember the August 20, 2011 match for that reason, however. I remember it because of the manner in which Crew fans remembered another Crew fan who had passed away the week before.

I didn't know Joel Reynaga beyond being someone whom I'd seen at every Crew match for years, give a hi-five to if I was standing nearby when the Crew scored a goal, nod "Hello" to and chat briefly with at a pre-match tailgate. He was one of the familiar faces that I became used to seeing with his drum and La Turbina Amarilla shirt around the stadium. That familiarity is one of the best parts of being a Columbus Crew fan, actually—even for someone like me who likes to keep a low profile at the bars and pre- and post-match gatherings. No one can know everything about everyone, but we come back to Crew Stadium in March of each year, see the familiar faces and meet new ones, and we're revitalized by the knowledge that we have 8 or 9 warm months ahead of us, together and for the same team until fall. Even though there were so many changes that happened in 2011—and a lot of ups and downs—that feeling of friendship remained strong.

Before the match on August 20, as the Nordecke filled up, dozens of supporters from the different groups brought with them yellow carnations. The Reynaga family came to the match and stepped onto the Crew Stadium field in front of the Nordecke with Joel's drum set up in front of the La Turbina Amarilla and Hudson Street Hooligans sections. Then, all of the fans who had brought in yellow carnations passed them to the front of the Nordecke. As we handed the flowers to those in the front rows, they piled them onto Joel Reynaga's drum. The pile grew higher and higher. The simple gesture of passing the carnations forward, and laying them together was one of the most moving tributes I've ever been a part of or seen in a soccer stadium. It was simple, strong, deeply felt, and honest. It was true. It was a demonstration of sympathy and love for the Reynaga family, who must have been profoundly heartbroken so soon after the loss of Joel. This was a section of the most raucous soccer supporters in the United States brought to tears—not for the loss of a game or the end of a season, but for the loss of a friend.

There are several photographs from that day taken by Sameh Fahmi, the amazing photographer and contributor to the Massive Report. Sam edited some of the photos and video that he took from that match and put them together into a video that he shared on his Facebook page.

Carnations, like roses, are flowers of strong symbolism. The only state in the union to have a carnation as their state flower is, of course, Ohio. The red (or scarlet) carnation is our state flower, while the white trillium is our state wildflower. The red carnation has been the flower of Ohio since 1904, and was made so by the state legislature in remembrance of President William McKinley, who died in 1901.

The yellow carnation has many different meanings, but my favorite explanation that I've heard for what a yellow carnation symbolizes is "We will find each other when life is difficult." That's exactly what the fans were saying with the dozens of flowers brought for the Reynaga family and La Turbina Amarilla on August 20, 2011.

We will find each other when life is difficult.

Friend is a powerful word to me. It's become easy in our time to sell things by asserting that by purchasing some item or participating in some event puts you in the company of a family of some sort, yet friend is sometimes a harder word to say. It's noticeable to me how often people will call someone "brother" or "sister" as a synonym of "good friend." It's almost as if doing so provides a comfortably ironic separation or distance, whereas saying that someone is a good friend is an assertion of a closer bond.

I was talking to my good friend Alex Thomas, of Cafe Del Mondo and La Turbina Amarilla, the other day about this very thing. How incredibly meaningful and unbreakable that bond between blood relations is, and yet I couldn't help but think while we were talking about how strong our Crew supporter friendships are—how remarkable is this tie that I have with people to whom I'm not related, and with whom I don't see for months at a time just because it's winter—the Columbus Crew offseason.

And the older I get, the more I think that while family is sacred, what everything comes down to in this life is this: We must be friends.

The motto that has developed of its own organic momentum among Crew supporters since the mid-2000s has been "Be Massive, My Friend." I love that motto. Attempts have been made to appropriate it into a marketing slogan, but those who try to do that miss the point entirely, and put at risk the wonderful authenticity of that sentence and what it means. It grew in popularity and in meaning because it just made sense. It was the best way for a fan base to value its identity when no one else valued them, and for that fan base to value the identity of their city when it wasn't valued by the league. The people—not an individual, not an employee, not an agent, or a director, an owner, a manager, a supporter, or a distinct supporters group—the people created it, shared it, amplified it, and are defined by it. Every team in the world is "something 'til I die." Dallas 'Til I Die, Salt Lake 'Til I Die, Sounders 'Til I Die. Rose City 'Til I Die. And on and on and on...

No group of sports fans anywhere in the world have a motto like "Be Massive, My Friend." Columbus Crew supporters have it. It's ours.

A moment like the one that happened before the Columbus Crew match on August 20, 2011 only happens because it is not controlled by someone who wants to make a commercial out of it. A moment like that happens because of friends—maybe who don't even know each others' names—coming together of their own choosing, desiring to say and do something that can only be given freely, and accepted freely, but never, ever owned. When we talk about the real moments in the lives of a soccer supporter, or why it's critically important that soccer support remain organic and not overly marketed, controlled, regimented, and directed, these are the moments that we mean.

Being a friend is a simple thing to be when times are good, just like being a fan is an easy thing to do when the team is doing well. The terms "fair-weather friend" and "fair-weather fan" are common. A lot of supporters of the Columbus Crew understand that, because times for our team have not always been good, and because times for each other have not always been good, either. We have to keep reminding each other that it's important to support each other. It's important that we have a symbol that reminds us that "We will find each other when life is difficult."

"Be Massive, My Friend" is another way to say exactly that. It's a spirit that has existed in Columbus since 1994 when 11,500 people put down season ticket deposits for a team that didn't even have a name, colors, badge, or players. Be Massive, My Friend asks us to become better, and to share the work, weight, duty, victories and losses with one another. It means to be better, and to respect one another, even the strangers, as friends.



"I am loath to close," said Abraham Lincoln, just before he spoke about the importance of friendship in his first inaugural. I sort of feel the same way at the end of this. The conversation continues, and the work goes on. There is more to say, but not for today. Be Massive, My Friend.


Sunday, March 2, 2014

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."


Saturday, March 1, 2014

26: PER ASPERA AD ASTRA.




…it was as if "astronaut" were an honorific, like "champion" or "superstar,"…
-Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff, chapter six, "On The Balcony"

Crew can mean a lot of things. Since 1996, the Crew of "Columbus Crew" has been more along the lines of the second definition of crew in my New Oxford American Dictionary: "a group of people who work closely together." Basically, a team. Crew will always mean that, regardless of what changes in the crest occur in 2015 and in the future.

But, what if Crew in "Columbus Crew" meant more like the first definition of crew in my dictionary: "a group of people who work on and operate a ship, boat, aircraft, spacecraft, or train." It's not quite as synonymous with team, but it's not too far off.

I'm kind of a space nerd. Not like a sci-fi, Star Wars, Star Trek, Dr. Who space nerd. More like an astronomy and NASA space nerd. More like an I-know-what-stars-are-due-to-go-supernova-sooner-than-others space nerd (hold on, Betelgeuse, hold on). I've been this way since I was four. If you follow MassiveCityFFC on Twitter or Facebook, you've probably noticed that I frequently tweet and retweet, post and repost the latest rocket launch, solar-flare outbreak, Mars rover news, deep-space Hubble images, International Space Station video, astrophysics discovery, and so on. It may not be soccer-related, but I think it's important to share. My favorite Latin phrase has long been Per aspera ad astra—Through hardship to the stars. If you want to know why, watch the video at the beginning of this essay.

According to NASA, Ohio is the birthplace of 25 astronauts. All of them are models of what human beings can achieve (I mean, these people have been in space . . . SPACE!) and we should recognize them all. But there are four that, I think, stand out, and on whom I'd like to model this new redefinition of Crew.

John Glenn is the first Ohio astronaut. On Mercury-Atlas 6, he became the first American to orbit the earth. In 1998, he became the oldest person to ever fly in outer space. He also became the only person to go into space on a Mercury program mission and on a Space Shuttle program mission. He is the last living Mercury astronaut. He and his wife, Annie, are in their 90s, now, and they live in Columbus.

Neil Armstrong was born in Wapakoneta, Ohio. He was an astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs, and the first human being to walk on the moon during Apollo 11.

James "Jim" Lovell was born in Cleveland, Ohio. He was an astronaut in the Gemini and Apollo programs. On Apollo 8, he became one of the first human beings to leave Earth orbit, reach and orbit the Moon. He is one of the first human beings to see the dark side of the moon. He was also the commander of Apollo 13.

Judith Resnik was born in Akron, Ohio. She was the second American woman to fly in outer space. She flew on two Space Shuttle missions. Her first flight was on the first flight of Space Shuttle Discovery in 1984. Her second flight was Challenger flight STS-51-L, which exploded during launch. In 2010, she was one of 10 final nominees chosen as a possible representative for Ohio in the National Statuary Hall, along with such historical greats as the Wright Brothers, Jesse Owens, Ulysses S. Grant, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Thomas Edison.

Imagine the work of thousands of human beings that went into lifting these Ohioans into space. Imagine the struggle of innumerable generations of life on earth that led to this handful of Ohioans to achieve their feats. Imagine the effort and the risk. Imagine the hardships.

Per aspera...

This design is about a new definition for a New Crew, but also about keeping the historic importance of Ohio's accomplishments in mind when we seek to symbolize our identity. The four arcs rising out of the shape of Ohio, reaching for the star above the crest, represent the four astronauts discussed above. The globe in the center is the Earth and the Moon and a soccer ball, too. Yes, one has to really make a giant leap to tie space exploration and soccer together, but that hasn't stopped me before.

And besides, there are some similarities. Soccer is the world's game, after all; and, as Neil Armstrong said while he stood on the surface of the moon, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."

And when our team wins the cup, what do they get to put above their crest?

…ad astra.

Yes. Stars.




Friday, February 28, 2014

25: CITADEL



Earlier in 28 in 28, we talked about the skyline of Columbus as a symbol of the city. I wrote that while the skyline has become popular to use in logos and ad design, the skyline in silhouette leaves me feeling a little empty, like the soul of the city, or something alive is missing. I also argued that without a singular internationally (or nationally, for that matter) recognizable skyscraper, our city's skyline just doesn't function as a symbol on a scale beyond local theme. It works for an important local government organization like the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department, but does it work for a soccer team that should strive to compete globally? It's an important question to ask when considering the Columbus skyline in the Crew's redesign.

If Columbus ever had a nationally recognizable skyscraper, it was the American Insurance Union Citadel—known today as the LeVeque Tower. In part 22 of 28 in 28, I mentioned the historical importance of the LeVeque Tower. It's not the tallest building in the skyline anymore, and certainly not the newest; but its story and stature far surpass the other skyscrapers in our skyline. In the video posted above from The Columbus Dispatch, Columbus historian and executive director of the Columbus Landmarks Foundation, Ed Lentz, tells the remarkable origin story of the AIU Citadel/LeVeque Tower. Also in that video, architect Robert D. Loversidge of Schooley Caldwell Associates explains the current renovation of the LeVeque Tower and the vision for the building going forward.

In brief, the LeVeque Tower was originally called the American Insurance Union Citadel. The American Insurance Union named the building "Citadel" rather than "Tower" or "Building," and I think that is significant. It says something about the socially progressive ideals of John Jacob Lentz, the founder of the AIU, and about his respect and honor for the common good and the public trust that the people of Columbus and Ohio valued so sacredly in the early 20th century—something that I talked about in part 21 of this series, Centennial Crest, 1912.

The construction cost of the AIU Citadel was $8 million. Considering that Columbus Crew Stadium cost $28.5 million to construct in 1999, $8 million for a skyscraper sounds like an incredible bargain. But adjusting 1924 dollars to 2014 dollars, the cost today for the AIU Citadel would be more than $110 million. Now you can imagine what an enormous amount of money $8 million was in 1924, particularly when the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression lay only 5 years ahead.

I know that I've said it about 20 times already, but the story of the AIU Citadel is remarkable. In 2011, filmmaker Seth A. Moherman made a fantastic documentary about the history of the building called The Citadel. Thankfully, it is available for us to watch on his Vimeo channel. It's a little more than an hour long, and you should really watch it. It will knock your socks off. I also highly recommend reading Mark J. Lucas' excellent story in 614 Magazine about the AIU Citadel that I linked to in part 5 of 28 in 28.

For this design, I chose to highlight the idea of the "Citadel" as bastion of civic pride, rather than symbol of corporate wealth. The insignia and framing elements are meant to concur with the LeVeque Tower's Art Deco symmetry. Along the side are the iconic light standards of Crew Stadium, and at its base are the bare bones shapes of its girders. Columbus Crew Stadium is sacred civic and national ground. Combined with the ornate Art Deco style of the AIU Citadel/LeVeque Tower, the two buildings reflect our civic pride, and fits with the everything old is new fashion of our nostalgic age. We must press for progress while we carry the traditional themes of the Columbus Crew forward.



I mentioned earlier in this essay how the population of Columbus was a hub of progressive social values and civic interest in the late 19th and early 20th century, and held sacred the humble, honest hard work and worth of the common citizen, the importance of the commonwealth, and the value of the public trust. I think it's important that we remember that when we go forward as Ohioans, but also as supporters of our local soccer team.

Anthony Precourt has done and said so many great things in his brief time as the owner of the Columbus Crew, but nothing has been more important that what he said on the very first day of his stewardship of our team.

"This club, and any sports franchise for that matter, should be a sacred community asset. That's how we're going to treat the Crew."

In that statement are the echoes of our forebears John J. Lentz and Washington Gladden, the man who has been called "The First Citizen of Columbus." Anthony Precourt's words and values make me hopeful for our soccer team, and for our city, too.

One more thing. Recently, the Columbus Crew have been promoting Columbus Crew Stadium as a fortress...



I must respectfully disagree.

It's a Citadel.


Thursday, February 27, 2014

24: BLACK, GOLD, WHITE, & RED.


That's the greatest rock band in the history of the world. They're from Dayton. They're singing a song about Ohio from the 1996 album Under The Bushes Under The Stars. The album was released on March 26, 1996. The Columbus Crew played their first game 18 days later on April 13, 1996. You can hear a lot of the way that Ohio was in 1996 in Under The Bushes Under The Stars. You can hear a lot of the way Ohio still is in 2014 in that album, too—but nobody sees it, these days.

About this song, Robert Pollard is quoted by James Greer on page 118 in the book Guided By Voices: A Brief History: Twenty-One Years of Hunting Accidents in the Forests of Rock and Roll that "The thing about growing up in Northridge, and probably any blue-collar town, is just what you do is you get married right away. Have kids, have a family, get a job and everything. That's what 'Redmen and Their Wives' is about, that concept, that notion. That's what you do. You don't even know what else there is. I was part of that. […] I escaped it, but it cost me. Your destiny's already laid out for you."

Sometimes you must do something that you don't want to do. Some of us have entire lives comprised of nothing but things that we don't want to do. Some of us are fortunate and have very few moments like that. I've been thinking about this during the last couple of weeks. For me, the most recent instance of doing something that I didn't want to do took the shape of splashing out a bunch of money to get my wisdom teeth removed after years of putting it off. All things considered, that's really not all that bad. I'm thankful that I get to do something that I want to do, now.

For 28 in 28, the time has come to talk about something a lot of Columbus Crew supporters don't want to do, and that something comes in a color that you're most likely going to hate...

red.

To Columbus Crew supporters, red is the equivalent of a quadruple tooth extraction, maybe throw in a root canal or two, no anesthesia, of course. For instance, if you're up for a bit of a detour, read through the first few posts in this BigSoccer thread from 2011 discussing the possibility of a Crew third kit. Immediately, the idea of a red uniform was brought up:

"Crew in Red? Never. Ever. Please. […] Crew should NEVER be in red. Better dead than red, right? ……… right?"

"A red jersey for us is out of the question."

These fans, and many others with similar opinions, can relax. Anthony Precourt has said more than once that the colors of the Columbus Crew aren't changing, which is a relief. Last year, well before any of us in Columbus knew who Anthony Precourt was, I made a prediction on a Massive Report podcast that at some point in the next couple of seasons the Columbus Crew would have to introduce a third kit color that would include red and/or gray. At the mere mention of red being included in the team colors, a lot of people sort of got angry. That wasn't surprising.

Some form of the phrase "Better dead than red" is frequently said by Crew supporters. It took the form of tifo in 2009 during the height of the Columbus-Toronto supporters rivalry, and seemed an appropriate response when the most hated opposition supporters group of Crew fans at the time was, definitely, the Red Patch Boys. Those old angers faded as TFC became worse and worse and their fan base became less and less interested in their team and traveling. Still, there are several very good reasons why Columbus Crew fans reflexively and wholly reject red. Those reasons are as follows:

1. Chicago Fire
2. D.C. United
3. Toronto F.C.
and
4. The Ohio State University Buckeyes

In the interests of full disclosure, I graduated from The Ohio State University in 2007, and I'm fond of my alma mater. I was an English and History of Art major, and my focus was mainly writing. It was in a rhetoric and propaganda class that I first read David Ogilvy's classic Ogilvy on Advertising. The first lines of that book are "I do not regard advertising as entertainment or an art form, but as a medium of information. When I write an advertisement, I don't want you to tell me that you find it 'creative.' I want you to find it so interesting that you buy the product."

Buy the product. That's what the question of a red Columbus Crew jersey really comes down to. Consider the upcoming announcement of the new adidas 2014 Columbus Crew jersey and the emphasis that MLS puts on promoting its teams' jerseys. As I write this, we are mere days away from a special event unveiling the 2014 home jersey. This is about selling the new Crew jersey, and selling the new Crew jersey is about selling new Crew tickets. It's pretty important, in the scheme of Major League Soccer things.

Soccer teams change their uniform styles, colors, designs, cuts with more frequency than any other major sport. Take, for example, what the Cleveland Browns face when merely considering changes to their traditional uniforms in 2015. Chief marketing officer for the NFL, Mark Waller, makes it clear how important the uniform is to the business of an NFL franchise. Tony Grossi quotes him as saying "Ultimately, (the uniform is) the expression of the club and the brand the fan is most familiar with. They wear them. They buy them. And it's the strongest identity they have other than the game itself."

Other than the game itself. One might even argue that updates and changes to the uniform are much more important than that for MLS teams. Soccer supporters tend to buy their team's uniforms precisely to mark the years in the history of their teams—no matter the changes from tradition, no matter the form of the team, no matter the shirt sponsor (something that NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL franchises and clubs do not need to consider). A Jim Brown uniform from 1963 is largely identical to a Bernie Kosar uniform from 1990 and a Brandon Weeden uniform from 2013. Putting aside the not-so-subtle appearance of orange pants that have erupted onto the scene now and then over the years, the Browns—like the Packers, Bears, Giants, Steelers and other old football clubs—really don't change much. How often do you ask your Browns fan friends "Is that a 1988 or a 2008 jersey?" Would they even know?

It's not at all the same of soccer fans. Columbus Crew supporters know the difference is between the 2008 and 2010 uniforms, and they probably have both the home and away jerseys from both years. In the case of the 2014 jersey, I bought one sight-unseen the day that preorder opened up. Why? Because it's the Columbus Crew 2014 jersey, that's why. I know that's not usual to buy a jersey before seeing it, but I can guarantee that a lot of the current fan base will eventually buy them when they do see them. The trick is coming up with a new jersey that grows that fan base. What gets people's attention? Because once they buy a jersey, they become a fan.

What gets people's attention? Red does. A red jersey would sell. Not that I would like it—at least not subconsciously, but it would sell. You know that it would. It would sell because red sells. Red has a physiological and psychological impact upon us. Red increases the heart rate, creates a sense of urgency, and is more apt to result in impulse purchases. Scientific studies tell us that human beings are attracted to red. Red boosts sexual attractiveness to other human beings. Red conveys power and attracts attention. Perhaps our attraction to red is subconscious, and perhaps the origins of this "red effect" lay in our evolutionary past. Perhaps, we can't help it. To paraphrase Robert Pollard's quote above—That's what we do. We don't even know what else there is. Perhaps, it is in our blood.

David Ogilvy chose red, too. He chose red for his company during a time—post war 1948—when the color red could not have had a more negative meaning for those in the major capitalist advertising centers—London, New York—where he sought to succeed. The phrase "Better dead than red" meant to convey an extreme and real-world meaning in those days. But Ogilvy didn't need scientific studies to know the power of red to sell. He more or less created the concept of "brand imaging," and he understood that the image of "an extremely exciting and passionate company, a company full of rebels and mavericks" was what he wanted to convey for his brand. Also, Ogilvy wanted a color that was "most associated with selling." The color that accomplished that was red.

In the end, that is what modern sports franchises and businesses are doing. They are not creating. They're selling. In his book, Ogilvy quoted another ad man of his time, Rosser Reeves, "Now, what do you want out of me? Fine writing? Do you want masterpieces? Do you want glowing things that can be framed by copywriters? Or do you want to see the goddamned sales curve stop moving down and start moving up?"

That's the mindset. You're the judge of whether that mindset has done more harm than good to culture and society over the decades of Mad Men marketing. What's undeniable is that people today buy a lot more, consume a lot more, produce a lot more, sell a lot more.

Value, however, takes many more forms than just sales. So, are selling jerseys worth it to include red in a uniform or crest when red is so despised by the people who pour their hearts into that crest and wear that uniform?

This edition of 28 in 28 is about thinking of a way in which red could legitimately be included in the crest to allow for the possibility of a future red jersey option and the sales that would certainly come with it. The colors of the Columbus city flag are gold, white, and red. The colors of the Ohio flag are red, white, and blue. The official state colors are red, white, and blue. The state bird is the cardinal, the state flower is the scarlet carnation. The Black & Gold colors of the Columbus Crew should stay the primary colors of the team. That is not in question, but there are legitimate ways to incorporate red into the color scheme of this team.



Some of what I've written here may sound like a cynical, sales-driven, money-hungry, marketing-based defense of modern football. Those who know me know that that is pretty much everything I try to not cultivate in soccer support. It's just that there is a different kind of art to advertising, which is what we are talking about here, and we can see the outcome of it in recent MLS rebrands. We will certainly see much more of that in the Orlando City, New York City FC, and Miami branding to come in the next 2 years. The irony of the situation is that the crests and logos, designs and drawings that defined the early eras of soccer and sports logos are more popular now than ever. And, in comparison, those were done with no sense at all of the rapacious consumer culture that drives every aspect of sports fandom and life in general in our consumer economy.

The standards and crests that we hold dear from those bygone ages were, literally, designed to represent the values and aspirations of the club. "Merch," "swag," "gear," were not primary motivations behind the crests and badges of soccer clubs. They are now, though. It's, pretty much, all that matters.

Case in point: last summer, I went to Indianapolis to watch the Inter Milan vs. Chelsea F.C. soccer match at Lucas Oil Stadium. Merchswaggear was everywhere—and, with very few exceptions, it was all Chelsea. Why? Because that's what was going to sell. The lines for this cheaply-made extraordinarily expensive stuff were 30, 40, 50 people deep. They were all waiting in line to buy Chelsea merchswaggear. I cannot even begin to estimate the tens of thousands of dollars that was earned on merchswaggear, alone. But that's why the people were there, to get their Chelsea merchswaggear as a souvenir/remembrance/memento of that one time that they waited in line for 60 minutes to buy merchswaggear while their team played for 90 minutes on the field in the other room.

As a supporter of the Columbus Crew, I have put my trust in Anthony Precourt to lead this crest redesign in a thoughtful and considerate way. I don't think crass consumerism (a la the SKC rebrand and its Axe body spray I believe that we will win, bro aesthetic) is what Anthony Precourt wants for the Columbus Crew. But, maybe it's the way that MLS is moving and he can't stop it. In that case, there's always a wild card. There's always red.

Regardless of what happens, I hope to live to see one of two things happen: Either Guided By Voices play at Crew Stadium after a big victory over a big team, or "The Official Ironmen Rally Song" and "Don't Stop Now" become supporters' anthems that we sing from the stands. Like this particular essay, it would be the Spirit of '96 coming full circle.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

23: ELIJAH.


Elijah Pierce from Zach Wolf on Vimeo.

Living in and around Columbus since I was a kid, I've been to a handful of Elijah Pierce exhibits over the years. Pierce was a barber, pastor, and artist in Columbus, Ohio for more than 60 years. The first time I remember seeing his work was on a field trip during my freshman year in high school. I doubt that I knew anything about him then, but I did write my one-page essay for art class about the carvings that I saw on that trip. I don't remember much more about that, but I do remember trying to make an Elijah Pierce-inspired sculpture out of clay. It broke. Some things just aren't meant to be made out of clay.

The last time that I saw a full exhibit of Elijah Pierce's art was a little more than a year ago. The Columbus Museum of Art had a terrific exhibit of his work called "The Essential Elijah Pierce" in commemoration of the Columbus 2012 Bicentennial.* I went to the Columbus Museum of Art alone on a weekday in fall 2012, spent a few hours walking through the rooms at my own pace. I have to admit that a couple of times I kind of teared up a little. It felt to me that Pierce was present in his art, and that's not as easy to do as you might think. Designs and works of art sometime escape the hand of their creators and leave them behind. Perhaps that's what people mean when they say some art lacks soul, leaves the viewer cold, or lacks sincerity. There's no Elijah Pierce woodcarving that lacks sincerity or soul.

Pierce was a self-taught woodcarver. He began carving as a boyhood hobby, made small carvings for his wife and customers at his barber shop when he was a young man, used his art in his work as a pastor, developed his craft over decades, and, by the time he came to the last two decades of his life, had honed it into art that is still admired and acknowledged around the world.

The amount of work, its scope and beauty, created over the course of his long and remarkable life can leave one overwhelmed. That, and the undeniable power of his integrity. The sculptor Frank Gallo said of Pierce, "Beside him, I feel like a poseur, an imitator. He is motivated solely by love of what he does, and his work has both naiveté and a deep understanding of his subjects."

Artistic sincerity—sincerity, in general—is not always a comfortable trait to be confronted with, which is why art is often rejected by people who are made uneasy with sincerity from their fellow human beings. So much of our culture sustains us with the easy-yet-fleeting comfort food of sarcasm combined with the junk food nourishment of quick consumption. That irony often manifests itself in marketers' reliance upon the familiar feel of retro chic, though tweaked with our own sardonic claim to ownership of it, like being proud of our own ability to "dominate" 80s-era video games, "take" 70s-like Polaroids on Instagram, or "owning" a "new" pair of Zubaz—in 2014.

So many contemporary conversations are laden with decades-old pop culture references, and the more obscure the reference the more cache one earns. MLS soccer podcasts are replete with these pop culture preambles. Grantland basically exists because of Bill Simmons' aptitude for those kind of references. But should the economy of ironic nostalgia be criticized? It sells, after all. We talk it. We embrace as we mock. We let our unease with progress, with the future, and with the unknown produce our symbols, our standards and our "lifestyle brands." We complain, a little, at first...

…and then we buy them. We buy the hell out of them, own them for a little while, and then we let them go and buy more. In participating in the analgesic cycle of nostalgic lifestyle branding we inevitably feel an encroaching hollowness and wonder why we can't express ourselves the way we want to without a lifestyle brander raiding nostalgia, the original thought of our forebears, turning theirs into ours—but ever so slightly ironically owned, to assert our superiority. In comparison, the art of Elijah Pierce sincerely embraces us. When one is confronted by sincerity, one can either embrace it, or its parody. It's a pertinent choice for those of us who live today in this age of irony.

For those of us who have sincerely loved the sport of soccer despite its second-class, sometimes third-class status in the United States over the years, that pertinent choice is even more clearly definable. We are proceeding into what I suppose could be called MLS 3.0—where everything identifiable that was original, modest, tenuous, and (sometimes) organic in MLS 1.0 that survived the success and (sometimes) the pomposity of MLS 2.0 is about to evolve into pure property: possessed, marketed, sold and controlled by an select few. We should recognize before it is too late that the true growth of MLS has not been steered by the investors and marketers who are ever so eager to take credit. It's been organic, and driven by the creative supporters of the teams. The people who have put up with the neglect and sometimes hostility for our support of soccer, and did so when the cost was high, the reward rare, and the effort Massive. The perfect example is the slogan "Dare To Be Massive," which means nothing to anyone were it not for a handful of extremely smart, passionate, proud and funny soccer supporters who had been disregarded by the sports marketing intelligentsia and MLS, until it became too Massive to ignore (or until money could be made). Now, "Massive" is literally described as one of the Crew's marketing slogans. Now, money can be made. That is a fine thing, but let's hope not at the expense of sincerity, honesty, integrity.

This is important to keep in mind when redesigning the Columbus Crew crest. When we turn this into yet another Major League Soccer rebranding, we risk everything that is sincere and authentic. The production of the new crest will certainly go through the same process that the Sporting KC rebrand went through, and the San Jose Earthquakes rebrand went through after that. Anthony Precourt has spoken already of how much admiration he has for how Kansas City rebranded the Wizards into Sporting KC. Perhaps the second most important aspect of that rebrand—next to the $208 million stadium (which somehow manages to have some of the worst turf in the game)—was the crest.

San Jose, too, has made their new crest the second most important part of their rebrand, next to their coming new $70 million+ stadium. They're all slick. They're all shiny. They're all focus-grouped, sloganeered, market-tested nothings. It's the result of a desultory corporate process that's given us two of the most meaningless crests in soccer in Kansas City and San Jose, and a stadium naming-rights partnership with Lance Armstrong: the paragon of 21st century sports business failures in integrity.

The life and work of Elijah Pierce is a model for us going forward into an unknown future—a standard to live up to as we shape a new era to our vision. What would an Elijah Pierce-designed crest look like? That's a really good question. The very idea of having such a thing in the marketing-rich environment of today seems inconsistent with this artist. Pierce created carvings of sports figures and Columbus athletes during his life, including Ohio State football players. I think a Crew player or two would have likely stopped in for a trim or a shave at his barbershop over the years had the Crew existed in the 1950s, 60s, 70s. As an enormously important person in the history of our city, I can't help but want to include something inspired by him in a series that is offering up as diverse of a set of ways of thinking as I can in 28 days.

What I've done is seek out parts of his body of work that could be adopted into a soccer crest design, and then extrapolate from others something about soccer, or our city, or the spirit of it. Building off of what I wrote in "Columbus Means Dove", I used the dove from Pierce's work Pilgrim's Progress. I also used one of the baseball players' cleats that he carved. The idea is to create something that looks hand made, carved out of wood with a pocketknife, and like a piece of folk art that would help pass down the sincerity of local soccer club tradition to generations to come.



Today, there is an eleven-feet tall bronze statue of Elijah Pierce on the campus of Columbus State Community College. To me, it has a bit of the same austere dignity as the three workmen from the current Columbus Crew crest. Elijah Pierce lived 92 years. International acclaim and adulation for his decades of work and for him as an artist didn't come until he was nearly 80.

"For 30 or 40 years, only a few of your people knew about me," he is quoted as saying. "Now I know the joy of making other people happy. The Good Lord has blessed me. People are calling me a celebrity, but the Bible says you have to humble yourself to be exalted. I'm just the same old Elijah Pierce."





*"The Essential Elijah Pierce" is currently on exhibit at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft in Louisville, Kentucky through March 16, 2014.