A Wedding Anniversary & Renewal of Vows Toast
by Hector Garcia
In January of 1996 my wife and I moved from Bloomington, Indiana to Caracas, Venezuela. We had been married for about three months, and were looking ahead to a lifetime together. In February of 1996 the Columbus Crew drafted Brian McBride with the first draft pick in MLS’ history. The Crew and its nascent supporter base, the soccer-loving people of Columbus, were too looking ahead to a lifetime together. My wife is from Ohio, so naturally we started following the Crew’s scores and standings every week in the Caracas English-language newspaper (there was only one, but it did carry the MLS boxscores), smiling with joy with every win, steeling for the next game with every loss, pondering the balance of the universe with every draw.
Growing up in Ohio, my wife’s first language was baseball. While fluent in basketball and football due to college years in Bloomington and the inexorable family connections to OSU, when we met, her exposure to soccer was limited to falling asleep watching the finals of the 1994 World Cup. During the previous 20 years, in contrast, I had steadily cultivated a thorough obsession with the art form, having watched nearly every possible match in the 1974, 78, 82, 86, 90, and 1994 World Cups, and countless games from Bundesliga, and the English, Spanish, and Italian soccer leagues. I grew up in South America – Fútbol was around everywhere there was air. When we met, my first language was soccer.
After 22 years of joy together. I must admit my wife is now the more fervent soccer fan of us two. Following the Crew from a distance in 1996 made us special fans. We did not stop rooting for the Crew when we moved to D.C. in the late 1990s; we stayed there for 10 years, and in the early ones we were very much Crew fans living in the land of the enemy. Eventually we made our way to Columbus in 2009, the year after the Championship, and became Crew season ticket holders ever since. Forget about the weather, forget about the heartbreak, forget about the countless late-game concessions making won games into tied games, and sometimes worse into lost games. Forget about all that. We rarely miss a match. We also rarely make it back home with any voice left.
When my daughter was learning to write her numbers, about the first thing she did with the knowledge was make a diagram of where Kei Kamara, and Ethan Finlay, and Federico Higuaín, and Steve Clark and the rest of that year’s team were in the field. We sent the drawing to Gregg Berhalter (thinking, like parents are prone to do, that it was the cutest thing in the world), and the following week a rep from the team met us at our seats with a birthday note for my daughter from the coach. Soul. Frankie Hejduk does not know us at all, but we have sat with him in Section 228 (the Buena Vista District) just to watch the game together and celebrate like crazy every Crew goal. Soul. Going around town and running into Harrison Afful at the grocery store, or Bernardo Añor at Jeni’s, or Gaston Sauro at the stadium’s concourse and giving him a bear hug and wishing him all the good wishes in the world for his knee, or worrying sick whenever Wil Trapp goes down after a contested ball in the air. Soul. These people are our family. The Crew is a big part of Columbus’ soul.
And now it is #SaveTheCrew. Big soul. At work and among my friends you would have thought I had suffered a bereavement from their level of concern and sympathy the first time they saw me after it was announced that the owner wanted to move the team. They were all quite incredulous whenever I answered emphatically “Yes, the Crew will stay home.” Not so much anymore, since the strong belief that the team should stay home has taken root well-beyond the many in Columbus who love soccer, to reach the very very very many in Columbus who understand how very important the team is to the city’s identity. You would never dare conceive of moving Liverpool away from Liverpool, or Boca Juniors or River Plate away from Buenos Aires, or Barça from Barcelona. Or the Buckeyes’ for that matter. Moving the Crew away from Columbus is the same.
So here: let there be a renewal of vows and a celebration of love, which suffers everything, hopes everything, and endures everything, and like a couple that in a way feels like newlyweds 20 some years after getting married, and in a way also feels like a pair of nurturing soulmates looking ahead to growing old together, let the love story of Columbus and the Crew have many more years of looking forward, and let them be happy, healthy, and full of goals.