Speaking with Brian McBride for the feature story published earlier today evoked yet another example of what the Columbus Crew means to me.
There are so many ways that the Columbus Crew has impacted my life. McBride is central to one of them. After our hour-long conversation ended, my mind inevitably drifted back to July 6, 2002, when McBride took a few minutes out of his day to lift my mom’s spirits after her cancer diagnosis.
She had been given the news in April and her prognosis was not good. With characteristically good humor, she underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but they took their toll. By summer, her hair had fallen out and she suffered from what she called “chemo bloat.” Any time she’d take her wig off at home, she’d refer to herself as Uncle Fester. One night, while replacing a burned out light bulb in a living room lamp, I took a new bulb out of its package and jokingly told her I needed to see if the Fester thing really worked. She laughed, took the bulb, and obliged. When the bulb didn’t light up, I told her she made for a lame-ass Uncle Fester. She insisted that at the rate she was going, she’d have full Fester powers soon enough.
During a break in treatment, she wanted me to take her down to Columbus to see a Crew game, especially since her favorite player, Brian McBride, was making his first home appearance after the USA’s memorable run in the 2002 World Cup. A trip down I-71 to see a Crew game was a nice change of pace for her.
When I inquired about a ticket for my mom, Crew PR guy Jeff Wuerth hatched a plan. Tucker Walther made my mom a personalized Crew jersey. Crew GM Jim Smith offered to host my mom in the VIP section on the balcony adjoined to his office. And most importantly, Brian McBride agreed to spend some time with my mom before the game. I was bowled over that the organization would put this together for her.
When the big afternoon arrived, I ushered my mom down to the tunnel before warmups and when McBride walked out, her eyes lit up. Brian presented her with the personalized jersey and spent about ten minutes chatting with her. He offered her encouragement, signed her jersey, and posed with her as Crew photographer Greg Bartram snapped some pictures for posterity. Then, although this was not a Babe Ruth pregame promise situation, McBride went out and scored a goal. My mom was jubilant. It was heartening to see her joy after all she had been through in the previous few months.
When I next visited her in Cleveland a week or two later, a framed photo of my mom with Brian sat on the shelf right alongside all the other family photos. After what the Crew organization did for her that day, the placement was fitting.
A few times over the course of the next year and a half, Brian would ask how my mom was doing. Every now and then, he’d swing by if he saw me in the tunnel before the game or as he left the locker room at the end of the night. Just a quick check-in. Naturally, I’d call my mom the next day and tell her that Brian asked about her. It would make her day.
My mom went into remission by the time Brian left for Fulham. The cancer returned and took her life two years before he came back.
But I still have the memory of that special day and how much it meant to my mom.
I still have that McBride-signed “Jeanne” jersey and the framed photo that sat on her shelf with the other family photos.
And I still know that the Columbus Crew, at its core, is so much more than a fungible plaything for a feckless, duplicitous, me-first daddynaire.