Known for his shootout success and the horror movie sobriquet “Chucky” that was bestowed on him by teammate Adrian Paz, goalkeeper David Winner played for Columbus from 1996-1998. The Crew’s relocation saga had a unique twist for Winner as he lived in Austin for ten years before moving back to Columbus five years ago, where he now coaches at Ohio Premier. He was one of several alumni in attendance at the official announcement that the Crew had been saved. I talked with Winner from the airport as he waited for his flight home from the United Soccer Coaches Convention in Chicago, where a mini Crew alumni reunion took place the night before among those attending the convention.
Here’s what Chucky had to say…
On the 15-month relocation saga:
I don’t want to say I was in denial, but in my heart of hearts, to quote John Lennon, I’m a dreamer. I just never could wrap my brain around it and imagine that the Crew could leave. No disrespect to Austin. I haven’t said anything bad about Austin because I lived there for ten years and I worked for the Aztex organization, so as much as I wanted Austin to get an MLS team, I didn’t want it under these circumstances.
On the Crew being 100% officially saved:
It’s kind of surreal. That’s the best way I can describe it. Even last night, I was joking with the guys that it’s like Willy Wonka. We’re getting everything that we wished for.
I wish you could have seen the guys last night. We were like giddy little kids. We thought the team was gone and then in a New York minute, or a Columbus minute, everything turned around. It’s like a fairy tale.
On being in attendance at the ceremony announcing the official sale:
Even though it was a typical gray Columbus day, the press conference overlooked where the new stadium will be and I was waiting for the sun to come out and rainbows and trumpets and unicorns. Seriously.
Whether it was Dr. Edwards or the Haslams, or Mayor Ginther, or the introductions of Caleb Porter and Tim Bezbatchenko, it was all Ohio. All of the Ohio ties. And the fact that Arica Kress reached out to the alumni and I’m next to Chad Barson and Tom Presthus, it was just awesome. It left a really great feeling. It was all heartfelt and sincere. When I compare it to four years ago with the rebranding, I was skeptical and it just didn’t feel right. I couldn’t put my finger on it. But this just felt right.
On Dr. Pete being part of the ownership group:
I did get a little emotional when Doc Edwards went up there because it was a year ago that I had my shoulder surgery. Every time I’d be in there for the rehab, I’d always ask Doc “What do you know? What do you know?” He’d pause, he’d smile, and he’d wink and say, “I’ve got it under control.” Sure as shit, he had an ace card up his sleeve. I don’t know who, what, or how the connection with the Haslams came about, but he had a plan and was not going to go quietly into the good night.
I think all of us are biased because the coolest thing about the Crew, and it truly is unique, is that the Crew is like family. Doc always took care of us, even guys who were just there for a week. He was always so sincere. I think as an owner, it’s going to be the same.
Dee Haslam….when I was growing up in South Florida, Joe Robbie was the owner of the Miami Dolphins and Elizabeth Robbie was the president of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. So Dee Haslam is going to be the first woman on the Board of Governors in MLS, which is a cool thing in itself. And Dr. Edwards, he’s seen it all, so who better to be leading this? So looking back, not that I ever expected him to tip his hand, but the way he’d smile and nod his head and say he’s got it under control…he did!
It’s going to be a new chapter and new era. It’s incredible to see where the Crew is at. You couldn’t have scripted it any better. Now the work begins. I think in a lot of ways, the basis of the Crew back in the day was America’s Hardest Working Team. That was the tone set in the locker room, whether it was Timo, whether it was Fitz, whether it was Greg Andrulis. Nobody is going to outwork us. Then Anthony Precourt said Columbus is a white-collar town, and it was like…ugh.
On his football fandom:
My in-laws are huge Browns fans, so I’ve jumped on the bandwagon because they are a major part of saving the Crew.
On the Columbus fans that fought so hard to #SaveTheCrew:
From day one, from the time that I arrived in Columbus, there was a mutual relationship with the fans. A lot of it was grassroots and getting out in the community. I think back to the reunion game in October and all those people standing in the freezing rain to just be around us. That’s our family. It was incredible to see. People would come up to me and Dante with pictures of their kids and now those kids are adults with kids of their own who are Crew fans. To the fans, it just shows how much they love the team and it belongs in Columbus. Come hell or high water, they were going to do what it took to keep their team. Every fan, every person who genuinely cared about the Crew, they wholeheartedly saved the organization.
A MASSIVE SEASON is now available as an ebook.