The number of stories to be told about the callous, queso-fueled quest to steal the Columbus Crew away to Austin TX could fill a library. We now have a worthy first entry in the catalog: Pete McGinty’s Accidental Heroes: The Grassroots Movement That Helped Save the Columbus Crew.
Rather than dwell on the treacherous machinations of two-faced trust-funder Anthony Precourt, the political and legal maneuvering in Ohio and Texas, or the big-money business dealings in Columbus, Austin, Cleveland, and New York City, McGinty narrows his focus on the true heart of the saga. Accidental Heroes tells the tale of the 19 everyday citizens who helmed the #SaveTheCrew movement that ultimately spurred an unprecedented victory for Columbus in America’s never-ending franchise relocation wars.
From the rally on the steps of City Hall just days after the news of a potential relocation broke in October 2017, all the way through to the jubilant victory party a year later once the Crew had been saved, McGinty chronicles the major #SaveTheCrew initiatives throughout the relocation saga. Through it all, Morgan Hughes was the public face of the #SaveTheCrew movement. As one might expect, the indefatigably passionate and talkative Hughes features prominently in Accidental Heroes, but McGinty takes great care to shine an overdue spotlight on the other 18 members of the leadership team and the vital roles they played. 19 protagonists can be a lot for a readers to follow, but McGinty helpfully provides photos and mini biographies of each member early in the book.
While not technically an oral history, McGinty largely stays out of the way and lets the titular heroes tell their own story. To better frame the telling, McGinty curates salient media clippings, solicits commentary from the likes of Columbus Partnership CEO Alex Fischer (who wrote the foreword) and Columbus Foundation CEO Doug Kridler, and also offers bigger-picture exposition when necessary, but the #SaveTheCrew story is largely told through the words of the participants.
It’s fascinating to look in on the inner workings of what quickly became a professionally-run organization utilizing the various professional talents of its members. Whether it was Donny Murray as Business Affairs Director, website developer Tom Davis, or someone like David Miller, who wasn’t yet a Crew fan at the time but felt his experience in political communications and public relations could be an asset in the fight to right a wrong, each of these 19 individuals stepped up and melded their own expertise into an organization with a singular focus on preserving a beloved community asset. This all-consuming effort was fueled by painfully powerful emotions, but an ethos of positivity and unity was crucial to the mission’s success.
“Personal messaging versus organizational messaging was always a big thing,” Messaging Strategist Mark Vuchenich told McGinty. “We made sure none of us was bigger than the organization. We made sure we took the high road. None of us would let our own anger get in the way to jeopardize the STC organization.”
Hughes, of course, was usually the one who came closest to crossing that line, so it’s interesting to read how the rest of the group dealt with his invaluable but sometimes off-script contributions to the cause. But there was probably no more monumental off-script moment than the tweet from the official @SaveTheCrew twitter account at 1:03pm on October 12, 2018 declaring that the Crew had been saved before there was any backchannel confirmation from MLS. It was Creative Director John Zidar who hit send on the tweet, which was an atom bomb of an ad-lib that touched off both a wild celebration in Columbus and a tsunami of professional panic for the more seasoned communications professionals within the STC organization. The behind-the-scenes recounting of that day is one of the book’s many highlights.
The actual number of people who played a role in saving the Columbus Crew from extinction via relocation is too big to count, but Accidental Heroes shows how 19 ordinary people can harness their diverse talents to help accomplish something extraordinary. Not only did they spearhead the unprecedented halting of an American sports team relocation, but they did it the Columbus Way—with positivity, selflessness, and collaboration across all manner of personal, professional, and political constituencies throughout Central Ohio. McGinty’s Accidental Heroes is a fitting testament to these remarkable efforts born out of a deep and abiding love for not just a soccer club, but also a community.
Accidental Heroes is available at SaveTheCrewBook.com. Ten percent of the proceeds from direct purchases will be used to support the Community Assist program, which provides Crew tickets to underserved, refugee, and immigrant children of Columbus. The book is also available on Amazon.com.
RELATED: To read my interview with author Pete McGinty, click HERE.