Instead of wallowing over the fact that I could not attend MLS Cup 2020 for multiple important reasons, I have turned part of my focus toward telling the stories of some of the people I am happy could be there in person. First up was Savannah Bee, and her tale of Crew fandom which had a surreal moment in the spotlight due to a postgame hand gesture at MLS Cup 2015. Next up is my friend Andy Zartman, for reasons I am about to describe.
On the morning November 23, 2008, while I sat in Craig Merz’s hotel room as we prepared to make our way to the stadium to report on the Crew’s first-ever MLS Cup appearance, my phone vibrated. It was a text from my friend Andy Zartman. Some of you may remember him as “the nefarious numbers runner known as Z-man” from my Sirk’s Notebook stories, on account of the fact that Andy is the proprietor and money man for the Section 107 goal pool. I’d sat with Z-man, Flick, and the rest of those 107 Hooligans on many occasions over the years, and had attended many a Crew watch party at Andy’s home. It absolutely killed me that while Flick and I were engaged in various nonsensical escapades like getting cheerfully kissed on the cheeks by Gilles Marini, the French actor who had just recently done a full frontal nudity scene in the Sex and the City movie, thereby earning the Flick-bestowed sobriquet “Mr. Junk”…where was I…oh yeah, while stuff like that was going on in LA, it killed me that Z-man couldn’t be with us. And that feeling amplified on the morning of MLS Cup 2008.
There was, however, a particularly good and noble reason that Andy stayed behind in Columbus. Attached to that text message, swaddled in black and gold, was the following image of his newborn son Wyatt:
With a newborn at home and his wife resuming her overnight weekend shifts as a nurse, being a good father and husband took precedence, no matter how Massive the occasion. There was never a question in Andy’s mind about what to do and he has no regrets. Emotions, however, are not binary.
“I’ve built an entire life with this family of mine and I love them all dearly,” he says, “but there was definitely some jealousy knowing that all my friends were there.”
With Wyatt perched in his bouncy seat and Andy parked on the couch, Z-man celebrated the Crew’s first MLS Cup title accompanied only by an infant who had no appreciation for what had just occurred.
“I was just jumping around the room when we hoisted the Cup, and knowing you guys were there, it was certainly special.”
Special, but definitely not the same.
In 2015, Andy finally had the chance to see the Crew win an MLS Cup in person, sitting with his friends in Section 107. Womp-womp.
“We were hosting because we had the better team,” he says. “We seemingly had all the pieces in place. And then it all went wrong before it even got started.”
He hasn’t watched that game since he saw it with his own eyes and didn’t have much more to say about the experience. Some disappointments are best left in the rearview mirror.
With the pandemic eliminating or curtailing in-person attendance, Z-man spent much of 2020 hosting virtual watch-parties via Zoom. When the playoffs rolled around and the Crew advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, he took stock of the situation and decided that some additional hype was in order. What better hype man than The Buttercream Dream? Zartman had seen comedian Corey Forrester’s parody wrestling persona on twitter, challenging Donald Trump to a cage match, and hit the follow button. He found much-needed amusement the Buttercream Dream’s various over-the-top proclamations, often punctuated with a finger-laser “skewwww” sound effect.
With the ever-increasing playoff stakes, Z-man decided to book the Buttercream Dream via Cameo. Since he had not been spending any of his discretionary Crew game money while holed up at home during the pandemic, Andy plunked down $69 with the following instructions:
Hosting a Zoom with my Columbus Crew fan friends for Sunday’s semifinal MLS Cup match against the New England Revolution, coached by an old enemy, Bruce Arena. A champ promo to get my buddies excited. Miss drinking beer and watching in person with them.
“That’s all I told him,” Z-man says. “He took that and made the video.”
The hilariously profane and not-safe-for-work video can be found in the following tweet:
(Printable excerpt for those who don’t click through: “Oooh, look at me, I’m Bruce Arena. I went to Cornell. Well so did Andy Bernard and he got cuckolded by a beet farmer!”)
That worked out so well, and because you don’t mess with what’s working ahead of a championship match, Andy ponied up another $69 and sent another request for MLS Cup:
Columbus Crew won vs Revs and are on to the final against Seattle Sounders. They think they invented the game and have been a decade long dynasty. They have to come to Columbus and my 3 buddies and I got 4 of the 1500 Tix so we’re going!
The result was another profane and not-safe-for-work hype video:
Everyone has a role to play in a championship season. This was Andy Zartman’s.
On game day, Andy got to partially live some traditions. He and three of his closest Crew friends drove separately to the game and had to “tailgate” from the inside of their respective cars. They were together at least. Also, against all odds, Andy managed to secure tickets in the section and rows he and his friends normally sit in. They were socially distanced, and the scene of a mostly empty stadium was felt surreal, but at lease the vantage point was familiar.
“I got to sit in my usual seat to take in one last big game at the stadium to bring it all home and it was absolutely tremendous,” he says. “The game itself was just one unbelievable moment after another. We didn’t let them breathe. We just went right at them and it was glorious. With two goals and an assist, Zelarayan was right up there with Schelotto in terms of best-ever performances in an MLS Cup. Seattle had no answer for what he could do with the ball, and he scored two left-footed bangers.”
Z-man has seen a lot of Crew teams in his more than two decades of fanhood. The 2020 edition definitely stood out to him.
“The teams that are special have something in them that shows through,” he says. “Nobody was whining about playing time. Nobody fighting over a penalty kick. Nobody blaming anybody else when they miss a mark or give up a goal. It’s always like, ‘What can I do to make us better from this moment forward?’ It just shows and you could see how much it meant to them.”
He could really see how much it meant to them after the final whistle. The reduced capacity allowed for a more intimate celebration. Fans were individuals, not indistinguishable blurs in a sea of 20,000 screaming faces.
“I mean, it still chokes me up,” he says. “You make eye contact with Porter as he runs by your section. Cheering like that, it was incredible. The parade around the stadium, it was personal. We obviously stuck around in our seats until after Wise Men, and then we spent another hour in the parking lot just giggling. I didn’t want the night to end.”
The night eventually did end, but that doesn’t mean the Crew are finished on their journey from the lowest relocation valley to the highest champagne-showered summit. There are other mountaintops to scale. Next year brings CONCACAF Champions League and a fresh slate of domestic competitions with a largely returning roster that could be further fortified by talented additions.
“It also feels like the beginning,” Zartman says. “The team will be even better next year as we move into the new stadium. We could be like the Sounders where we legitimately have a chance to start a dynasty here. That seems to be on the table, which is crazy to think about.”
Whether MLS Cup 2020 was the storybook ending or only the beginning of more fairy tales to come, I am so happy Andy Zartman was there. Skewwww!
My latest book “A Massive Collection, Volume 1” is now available!
Also, for those who like to support local businesses, signed paperback copies are available at Prologue Bookshop in the Short North.