Thursday, February 28, 2019

How to Go to a Minnesota State Football Game

"Coach here!"
(How Hayden always answered his phone.)

February 28, 1929, 90 years ago: John Hayden Fry is born in Eastland, Texas. Dropping his first name, Hayden Fry was a quarterback at Baylor University in nearby Waco, then served in the U.S. Marine Corps, during and after the Korean War, playing on its football team.

He coached high school ball in Texas, then returned to Baylor as an assistant coach, then at the University of Arkansas. In 1962, he got his 1st head coaching job, at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He led them to the 1966 Southwest Conference Championship. In 1973, after being fired at SMU, he was hired at North Texas State University, and won that season's Missouri Valley Conference Championship.

In 1979, the University of Iowa hired him away, and he led them to the Big Ten Conference Championship in 1981 (winning national Coach of the Year), 1985 and 1990. He retired after the 1998 season, with a record of 232-178-10.
Hayden Fry

He was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame, and a statue of him stands outside Kinnick Stadium at Iowa. His "coaching tree" includes his Iowa successor Kirk Ferentz, Wisconsin coaches Barry Alvare and Bret Bielema, Bill Snyder at Kansas State, and the Stoops brothers, Bob of Oklahoma, Mark of Kentucky and Mike of Arizona.

Hayden Fry is still alive. But his most noticeable legacy -- though certainly not his most important one -- was a fictional character named for him, debuting on his 60th birthday.


February 28, 1989, 30 years ago: Coach premieres on ABC. In this situation comedy, Craig T. Nelson plays Hayden Fox, head football coach at Minnesota State University, whose teams are called the Screaming Eagles. He tries to balance his work life and his family life. Until then, Nelson was best known as Steven Freeling, the father in the Poltergeist movies.

At the time the show began, Hayden was trying to lead Minnesota State out of a long period of losing, helped by his defensive coordinator, Luther Van Dam, played by Jerry Van Dyke. Jerry had previously been known as the star of the much-maligned 1965-66 sitcom My Mother the Car. (His more famous brother Dick would eventually play a cameo role on an episode of Coach.)

The backstory: In 1968, Luther had been defensive coordinator at Chattanooga University in Tennessee, when Hayden, from Spokane, Washington, was a senior. Hayden wasn't good enough to play in the pros, but Luther convinced the head coach, Jake "the Snake" Connelly, to put him on the staff as a graduate assistant. (Robert Prosky would later play Connelly, as his new team, South Texas, played Hayden's Minnesota State in a bowl game.)

After Connelly "taught me everything I know," including sneaky stuff, Hayden became the head coach at Chattanooga, and made them one of the top teams in NCAA Division I-AA. In 1984, he was hired at Minnesota State. One of his players was Michael Dybinski, a.k.a. Dauber, played by Bill Fagerbakke, who made up for not being very bright by being enthusiastic and talented, and rose to become Hayden's special teams coach.

Among the people Hayden had to deal with at MSU were the athletic director, Howard Burleigh, played by Kenneth Kimmins; Howard's wife and the team's lead tutor, Shirley Burleigh, played by Georgia Engel; band director Riley Pringle, played by Raye Birk; and women's basketball coach (and Dauber's girlfriend for a time) Judy Watkins, played by Pam Stone, a standup comedian.

All the while, Hayden was coming to the realization that he had to be a better person. He had been married to Beth, played by Lenore Kasdorf, but the marriage failed because Hayden had focused on football first and his family second (if that). But in the show's pilot episode, their daughter Kelly, played by Clare Carey, decided to enroll at Minnesota State, and moves in with him in his lakeside log cabin.

While this is going on, Hayden has been dating Christine Armstrong, a Minneapolis news anchor, played by Shelley Fabares. Their romance was paralleled by Kelly's with a fellow drama student, Stuart Rosebrock, played by Kris Kamm. By the time Hayden and Christine finally got married in late 1992, Kelly and Stuart had already been married and divorced, as Kelly followed her mother's path: As her husband's career skyrocketed, he neglected his wife.

Slowly, but surely, Hayden got both his career and his personal life together. In 1991, he led Minnesota State to an 11-1 record, including beating South Texas in the Pineapple Bowl in Honolulu. The 1992 season was a bit of a disappointment, as they got slaughtered by Iowa in the Patriot Bowl in blizzard-stricken Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. Finally, in 1993, Hayden led the Screaming Eagles to an undefeated season, beating West Texas in the Pioneer Bowl in San Antonio, taking the National Championship. (In real life, Florida State won the National Championship that season.)

He and Christine went to New York to accept a Coach of the Year award, and saw Kelly rebuilding her life as an advertising agent. In one of the funniest lines in TV history, she told him that her company was pitching a brand of bottled water, and her boss figured Hayden was an "average American," so he asked, "What would make you buy this bottle?" Hayden was honest: "Put beer in it."
Left to right: Clare Carey, Bill Fagerbakke,
Craig T. Nelson, Jerry Van Dyke, Shelley Fabares

But the 1994 season was a step back, as he began to do things less to make his team win, and more to make himself a more attractive prospect for NFL teams looking for a good replacement for their head coach. Minnesota State ended up going to the Popcorn Bowl in Los Angeles, sponsored by the movie industry, but he had fired his agent, who had turned the season into a circus, and he coached the game with only his team in mind, not himself or his future job prospects. They lost, but he told Christine that it was the only game he had enjoyed all season.

The 1995 season was an expansion year for the NFL, admitting the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars in real life. On the show, the Orlando Breakers stood in place of the Jags, and Katherine Helmond played Doris Sherman, their owner, who hired Hayden. ABC had moved filming of the show to their new studio in Orlando, so location shots were used.

Hayden's 1st NFL season was rough: The Breakers lost their 1st 15 games in 1995, before shocking the Dallas Cowboys on Monday Night Football on Christmas. (In real life, the Arizona Cardinals played the Cowboys on that broadcast, and lost.) But in 1996, just as the real-life Panthers and Jags rebounded from difficult premiere seasons, Hayden got the Breakers into the Playoffs.

But it just wasn't as much fun as he thought it would be. Christine wanted a child, and Fabares had turned 50, so it's reasonable to presume that Christine wasn't appreciably younger. In the end, they decided to adopt. One fan wrote to a newspaper, suggesting that their son be named "Owen," so it would sound like "0 and 16." But another fan suggested Timothy David -- "T.D.," as in "touchdown" -- and that's what they chose.

So Hayden decided that he could no longer balance family and football, and, in the show's last episode, airing on May 14, 1997, he resigned as Breakers coach, and took his family back to the famed Minnesota lakefront cabin. The show had run for 9 seasons. (Well, 8 1/2.)
A recent photo of Craig T. Nelson

In addition to the preceding, notable guest stars included Drew Carey and Kathy Kinney (as their Drew Carey Show characters Drew Carey and Mimi Bobek), football star turned radio talk show host Mike Golic as one of Hayden's former players, and basketball star Vlade Divac as a deliveryman, to highlight a sequence in which Luther was afraid that people were getting bigger.

Also: Nanette Fabray (Fabrares' real-life aunt) as Christine's mother, Mike Farrell (Fabares' real-life husband) in a brief role, the aforementioned Dick Van Dyke in a brief role, and Noah Nelson (Craig's real-life son) as the biological father of his newborn stand-in, T.D. And such stars, old and relatively new, as the aforementioned Robert Prosky, Alan Young, Dick Martin, Tom Poston, Robin Strasser, Andrea Parker, Rob Schneider, Lisa Kudrow, Lucy Liu and Terrence Howard.

Playing themselves were football legends Frank Gifford (and his wife Kathie Lee), Johnny Unitas, Mike Ditka, Dick Butkus, Bubba Smith, Hank Stram, Bob Griese, George Allen, Barry Switzer, Joe Theismann, Lou Holtz, Jimmy Johnson, Jerry Jones, Troy Aikman, Keyshawn Johnson and Eddie George; sportscasting legends Keith Jackson and Al Michaels; basketball legend and sportscaster Rick Barry, actor Kirk Douglas, singer Bobby Vinton, and Entertainment Tonight host Mary Hart.


Coach was created by Barry Kemp, who also created Newhart, Bob Newhart's 1980s CBS sitcom, which is probably how he got Tom Poston to appear as jeweler and dentist Art Hibke. The other 2 guys behind the show were John Peaslee and Judd Pillot -- which makes me think that they were the reasons why all 4 bowl games we saw the Screaming Eagles go to started with P: Pineapple, Patriot, Pioneer and Popcorn.

Kemp was a graduate of the University of Iowa, coached from 1979 to 1998 (including 3 Big Ten Conference Championships) by Hayden Fry, for whom Hayden Fox was obviously named. Fox was not, however, made to look like Fry.

Since the show was set at fictional Minnesota State, Camp wanted to use location shots and game footage from the University of Minnesota, but UM wouldn't let him. So, he went to the publicity people at Iowa, and they said yes. This may have been due to Kemp's connection with the school, or it may have had something to do with the fact that Iowa and Minnesota are big rivals in the Big Ten.

In the meantime, whenever game footage was needed, Kemp went into the ABC Sports vault, and used footage of Minnesota playing one of their other big rivals, the University of Wisconsin. That's why nearly every moment of Minnesota state footage shows the maroon and gold of the Minnesota Golden Gophers against the white uniforms with red trim of the Wisconsin Badgers. The colors actually used for Minnesota State were purple and gold, like the Los Angeles Lakers. Who started out as the Minneapolis Lakers.

When an exterior shot of the stadium was needed, it was Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City. And the building used for exterior shots of the athletic complex that included Hayden's office was the Iowa Memorial Union. But in a bit of irony, Iowa's other main rival, Iowa State, won the right to have its marching band play the show's theme song, essentially Minnesota State's fight song.

At the time, there was no real life school called Minnesota State University. But in 1998, the State legislature renamed Mankato State University "Minnesota State University, Mankato." In 2000, the legislature renamed Moorhead State University "Minnesota State University, Moorhead." Both schools are now in NCAA Division II.
Blakeslee Stadium, the 7,500-seat football field
of the real Minnesota State University, Mankato

While no precise location was given for the show's MSU, it was said to be an hour's drive from downtown Minneapolis. Mankato is about 80 miles southwest, so that's an hour and a half if you're lucky. St. Cloud is about 65 miles northwest, which could, conceivably, be done in an hour.

Of course, it was all fiction. But what if it was real? What if you could go to a Minnesota State Screaming Eagles game?

The following is based partly on things said in the show, and partly on speculation on what's happened in the 22 years since the show left the air.


Before You Go. It's Minnesota. It's going to be Autumn. It's going to be cool in September and cold thereafter. Wear warm clothing.

Minnesota is in the Central Time Zone, an hour behind New York. Adjust accordingly.

Tickets. It's never been officially said whether Minnesota State is in a league -- there were a lot more independents then, and their opponents were apparently all over the map -- but, if they're not a Big Ten school, then we can imagine them being a Big Ten type.

So we're looking at a stadium of around 70,000 to 80,000, selling well even in bad seasons. And ticket prices probably around $75 in the lower level, and $60 in the upper deck, and $40 in the end zone.
A T-shirt ordered by ABC to promote the show

Getting There. Since we don't know precisely where in Minnesota the school is, we'll have to make some slightly educated guesses. We know it's about an hour's drive from Minneapolis. So, if we're flying in, it's to Minneapolis, and then hoping we can rent a car the rest of the way.

Flying from Newark to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport can be done, nonstop and round-trip, for as little as $800. When you get there, the Number 55 light rail takes you from the airport to downtown in under an hour, so at least that is convenient.

Bus? Not a good idea. Greyhound runs 3 buses a day between Port Authority and Minneapolis, all with at least one transfer, in Chicago and possibly elsewhere as well. The total time, depending on the number of stops, is between 26 and 31 hours, and costs $608 round-trip, but can drop to $384 with advanced purchase. The Greyhound terminal is at 950 Hawthorne Avenue, at 9th Street North, just 3 blocks from Nicollet Mall, 2 from the Target Center arena, and from there just across the 7th Street overpass over Interstate 394 from Target Field.

Train? An even worse idea. Amtrak will make you leave Penn Station on the Lake Shore Limited at 3:40 PM Eastern Time, arrive at Union Station in Chicago at 9:50 AM Central Time, and then the Empire Builder, their Chicago-to-Seattle run, will leave at 2:15 PM and arrive at Union Depot in St. Paul (not Minneapolis) at 10:03 PM. And it's $382 round-trip. And you'd have to spent not one but two nights in a hotel.

If you decide to drive, it's far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get into New Jersey, and take Interstate 80 West. You'll be on I-80 for the vast majority of the trip, through New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In Ohio, in the western suburbs of Cleveland, I-80 will merge with Interstate 90. From this point onward, you won't need to think about I-80 until you head home; I-90 is now the key, through the rest of Ohio and Indiana.

Just outside Chicago, I-80 will split off from I-90, which you will keep, until it merges with Interstate 94. For the moment, though, you will ignore I-94. Stay on I-90 through Illinois, until reaching Madison, Wisconsin, where you will once again merge with I-94. Now, I-94 is what you want, taking it into Minnesota and the Twin Cities, with Exit 242D being your exit for downtown St. Paul, and Exit 233A for downtown Minneapolis.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and a half in New Jersey, 5 hours and 15 minutes in Pennsylvania, 4 hours in Ohio, 2 and a half hours in Indiana, an hour and a half in Illinois, 2 and a half hours in Wisconsin, and half an hour in Minnesota. That's 17 hours and 45 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter both Ohio and Indiana, outside Chicago and halfway across Wisconsin, and accounting for traffic in New York, the Chicago suburbs and the Twin Cities, it should be no more than 23 hours, which would save you time on both Greyhound and Amtrak, if not on flying.

And, again, all that is just to get to downtown Minneapolis, and we don't know exactly where Minnesota State was supposed to be on the show.
Downtown Minneapolis

Once In the City. Not knowing where Minnesota State was supposed to be makes this one hard as well. As a whole, Minnesota has about 5.7 million people: About 83 percent white, 6 percent black, 5 percent Hispanic, 5 percent Asian, and 1 percent Native American.

The average population of the 14 "Big Ten" schools' cities is 178,641, but that is skewed by Columbus, Ohio having 879,170, and Minneapolis having 422,331. It's also thrown off by Ann Arbor, Michigan being part of the large Detroit metropolitan area; Evanston, Illinois being next-door to Chicago; College Park, Maryland being inside Washington, D.C.'s Capital Beltway; and Rutgers' New Brunswick, New Jersey being between New York and Philadelphia.

But if we take Columbus and Minneapolis out of the equation, the average drops to 99,956. So if we presume that Minnesota State is in a fictional city, within an hour's drive of Minneapolis as stated on the show, it probably has about 100,000 permanent residents, not counting students living there.

The sales tax in the State of Minnesota is 6.875 percent. Bus and Light Rail service in Minneapolis is $2.25 per ride during rush hours, $1.75 otherwise. It is reasonable to presume that bus service in Minnesota State's city is around the same.

ZIP Codes in Minnesota start with the digits 54 and 55. The Area Codes are 612 for Minneapolis, 507 for its suburbs, and 651 for St. Paul. Interstates 494 and 694 are the Twin Cities' "beltway." Xcel Energy supplies electricity, and CenterPoint Energy supplies gas.

We don't know of any (fictional) famous people who gradated from Minnesota State. Even the main characters, Kelly and Dauber aside, seem to have graduated from other schools.

I looked for a photo of Hayden's lakeside log cabin, but it doesn't seem to be available online.

Going In. On a 1989 episode, Hayden is interviewed by Keith Jackson, ABC's great college football announcer. Jackson refers to Minnesota State's football venue as "Blenheim Stadium."

Blenheim is the English name of Blindheim, a German city that was the site of a battle in the War of the Spanish Succession in 1704. The winning commander was the Duke of Marlborough, whose real name was John Churchill. He established a country home in Oxfordshire, England as Blenheim Palace. His descendant, Winston Churchill, was born there in 1874, and later became Britain's most honored Prime Minister.

So why did Kemp, Pillot, Peaslee, or whoever it was name Minnesota State's stadium after Blenheim? It may have just been a throwaway line, sounding good, like it might have been the name of an early coach at the school. Or maybe, given the Upper Midwest's large population of German ancestry (as well as Scandinavian, hence Minnesota's NFL team is called the Vikings), they wanted a German-sounding, but also English-sounding, name. Hence, "Blenheim" instead of "Blindheim."
Iowa's Kinnick Stadium, used on the show for exterior shots
of Minnesota State's Blenheim Stadium

The average of the official seating capacities of Big Ten stadiums is 71,519 -- slightly over Iowa's 70,585. The average date of construction for a Big Ten stadium is 1942, but that's skewed by the building of Rutgers' Stadium in 1994 and TCF Bank Stadium in Minnesota in 2009. Replace those with their precedessors -- Rutgers Stadium in 1938 and Memorial Stadium in in 1924 -- and you get an average opening year of 1932.

Since few major building projects would have been undertaken at the depth of the Great Depression, let's say, 1929. So both the capacity and the age of Blenheim Stadium would match its visual model, Kinnick Stadium.

Most football stadiums have fields that are aligned north-to-south, so that the Sun isn't in the players' eyes at any time. Only 4 out of 14 schools in the Big Ten still have natural grass, and when the show debuted in 1989, it was worse: Only 1 out of 10 had the real thing, Purdue. Some switched back to grass, but most of them, including Michigan and Ohio State, switched back to turf, albeit a better kind than the rock-hard AstroTurf carpets of the 1960s and '70s. So it is reasonable to presume that Blenheim Stadium then has AstroTurf, and now has FieldTurf or something similar.

As with most colleges with a Division I football program, the campus is probably a mile or two from downtown, with a campus bus system that includes a stop at the stadium. Parking at such stadiums is usually around $20 or $25. This being Big Ten Country, if not necessarily a Big Ten school, tailgate parties are probably all over the lots.

Given that there's an NFL stadium in Minnesota, Blenheim Stadium probably doesn't host the State high school championships. Given that stadium, and major arenas in both Minneapolis (the NBA Timberwolves' Target Center) and St. Paul (the NHL Wild's Xcel Energy Center), it's highly unlikely that the stadium hosts major concerts.

But if it is over an hour from downtown Minneapolis, it's possible that Minnesota State's basketball arena hosts the occasional concert. Perhaps not the Beatles in the mid-1960s, but maybe Elvis Presley in the 1970s.

Food. There's probably a few concession stands under the stands on both sidelines, and possibly a food court under the stands at each end zone.

Team History Displays. There's no way to know about this. Until Hayden led the Screaming Eagles to the (fictional) 1993 National Championship, there was never a mention of any title of any kind won by the school. We don't even know for sure if Minnesota State was in a conference. Until Hayden led them to victory in the 1991 Pineapple Bowl, the only clue we have as to their bowl game history is that this trip to Honolulu was their 1st bowl game under Hayden's tenure.

Nor was there any mention of a retired uniform number for any player, or a statue for an old coach, although there was a Curly O'Brien Award, given out by the local media to a figure at the school who'd done good things during the year, named for a former Minnesota State coach. Hayden received it one year, but noted that Curly got fired after a losing season. This implies, but doesn't necessarily mean, that Curly was Hayden's immediate predecessor at MSU.

So let's speculate. Let's presume that Minnesota State is in the Big Ten -- and that, perhaps, they took the place of Northwestern, a small private school that doesn't really fit the profile of those big State schools.

On 15 occasions, the Big Ten football title has been won by a team with more than 1 loss in Conference play -- either 2 or more losses, or a loss and a tie, or no losses but 2 or more ties. One of those was in 1993, when we know Minnesota State was an undefeated National Champion. Two others were in 1990 and 1992, when it was not said onscreen that Minnesota State were Conference Champions. Another was in 1984, but that's when Hayden was hired: We are led to believe that Minnesota State was in a long period of losing when Hayden arrived.

That leaves 11 seasons, 6 titles that were won, or shared, by the 2 teams that have dominated the Big Ten, Michigan or Ohio State (or both). This includes 1933, shared by Michigan and Minnesota; 1981, shared by Ohio State and Iowa; and 2000, shared by Michigan, Northwestern and Purdue. I don't want to take any titles away from any team other than the Wolverines and the Buckeyes.

So now, we're down to 3 Big Ten Conference Championships won by Minnesota State: 1949, 1950 and 1993. Maybe that's less than fair. But we have nothing else to go on. And we have no idea how well the Screaming Eagles have done since Hayden left. Hell, we don't even know if Hayden is still alive. Nelson is, but that doesn't mean his character is. Although he did seem to be in good shape for his age. (He once asked Christine to go skinny-dipping in the swim team's pool: "Christine, I'm not ashamed of my body, and I'm very proud of yours!")

As for retired numbers, maybe Minnesota State lost one of its football greats in World War II. Maybe their star running back from 1949 and 1950 had his number retired. Maybe Bo Whitley, the quarterback who launched Minnesota State's best recent era in the early 1990s, got his Number 14 retired. And maybe whoever succeeded him as their big star, on the 1993 National Champions, got his number retired.

On one episode, Luther asked Hayden why they don't play on Thanksgiving Day. Hayden says it's because Minnesota State doesn't have an arch-rival. That's ridiculous. Surely, the real-life University of Minnesota is a rival.

Maybe, just as Minnesota has a rivalry with Iowa, Minnesota State could have a rivalry with Iowa State. Minnesota has a rivalry with Wisconsin. There's no Wisconsin State University in real life, but maybe there is in the show's world, so maybe that's the Screaming Eagles' big rival. But no such rivalry was mentioned in the script, so I can't tell you their record against such a school, or mention the weird trophy they might play for (The Old Block of Cheese?), or mention any legendary games in their series. 

There may be an equivalent to Billy Cannon's Halloween Run, or "Punt, 'Bama, Punt," or "The Choke at Doak," There may be "The Kick," or "The Catch," or "The Fumble." But we just don't know. There was Hayden keeping Whitley hidden with a fake injury during the 1991 Pineapple Bowl, and "The Interception" in the 1993 Pioneer Bowl once Luther finally told Hayden how West Texas was tipping their plays. But that's all we've got.

Stuff. Given the university's stinginess on facilities, there almost certainly isn't a big team store inside the stadium. So if Minnesota State actually existed, you might have to go to little stands inside the stadium, or to the University Bookstore, to get souvenirs. There are Coach-themed items available for sale on

During the Game. If Minnesota State fans are anything like Twins, Timberwolves, Wild or Golden Gophers fans, your safety will not be an issue. If they're anything like Vikings fans, the danger will be slightly higher, but almost certainly nothing to worry about, unless you express appreciation for the Green Bay Packers.

A running gag on the show was that nobody, not even Hayden, knows more than the first two lines of the fight song: "When the Screaming Eagles fight, they fight with all their might, da da da dah da da da dah... " Something tells me that even that much may not be correct.

After the Game. Several scenes from the show were filmed on a studio's soundstage, set up as The Touchdown Club. This would presumably be the most popular go-to place for fans after the game. But, as with most college towns, there are probably chain restaurants within a 10-minute walk of the stadium.

Sidelights. Since we don't know anything about the city that Minnesota State is in, we can guess that there may be historic sites, museums (possibly university-sponsored), or other tourist attractions. But we can only guess.

This is Minnesota. The locals will be Twins, Vikings, Timberwolves, Wild, and (in soccer) Minnesota United fans.


The TV show Coach made Minnesota State University sound like a fun place to go to college, and (sometimes) a fun place to watch a college football game.

And where are they now?

* Craig T. Nelson (Hayden Fox) is about to turn 75, and is the voice of Robert Parr, a.k.a. Mr. Incredible, in the Incredibles cartoon series.

* Shelley Fabares (Christine Armstrong) just turned 75, and the former teen idol has mostly retired from acting, though she has also gone into superhero cartoons, doing voices for the DC Animated Universe.

* Bill Fagerbakke (Michael "Dauber" Dybinski) is 61. He played Marvin Eriksen, Marshall's father, on How I Met Your Mother. He is also the voice of Patrick Star on SpongeBob SquarePants.

* Clare Carey (Kelly Fox) is 51, and has become "one of those actors who's on every show." She was a regular on the drama series Point Pleasant, Jericho and Crash. She has appeared once on every show in the NCIS franchise, including in a fantasy sequence as Ann Gibbs, Leroy Jethro Gibbs' mother (and perhaps the source of his redhead fixation).

* Kris Kamm (Stuart Rosebrock) is 54, and has had just 1 acting role since 2000, mostly producing since then.

* Kenneth Kimmins (Howard Burleigh) is 77, and played the Mayor on Desperate Housewives in 2007, but has only acted once since.

* Georgia Engel (Shirley Burleigh) is 70. Formerly Georgette Franklin, eventually Mrs. Ted Baxter, on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, she reunited with her co-star on that show, Betty White, as a supporting player on Hot in Cleveland. She was also a semi-regular on Everybody Loves Raymond, and has appeared on the new version of One Day at a Time.

* Katherine Helmond is 89, and the former Soap and Who's the Boss? star hasn't acted since 2011, except for cartoon voiceovers. She is the voice of Lizzie, a Ford Model T (perhaps as a nod to her age, and that car, produced between 1908 and 1927, was nicknamed "the Tin Lizzie") in the Cars cartoons.

* And Jerry Van Dyke (Luther Van Dam) died in 2018, at the age of 86. Between Coach and his death, he had played grandpa roles on the sitcoms Yes, Dear; The Middle and The Millers.

UPDATE: The day after I posted this, it was revealed that Helmond had died the preceding Saturday, from complications of Alzheimer's disease.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

The Patriots Will Go On, With Or Without Robert Kraft

"Bob, we've gotta stop meeting like this."
"Roger, it may soon be out of either of our hands."

For the moment, let us presume that there is nothing worse about the criminal case against New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft than what we already know. Let us presume that he had no knowledge of any human trafficking.

That, of course, may turn out not to be the case, but unless and until it does, let's assume that the worst has already been revealed.

How does this affect the Patriots? Recall that other team owners have been forced to step down for things roughly as bad. Even with the Patriots. The reason Kraft is the owner in the first place is that Victor Kiam had to sell the team, to James Orthwein, who later sold out to Kraft.

We've also seen Jerry Richardson forced out of the Carolina Panthers, the team he founded. We've also seen Eddie DeBartolo Jr. forced out of the ownership of the San Francisco 49ers, handing them over to his sister Denise and her husband Jed York.

If Kraft -- who is 77 years old, and advancing age may force his hand even if neither the NFL nor the law does -- hands the team over to his son, Jonathan Kraft, about to turn 55 and already team president, that really won't change anything.

As long as Bill Belichick is the head coach, the Patriots are going to continue to win, possibly cheating to do so. Belichick, though soon to turn 67, is likely to remain the head coach for some time to come. And Tom Brady, who will be 42 before the 2019 NFL season kicks off, is likely to remain the starting quarterback for at least one more season.

So unless NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell punishes the Patriots organization, not just Kraft himself, nothing is really going to change. Barring outright bankruptcy, and a sale to someone who can afford to buy the team, a sale which could take a while to complete for various reasons, the operating owner of the Patriots is not the key man. Belichick is the key man.

And he will be allowed to continue to do what he does, without being punished, unless and until he gets caught up in something, criminal, as Kraft has.

Who knows? Maybe the alleged "bigger name" in this scandal isn't, as many are hoping, Donald Trump. Maybe it's Belichick.

I find that hard to believe.

But then, until now, I wouldn't have believed it of Kraft, either. Unlike his coach, his quarterback, and many of his other players, he seemed to be a classy individual.

That is one fumble he can, now, never recover.

Monday, February 25, 2019

February 25, 1979: Denis Potvin, Public Enemy Number 1

February 25, 1979, 40 years ago: Denis Potvin becomes Public Enemy Number 1 to New York Rangers fans.

First, some background on the rivalry between the Rangers and their New York Tri-State Area rivals, the New York Islanders.


"The New Madison Square Garden Center" opened in 1968, on top of Penn Station, between 31st and 33rd Streets, and 7th and 8th Avenues. What became known as "the old Garden" was demolished right afterward, and a parking lot was put on the site until construction began on Worldwide Plaza, a skyscraper which opened in 1989.

The Rangers rose back to contention largely thanks to goalie Eddie Giacomin, defenseman Brad Park, and the "GAG Line," which stood for "Goal A Game": Jean Ratelle centering Vic Hadfield and Rod Gilbert. All are still alive; all but Hadfield are in the Hall of Fame, and Hadfield probably should be.

This was a bit of a golden age for New York sports: Between 1968 and 1973, although the Yankees and Giants were mediocre at best, World Championships were won by the Mets, the Jets, and the Knicks twice, with the Mets winning an additional Pennant and the Knicks reaching an additional NBA Finals.

The Rangers were a part of this, reaching the Finals in 1972, before losing in 6 games to the Boston Bruins of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.

This was in the NHL's big era of expansion, and the next season, the Islanders debuted, at the Nassau Coliseum in Hempstead. (The mailing address is Uniondale, but it's within the town of Hempstead.) For 2 years, they were terrible, but in 1975, just their 3rd season, they beat the Rangers in the Playoffs.

This was a stunning blow, and it was a transition period in New York sports: The Yankees were playing in Shea Stadium while the original Yankee Stadium was being renovated, the Mets began to decline, the Giants played first at the Yale Bowl in Connecticut and then at Shea while waiting for Giants Stadium to be finished, the Jets fell apart as did Namath's knees, and the Knicks got old and fell apart while watching the Nets win 2 ABA titles.

The hockey shift was the most noticeable of all. The Islanders began a dominant stretch that would eventually see them reach 5 straight Finals, winning 4 straight Cups.

But calendar year 1975 was the Rangers' annus horribilis. Ranger management, having already traded Hadfield, fired Emile Francis as head coach after the Playoff loss to the Isles, ending his tenure in that role after 11 years. He remained general manager a little longer, being relieved of duty the following January.

But before that, he made a few deals, including one in June with the St. Louis Blues that brought in young goalie John Davidson. That left the veteran Gilles Villemure as the odd man out in the net, and he asked to be traded, and was, to Chicago on October 28.

Then, on Halloween, October 31, just 4 games into the new season, the Rangers waived the still-popular Giacomin, and he was picked up by the Detroit Red Wings.

As fate would have it, the Wings were the opponents in the Rangers' next home game, and on November 2, Ranger fans, showing that they knew more about hockey than their team's management, chanted, "Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die!" The Rangers lost, 6-4. It was probably the only time Ranger fans ever left The Garden happy about a defeat.

Five days later, on November 7, the Broadway Blueshirts made what became known in hockey as The Trade: Sending Park, by then the team Captain, Ratelle, and defenseman Joe Zanussi for Esposito and defenseman Carol Vadnais. None of those players had wanted to be traded. Asked in 2008 how long it took him to get over his anger at the Rangers, Park said, "I'm still ticked!"

The Rangers missed the Playoffs in that 1975-76 season, and the next. Fans got restless. The top level, the 400 sections, of The Garden had blue seats, and in those cheapest of seats, the passion began to boil over. The seats were blue, the jerseys were blue (although, at this point, home teams wore white in the NHL), the air was blue (smoking was still allowed in sports arenas at the time), and the language was getting bluer than ever.

The Rangers made the Playoffs in 1978, and then in 1979, they regained their local icon status, including a thrilling Stanley Cup Semifinal win over the Islanders, delaying the Nassau County club's rise to the top for one more year.


Now, here is where Ranger fans' memories and the facts diverge. The Rangers had gotten a pair of Swedish forwards from the World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets: Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson.

Interestingly enough, Nilsson wore Number 11 for the Rangers, previously worn by Hadfield, and later worn by the man who ended up finally breaking the drought, Mark Messier.
The way Ranger fans remember it, during that epic '79 series, Islander defenseman and Captain Denis Potvin crashed Nilsson into the boards with a vicious illegal hit, and Nilsson never played again, causing the Rangers to lose the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadiens.

The story isn't true, and they damn well know it. The incident happened in a regular-season game on February 25, 1979, a game the Rangers won 3-2. Nilsson chased the puck, and got his skate caught in the boards. Potvin did hit him, and the hit did break Nilsson's ankle. But no penalty was called on the play, because the hit was legal.

In 2009, in an interview for the 30th Anniversary of the incident, around the time the photo below was taken, Nilsson said of Potvin, "He was always fair. But the ice was never great in the Garden, because they had basketball and other events. My foot got caught. It was a freak thing."

And Nilsson did return in time to play in the Finals against the Canadiens. The Canadiens won anyway, which should have surprised no one, as it was their 4th straight Cup, their 10th in a span of 15 years. The only surprising thing was that the Rangers won Game 1 at the Montreal Forum, before the Habs took the next 4 straight.

Nilsson could have been fine all season long, and it wouldn't have meant a damn, because the late Seventies Habs may have been the greatest hockey team ever assembled, with 10 future Hall-of-Famers, including Guy Lafleur and future Devils head coaches Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson. (Denis Brodeur, Marty's father, was the team photographer.)

The hit didn't end Nilsson's season, let alone his career: He played 2 more seasons, and part of a 3rd, before he hung up his skates.

Well, maybe Harry Nilsson never played at The Garden again.


Top 5 Reasons You Can't Blame Denis Potvin for the New York Rangers Not Winning the 1979 Stanley Cup

5. Potvin Did Nothing Wrong. It was a clean hit. There wasn't even a penalty called.

4. The Garden Maintenance Crew. If they'd done a better job, Nilsson wouldn't have gotten his skate caught, and he probably would've been fine.

3. It Didn't Matter. The Rangers got to the Finals without Nilsson.

2. Nilsson Did Play In the Finals.

1. The Canadiens Were Better.


Ulf Nilsson is still alive, living in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, and bears no ill will toward Denis Potvin, who would Captain the Isles to 4 Cups.
A recent photo of Ulf Nilsson

It doesn't matter: For 40 years -- meaning a big chunk of current Ranger fandom wasn't even born when this happened, though the color videotape of the incident survives to prove to them that the story they've been told is a bald-faced lie -- Ranger fans have chanted, "POTVIN SUCKS!"

They even chanted it when Felix Potvin, no relation, played in goal for the Toronto Maple Leafs. He must've thought, "What did I do?" If he wasn't told then, he was surely told in 1999, when the Leafs traded him to the Islanders.

Denis Potvin didn't suck. He didn't even stink. He is on the short list for the title of greatest hockey player in Tri-State Area history, right up there with Frank Boucher, Brian Leetch and Martin Brodeur. And... let's tell the truth here... according to the rules of the game, he did nothing wrong in the incident in question.
Potvin greeting current Islanders
at a recent reunion of their Stanley Cup winners

For most of that 1993 expansion franchise's history, he has been a broadcaster for the Miami area's team, the Florida Panthers.

But the Rangers did make the Finals in 1979, rewarding their long-suffering fans, now 39 years without a Cup. And the Rangers, every bit as much as the Yankees were, as the Mets, Knicks and Jets (well, Namath) were a few years earlier, were the toast of the town.

The ad agencies came out with endorsement ideas, making players like Esposito, Davidson, Ron Greschner and others TV stars beyond the tape-delayed games shown late at night on WOR-Channel 9, and the occasional weekend game shown on WNBC-Channel 4 as part of NBC Sportsworld.

Most of these endorsements were forgettable. One was not. It was for Sasson jeans. This was the era when "designer jeans" -- including Sasson, Jordache, Cacharel, and Calvin Klein with its ads featuring a still-minor Brooke Shields -- were popular, and were worn in the infamous discos such as New York's Studio 54.

Esposito, Hedberg, new Captain Dave Maloney, and Ron Duguay were shown skating around in Sasson jeans, with their jerseys tucked into the jeans.
Their silly little dances didn't help. Nor did their hairstyles. Nor did their pronunciation of the brand name: You'd think Canadians, especially the French-Canadian Duguay, would have been able to pronounce "Sah-SAHN," not "Sah-SOON" like Vidal Sassoon hair products (which they may also have been using).

It may have been the most ridiculous commercial in the history of sports. Duguay was a pretty good player, but the fact that his name was pronounced "DOO-gay" didn't help, and soon fans of every other team were pronouncing it "Doo-GAY."

When the Rangers got off to a bad start in the 1979-80 season, a new tradition was started. When the opposition would score, Ranger fans, to the tune of the ad's jingle, would point at the Rangers and sing, "Ooh, la la, you suck!" So, it seems, they understood the difference between poor performance (their own team) and hateability (Potvin).

But once the Islanders won the Cup on May 24, 1980, on Bobby Nystrom's overtime goal in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers, the brief Ranger resurgence was effectively over: There was only one team in the Tri-State Area, and it was the Uniondale club.

So when the teams got together, either in Hempstead or in Manhattan, Ranger fans would chant, "Potvin sucks!" and Islander fans, invoking the Rangers' last title, would chant, "NINE-teen-FOR-ty!" (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!) They would also, instead of insulting a single player, insult the entire team: "Rangers suck!"

So perhaps we can settle on a date: November 22, 1980. It was the first time the Rangers and Islanders had played each other since the Isles won the Cup. It was at the Nassau Coliseum, and the Isles won 6-4. The "Rangers suck!" and "1940!" chants rang out, and there was nothing Ranger fans could say that could cancel that out -- try as they might with "Potvin sucks!"

Ranger fans got even more frustrated after that, turning into, along with Raider fans, the closest thing that North American sports had to the hooligans then doing their damnedest to ruin soccer in England.

Today, the strip of asphalt between Penn Station and The Garden is reserved for delivery vehicles. But in the 1980s, it was a taxi stand. And it, more than Harlem, the Lower East Side, the South Bronx, or anywhere in Brooklyn, was probably the most dangerous place in New York City.

It wasn't just because New York cabdrivers tend to be maniacs. It was because Ranger fans tend to be maniacs. It was especially dangerous after a Ranger-Islander game, as Isles fans tried to get back downstairs into Penn Station, to take the Long Island Rail Road home. Having had enough pregame and in-game time to get liquored up, the kind of police presence the Yankees need when the Red Sox come to town was needed pretty much anytime the Isles came to The Garden.


The Rangers finally won the Stanley Cup again in 1994, defeating both the Islanders and the New Jersey Devils in the Playoffs along the way, and ending a 54-year drought.

Were Ranger fans gracious in victory? Of course not: They became more obnoxious than ever. Now, they are fans of a team that's won 1 Stanley Cup in 79 years.

The 25th Anniversary of that Cup is coming up. In that time, they've won a grand total of one Stanley Cup Finals game. Or, to put it another way: Since April 13, 1940, in 79 years, they've played 30 Stanley Cup Finals games, and have won 11. They are 1-4 in the Finals, to the Isles' 4-1 and the Devils' 3-2.

Ranger fans say Devils fans are "jealous of our history." Their history stinks.

And as their version of the Potvin vs. Nilsson story proves, they don't even know their history all that well.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

How to Be a Red Bulls Fan In Columbus -- 2019 Edition

Next Saturday afternoon, the New York Red Bulls will go to Ohio to play the Columbus Crew. This was, for a time, not supposed to happen. The Crew's new ownership group wanted to move the team to Austin, Texas for the 2019 season.

But the #SaveTheCrew movement, well, #SavedTheCrew. On October 12, 2018, Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam announced that he was forming a group to buy the team, and MLS has announced that the Austin group will get an expansion team.

Before You Go. Columbus can get really hot in the Summer, but this is late February, so, mid-Winter. The Columbus Dispatch website is predicting the low 40s for most of Saturday, dropping to the mid-20s by nightfall. Bring a Winter jacket.

Columbus is in the Eastern Time Zone, so you won't have to set your clocks back.

Tickets. The Crew averaged only 12,447 fans per home game last season, 23rd and dead last in Major League Soccer, because so many fans had given up hope that they would have a team in 2019. The Crew, at a time when they most need to be having high attendance, were barely half-filling their stadium.

Which does beg the question: Why did Columbus get an MLS team? Why not Cleveland or Cincinnati, the more proven major league cities?

In the case of Cincinnati, it's probably because somebody thought that Cincinnati couldn't support a team by itself. As we have since seen with FC Cincinnati, that may have been a bad guess, for which MLS may now be making up, as they granted them a 2019 expansion franchise.

As for Cleveland, native Drew Carey, a part-owner of MLS' Seattle Sounders, explained to me on Twitter (He is as nice as he seems to be on TV) that they didn't have a suitable stadium, and that they didn't want to have 50,000 empty seats in the Browns' new stadium.

However, since the locals #SavedTheCrew, attendance may go back up. But that may not matter for you, the visiting fan, since, as at all MLS stadiums, a section is set aside for you. Fans of visiting teams are placed in Section 210, in the southeast corner of the upper deck. Tickets are $27.

Getting There. It's 536 miles from Times Square in New York to Capitol Square in Columbus, and 547 miles from Red Bull Arena to MAPFRE Stadium. Flying may seem like a good option, and you can get a nonstop round-trip flight from Newark Liberty to Port Columbus International Airport for just $593. You could get it cheaper, but it wouldn't be nonstop.

Amtrak does not go to Columbus. Its main train station was demolished in 1979 to make way for the Columbus Convention Center (which is too bad, because it was just 2 blocks from where the Blue Jackets' Nationwide Arena ended up being built), and it is now the largest metropolitan area in America that doesn't have Amtrak access.

Greyhound's run between New York and Columbus is about 14 hours, with no change of buses necessary, costs $310, and dropping to as little as $132 with advanced-purchase. The station is at 111 E. Town Street, at 3rd Street, downtown, 2 blocks south of the State House.

If you decide to drive, it's far enough that it will help to get someone to go with you and split the duties, and to trade off driving and sleeping. You'll need to get on the New Jersey Turnpike. Take it to Exit 14, to Interstate 78. Follow I-78 west all the way through New Jersey, to Phillipsburg, and across the Delaware River into Easton, Pennsylvania. Continue west on I-78 until reaching Harrisburg. There, you will merge onto I-81. Take Exit 52 to U.S. Route 11, which will soon take you onto I-76. This is the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the nation's 1st superhighway, opening in 1940.

The Turnpike will eventually be a joint run between I-76 and Interstate 70. Once that happens, you'll stay on I-70, all the way past Pittsburgh, across the little northern pandhandle of West Virginia, and into Ohio all the way to Columbus.

If you do it right, you should spend about an hour and 15 minutes in New Jersey, 5 hours and 30 minutes in Pennsylvania, 15 minutes in West Virginia, and about 2 hours and 15 minutes in Ohio. That's about 9 hours and 15 minutes. Counting rest stops, preferably halfway through Pennsylvania and just after you enter Ohio, and accounting for traffic in both New York and Columbus, it should be no more than 11 hours, which would save you time on Greyhound, if not flying.

Once In the City. Founded in 1816, Columbus, named for Christopher Columbus, is easily the largest city in Ohio by population, with about 860,000 people, to a mere 397,000 for Cleveland and 299,000 for Cincinnati. But its metropolitan area has just 2.4 million people, still larger than Cincy's 2.2 million but considerably smaller than Cleveland's 3.5 million, because Cleveland has a much larger suburban area.

High Street is the street address divider between East and West, and Broad Street serving as the divider between North and South. The southeaster corner of High & Broad includes Capitol Square, with the State House. The sales tax in the State of Ohio is 5.75 percent, rising to 7.5 percent in Franklin County, including the City of Columbus.
The Ohio State House. No, I don't know why
they stopped building it before finishing the dome.

ZIP Codes in Columbus begin with the digits 432, and the Area Code is 614, with 380 overlaid. The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) runs buses, with a $2.00 fare, but no rapid transit rail system: No subway, no elevated, no light rail, no commuter rail. Interstate 270 serves as a beltway, known as the Outerbelt or, for a local "sports" hero, the Jack Nicklaus Freeway.

The city government runs the electricity. The city is about 59 percent white, 28 percent black, 6 percent Hispanic and 4 percent Asian. Columbus has mostly been spared racial strife, although the nearby city of Springfield had race riots in 1904, 1906 and 1921.

Going In. Columbus Crew SC (Soccer Club) moved into the 22,555-seat Columbus Crew Stadium when it opened in 1999. In 2014, naming rights were sold to a Spain-based insurance company. Mapfre the company (pronounced MAH-fray) doesn't spell its name in ALL CAPS, but the name of MAPFRE Stadium's name usually is. Capacity is now listed as 19,968. The Crew played their 1st 3 seasons (1996-98) before 90,000 empty seats at Ohio Stadium.
The official address is One Black and Gold Blvd., at 20th Avenue, about 3 1/2 miles north of downtown, near the Indianola Shopping Center. Number 4 bus, then a 15-minute walk: 2 blocks north on 4th Street, 2 blocks east on Hudson Street, then south on Silver Drive. If you drive in, parking is $10.

America's 1st soccer-specific stadium, it was built at a cost of just $39.3 million -- and looks it. Ohio Stadium may have been vast, but it is an architectural marvel. MAPFRE Stadium is not: From the outside, and even a bit from the inside, it looks like an oversized high school football (gridiron) stadium. The field is natural grass, and is aligned north-to-south.

They won the MLS Cup in 2008, and reached the Final again in 2015, losing to the Portland Timbers despite playing at home. The Stadium also hosted the MLS Cup Final in 2001 (San Jose beating Los Angeles), 12 games of the U.S. National Team, and 6 games of the 2003 Women's World Cup (including a 3-0 U.S. win over North Korea). It's hosted the 2001 and 2003 NCAA men's soccer championships, high school football, and concerts.
Of those 12 USMNT games, 8 were wins, 3 were ties, and only 1 has been a loss. Of the 8 wins, 4 were against Mexico, all of them 2-0 or "Dos A Cero" wins. Unfortunately, the most recent USMNT game there was the 1 loss, to Mexico on November 11, 2016 in a World Cup Qualifying match that probably (and much too late) cost manager Jurgen Klinsmann his job. Previously, being 8-0-3 there, Columbus was a fortress for the Stars & Stripes, but arch-rival Mexico fears it no longer.
The U.S. women's team has played there 5 times, a draw against New Zealand and wins over North Korea, Japan, Thailand and, most recently, on March 1, 2018, Germany. It hosted 2 games of the 2009 CONCACAF Gold Cup. There have been 10 concerts at the stadium, 4 of them by country singer Kenny Chesney.

UPDATE: In 2021, the Crew moved into the new Field, named for a local real estate company. 560 W. Nationwide Blvd.

Food. Being in Big Ten Country, where tailgate parties are practically a sacrament, you would expect the Columbus soccer stadium to have lots of good options. Unfortunately, the club website does not include a concessions map, so I can't tell you where these items are sold.

Levy Retail runs their concessions, as they do for all the athletic facilities at nearby Ohio State University. According to the Crew fan blog Massive Report, "MAPFRE Stadium will now include Columbus staples, Schmidt's Sausage Haus, Jeni's Ice Cream, and Hot Chicken Takeover." They also cite a "200-square-foot 'Drink Local' are conversion of the southwest concession stands near Gate 6, which will feature Columbus and Ohio beers."

Team History Displays. The Crew won the MLS Cup in 2008, and a placard commemorating this is hung on the facing of the upper deck. They also reached the Final in 2015. They won the Supporters' Shield in 2004, 2008 and 2009. They won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup in 2002, and reached the Final in 1998 and 2010. However, there appears to be no commemoration for any of these lesser achievements in the areas viewable by fans.
The Crew have no retired numbers, and have no team hall of fame. Although they are a charter MLS franchise, they have neither a 10th nor a 20th Anniversary All-Time Team. They have featured several stalwarts of the U.S. national team, including Edson Buddle, Paul Caligiuri, John Harkes, Kyle Martino, Brian McBride, and Brad Friedel, a goalkeeper from Ohio, who is also a member of the Greater Cleveland Sports Hall of Fame.

Hunt, one of the league's founders, and the Crew's founding owner (and, of course, better known as the founder of the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs), has a statue in his memory outside the stadium.
Because of Hunt's role in founding the league, the Crew, and FC Dallas, those 2 teams play each other for the Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup. The Crew have won it 7 times to Dallas' 3.
The Lamar Hunt Pioneer Cup

Because the trillium is the State Flower of Ohio and the Provincial Flower of Ontario, the Crew and Toronto FC play each other for the Trillium Cup. The Crew have won it 7 times, TFC 4.
Columbus and Toronto players walk onto the field
past the Trillium Cup

With the entry of FC Cincinnati into MLS, there is now a cross-State rivalry, one which takes Southern Ohio out of the Crew's "market," which still includes Cleveland, and possibly, overcoming their States' usual antipathy toward Ohio, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

On June 13, 2017, FCC, then in the United Soccer League, played the Crew in a U.S. Open Cup match. Columbus fans heading down from the capital to the Queen City of the Midwest saw a sign at the side of the road on Interstate 71, reading, "HELL IS REAL."
The sign is real.

The Crew and their fans didn't go to Hell, but they did come home 1-0 losers in a game that meant far more to Cincinnati's fans. (Cincy got all the way to the Semifinals, losing to... the Red Bulls, who then lost the Final to Sporting Kansas City.)

Columbus and Cincinnati will play their 1st regular-season MLS "Hell Is Real Derby" on August 10, in Columbus. They will face each other in Cincinnati on August 25.

Up until now, the Crew's biggest rival, at least regionally, has been the Chicago Fire. The Fire have won 26 games, to the Crew's 19, with 18 ties.

Stuff. The Crew SC Shop is in the southwest corner of the stadium, inside Gate 5. They sell the usual stuff you would find in an MLS team's gift shop, including jersey customization. Whether they sell yellow hard hats like the ones on their club badge, I don't know.

Unique among MLS teams -- unless you buy the San Jose Earthquakes' attempt to link themselves to previous teams that had that name, and even then, they're only the oldest in San Jose, not in the entire Bay Area -- the Crew are the oldest major league sports team in their metropolitan area. After 20 years, they do have some history. (Which may come to an end this Fall.)

Steve Sirk of The Columbus Dispatch has chronicled this in 2 books about the team: A Massive Season: Sirk's Notebook Chronicles the 2008 Columbus Crew; and Kirk Urso: Forever Massive: Memories from the 2012 Columbus Crew.

A DVD of the 2008 MLS Cup Final is also available -- but you don't want that, because the team they beat was the Red Bulls. (November 23, 2008, at what's now named the StubHub Center in Carson, California. It remains the furthest the Red Bulls have ever gone, though they have now matched that, and can beat it on Wednesday night.)

During the Game. Since Columbus is not Cleveland or Cincinnati, and neither of those cities has an MLS team, with the Crew standing in for both (for the moment), the Cleveland-Cincinnati rivalry does not come into play. Since Columbus is not Cleveland, and Pittsburgh doesn't have an MLS team, the Cleveland-Pittsburgh rivalry is also absent. (Indeed, the Pittsburgh Riverhounds are a Crew farm team.) And since Detroit doesn't have an MLS team, the Ohio-Michigan rivalry doesn't happen here, either.

In other words, a person living in Cleveland can have legitimate rivalries with Pittsburgh, and Cincinnati, and with Detroit/Ann Arbor, with no real inconsistency. But that's not that strange: A Yankee Fan can have Boston as a rival in baseball, Philadelphia in football -- and a Met fan can have it the other way around -- and another Tri-State Area team in hockey.

The Crew -- named in an attempt at both alliteration and the desire to appear "hard-working" -- do have regional rivalries with the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC. But the Red Bulls aren't particularly rivals with the Crew. You should be safe in your club gear.

With their logo showing 3 men wearing hard hats, the Crew bill themselves as "America's Hardest Working Team." They are one of the few MLS teams to explain their badge on their club website. It's round, as are most German clubs' badges, due to Columbus' German heritage. It has an inner ring, making it look like an O for Ohio. It has diagonal stripes, to suggest upward movement. It has the number 96, to note their status as a charter MLS club in 1996. And it has a checkerboard pattern, as "a symbol of our passionate fans and their unwavering support."

(How a checkerboard pattern reflects that is a mystery to me. The University of Tennessee does that, but Columbus is pretty far from anywhere in Tennessee.)
Apparently, Crew Cat was a tomcat.

The Crew hold auditions for singing the National Anthem, as opposed to having a regular singer. For their 1st 19 seasons, their mascot was Crew Cat, but in 2015 he was replaced by S.C., who is billed as Crew Cat's son.
Previous mascot's son? Maybe. New? Definitely.
Improved? I don't know...

The north end of the stadium is home to the supporters' organizations, now collectively called the Nordecke -- German for "north corner." The groups include the Hudson Street Hooligans (HSH, in Section 141), Crew Supporters Union (CSU), and La Turbina Amarilla (Spanish for "the Yellow Engine").

These groups tend to wave black and gold checkerboard flags, and also Ohio State Flags (not to be confused with Ohio State University flags) with the red, white and blue color scheme replaced with the Crew's black and gold.
HSH are not actually hooligans, but they are, to borrow the word that first gained usage in Italy, "ultras." Their motto, "Ne Cum Pedicabo," is Latin for "Don't fuck with us." They spell it out on their website: "It is definitely an adult section, for the most diehard -- be warned." Message received: Visiting fans trying to "take" the section, as in the style of English hooligans of old, are in for an unpleasant surprise.

In 2003, at a time when Columbus was the smallest market in MLS, someone noted that Kevin Keegan, legendary as a Liverpool and Newcastle player but not so successful as a manager anywhere, had taken the Manchester City job and, in response to the hated Manchester United, called City "a massive club."

So Crew fans picked it up, and ran with the ironic word, until they won the 2008 MLS Cup and actually became, at least by North American standards, a massive club. Now, the word "Massive" goes on just about anything Crew-centric, and usually refers to the players' heart and the fans' passion.
Banner on left: Spanish for "Is all or nothing."
Banner on right: A play on Bruce Lee's quote:
"You must be shapeless, formless, like water.
When you pour water in a cup, it becomes the cup...
Water can drip, and it can crash. Become like water, my friend."
It usually gets written as, "Be water, my friend."

Instead of the "O! H! I! O!" chant started at Ohio State, and picked up by funk band the Ohio Players and later by the Blue Jackets, the main chant is that of the city: "Co! lum! bus!" They do "When the Crew Go Marching In," "We love ya, we love ya, we love ya, and where you go we'll follow," "I Just Can't Get Enough," and a variation on a traditional English soccer chant: "I know I am, I swear I am, Columbus 'til I die!" And they roast their rivals, as many other teams do, to the tune of "My Darling Clementine":

Build a bonfire
build a bonfire
put Chicago on the top
put Toronto in the middle
and we'll burn the fucking lot!

They borrow from Elvis Presley with, "I can't help falling in love with Crew!" and the Beatles with, "We all cheer for the yellow soccer team!" and "Hey, Crew, don't make it bad... "

After the Game. The area is called Old North Columbus, but the stadium is in the middle of a triangle formed by Interstate 71, a railroad and the State Fair complex. So it's not really in any neighborhood, much less a bad one. As long as you didn't instigate anything you (and, if you drove in, your car) should be safe.

As for where to go for a postgame meal or drink, there's a Frisch's Big Boy (Frisch's Restaurants owns the trademark for the former Bob's Big Boy in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky) at 2375 Silver Drive, a 5-minute walk from the north end of the stadium. If fast food isn't what you're looking for, you may have to get back to downtown Columbus.

The most famous bar, perhaps in the entire State of Ohio, is the Varsity Club, across from the OSU Ice Arena and 3 blocks north of Ohio Stadium. 278 W. Lane Avenue, at Tuttle Park Place. High Street, the eastern boundary of the OSU campus, has been described as "a zoo" on home football Saturdays, although that won't affect you as a visiting soccer fan.

I can find no references to places where New Yorkers gather in or around Columbus: The sites that usually list bars for football fans in exile don't seem to have references to where Yankees, Mets, Giants or Jets fans go when they live nearby.

Remember the York Steak House? There was one at the Brunswick Square Mall in East Brunswick, New Jersey, and I grew up a mile down the hill from it. There is only one left, and it is in Columbus. 4220 W. Broad Street, a.k.a. U.S. Route 40, at the interchange of I-270, across from the Westland Mall, 6 miles west of downtown. Bus 10.

If your Red Bulls visit to Columbus coincides with the European soccer season (this one doesn't), and you want to watch your favorite club while you're in town, you can try one of these:

* Manchester United, Chelsea and Bayern Munich: Fado, 4022 Townsfair Way. Number 16 bus. If you don't see your club listed (especially if it's not an English one), this is probably going to be your best shot.

* Arsenal: Hendoc's Pub, 2375 N. High Street at Maynard Avenue, about 3 1/2 miles north of downtown and 2 miles west of MAPFRE Stadium. Number 2 bus from downtown. Warning: This is the home bar for the Hudson Street Hooligans, and some of them might be in attendance. If you are discreet, or at least polite, about your Metro fandom, you should be fine. But don't try anything stupid: You know what happened when NYCFC fans tried to get into Bello's in 2015.

UPDATE: Hendoc's has been sold, and the new owners wouldn't commit to opening early for Premier League broadcasts. So the Columbus Gooners have found a new home: The Pointe Tavern, 1991 Riverside Drive, in Upper Arlington, 5 miles northwest of downtown. Bus 5 to 5th & Riverside, then a 10-minute walk.

* Liverpool: McClellan's Pub, 6694 Sawmill Road in Dublin, about 17 miles northwest of downtown. Bus 1, 2 or 11 to 5220 N. High Street, then Bus 33 to Dublin-Granville Road and Sawmill Road.

* Everton, Manchester City and Tottenham: Zauber Brewing, 909 W. 5th Avenue at Delashmut Avenue. Number 5 bus.

Sidelights. Columbus may have only 1 major league team if you don't count MLS (and, by now, you should), but it's a decent sports town, and here's some of the highlights:

* Nationwide Arena. The Columbus Blue Jackets and their original home were inaugurated in 2000, about a mile northwest of the State House, in the Arena District, near the confluence of the Scioto and Olentangy Rivers, in an area that includes their minor-league ballpark and their Convention Center.
The Arena has hosted NCAA Tournament basketball, "professional wrestling" and concerts. Knowing of Ohio's pivotal role in national elections, President Barack Obama held one of his final 2012 campaign rallies, with Bruce Springsteen and Jay-Z performing.

Despite its youth, the Arena already has a tragic history. On March 16, 2002, 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil was struck in the head by a deflected puck during the Blue Jackets' game against the Calgary Flames, and died from her injuries 2 days later. As far as can be determined, she is the only fan in the NHL's nearly 100-year history to be killed in a game-related accident. As a result of her death, the NHL mandated safety netting around the goals in all its arenas.

The official address is 200 W. Nationwide Blvd. Several bus lines will get you there.

* Huntington Park. Just 2 blocks west of Nationwide Arena, at 330 Huntington Park Lane, this 10,100-seat stadium has been home to the International League's Columbus Clippers since 2009. Since moving in, they've won Pennants in 2010, 2011 and 2015, giving them a total of 10 Pennants.

* Cooper Stadium. Opened in 1932 as Red Bird Stadium, and renamed for Harold Cooper, the Franklin County Commissioner and team owner who kept professional baseball in the city in the 1950s, this stadium was one of the most successful ballparks in the minor leagues. It was also one of the largest, seating 17,500 people at its peak, and 15,000 in its last years.

Initially, it was home to the Columbus Red Birds, a farm team of the St. Louis Cardinals (also nicknamed the Redbirds), and to a Negro League team, the Columbus Blue Birds. The Red Birds won Pennants in 1933, 1934, 1937, 1941, 1942, 1943 and 1950.

The Cardinals moved them to Omaha in 1955, and a new team was brought in, the Columbus Jets, a farm club first of the Kansas City Athletics, then of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This led to the stadium being renamed Jets Stadium. They won the Pennant in 1961 and 1965, before being moved to Charleston, West Virginia after the 1970 season. The Pirates restored Columbus as their Triple-A team in 1977, the Yankees took over in 1979, the Washington Nationals in 2007, and the Cleveland Indians in 2009.

The Clippers were a Yankee farm team from 1979 to 2006, infamous as the bad end of "The Columbus Shuttle," George Steinbrenner's pipeline from Triple-A ball to the Yankees and back. As a Yankee farm team, they won IL Pennants in 1979, 1980, 1981, 1987, 1991, 1992 and 1996. All told, Columbus baseball teams have won 19 Pennants.

Cooper Stadium was closed after the 2008 season, but instead of being demolished, it has been converted into an auto racing facility. 1155 W. Mound Street, 3 miles west of downtown. Number 6 bus.

An April 24, 2014 article in The New York Times, showing baseball fandom by ZIP Code, shows that, despite being considerably closer to Cincinnati (107 miles) than to Cleveland (143 miles), the Indians still have a slight edge on baseball fandom in Columbus, on the average having 28 percent to the Reds' 22 percent. The September 2014 issue of The Atlantic Monthly had a similar map, showing that the Browns are more popular in Columbus than the Bengals.

Cincinnati is the nearest MLB and NFL city, while Cleveland is the nearest NBA city. If it had teams in those sports, Columbus would rank 29th in population in MLB, 26th in the NFL, and 25th in the NBA. So don't hold your breath.

* Ohio State. The most famous building in the State of Ohio is Ohio Stadium, or, as ABC Sports' legendary college football announcer Keith Jackson called it, The Big Horseshoe On the Olentangy -- home field of the school usually referred to as "THE... Ohio State University."

How big is it? The official seating capacity is currently listed as 104,944, making it the 4th-largest non-racing stadium in the world. 411 Woody Hayes Drive (formerly Woodruff Avenue), 3 1/2 miles north of downtown. Number 18 bus.
Value City Arena opened in 1998, at 555 Borror Drive, across the Olentangy River from the Stadium. It hosted the NCAA's hockey version of the Final Four, the Frozen Four, in 2005. The Bill Davis Stadium (baseball) and the Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium (track & field) are part of this complex as well.

From 1956 to 1998, Ohio State played basketball at St. John Arena, across from the Stadium at 410 Woody Hayes Drive. It was at this arena that the Buckeyes played the 1959-60 season in which they won the National Championship. Coach Fred Taylor is in the Basketball Hall of Fame, along with 3 players on this team, although 1 is in as a coach: Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek, and "sixth man" Bob Knight.

It was also at St. John that Elvis Presley sang on June 25, 1974. Early in his carer, Elvis played 2 shows at the Franklin County Veterans Memorial Auditorium on May 26, 1956. Built in 1955, it was demolished in 2015, and the National Veterans Memorial and Museum has been built on the site. 300 W. Broad Street, on the Scioto River, at the foot of the Discovery Bridge, just across from downtown. (The Beatles played in Cleveland and Cincinnati, but not in Columbus.)

Columbus has never hosted an NCAA Final Four. Nor has any other Ohio city. The 13,435-seat University of Dayton Arena, built in 1969, 74 miles west of Columbus, has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other facility: 107.

* Indianola Park. Home ground of the Columbus Pandhandles, one of the 1st professional football teams, from 1901 to 1926, before the glut of early pro football doomed them. Along with the Canton Bulldogs, in the 1910s they dominated the Ohio League, one of the NFL's predecessors.

They are best remembered for the 7 Nesser brothers (sons of German immigrants, there were 8, but Pete, 1877-1954, the largest of them, didn't like football and didn't play; there were also 4 sisters): John (1875-1931), Phil (1880-1959), Ted (1883-1941), Fred (1887-1967), Frank (1889-1953), Al (1893-1967) and Ray (1898-1969).

Knute Rockne, who did play a little pro football before going back to Notre Dame to coach, said, "Getting hit by a Nesser is like falling off a moving train." In 1921, Ted's son Charlie (1903-1970) played with the Panhandles, marking the only time a father and son have played in the NFL at the same time, let alone for the same team.

The Indianola Shopping Center is now on the site, 3 miles north of downtown. 1900 N. 4th Street at 19th Avenue. Number 4 bus.

Currently without an NBA team, a May 12, 2014 article in The New York Times shows basketball allegiances in the Columbus area are mixed between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Miami Heat. But once you get into the suburbs, it becomes more Cavs territory. My guess: Ohio State students from elsewhere, some of whom end up staying in Columbus, stick with their old home teams; while some stick with LeBron James (who's played for both the Cavs and the Heat), and some adopted the Cavs regardless of LeBron.

Ohio Village is a recreated 19th Century community, sort of an updated, Midwestern version of Colonial Williamsburg. 800 E. 17th Avenue, at Velma Avenue. Number 4 bus. The Columbus Museum of Art is at 480 E. Broad Street, at Washington Avenue. Number 10 bus. The Center of Science & Industry (COSI) is across from the Veterans Memorial Auditorium site, at 333 W. Broad Street, at Washington Blvd. Number 10 bus. The James Thurber House, home to the legendary author and humorist, is at 77 Jefferson Avenue, at N. 11th Street. Number 6 bus.

Farther afield -- with no public transportation available -- the Armstrong Air & Space Museum is in the hometown of Neil Armstrong, the late 1st man to walk on the Moon. 500 Apollo Drive in Wapakoneta, just off Interstate 75, 87 miles northwest of downtown Columbus.

No Presidents have come from Columbus, but Rutherford B. Hayes and William McKinley lived there while they were Governor of Ohio. Alas, there was no official Governor's Mansion during their times in that office. The Ohio Governor's Residence and Heritage Garden has only been the Governor's Mansion since 1957. 358 N. Parkview, in Bexley, about 4 miles northeast of downtown. Number 10 bus.

McKinley's historical sites are all in or near his hometown of Canton, and I'll discuss them in my Cleveland trip guides. Hayes' home, Spiegel Grove, and his grave and Presidential Library are in Fremont, 106 miles north of Columbus. Warren G. Harding's hometown of Marion is 51 miles north. Dying in office in 1923, he remains the last President to have lived in Ohio. As with both locations, there is no public transportation to there from any of Ohio's major cities.

Marion was also the official hometown of the Oorang Indians, a pro football team made up entirely of Native Americans, led by Hall-of-Famers Jim Thorpe and Joe Guyon. The problem wasn't that some of the players used their Native names, which included animal names like Ted Buffalo, Gray Horse, Big Bear, Eagle Feather and War Eagle. The problem is that they were party animals, not getting the rest they needed. As quarterback Leon Boutwell noted:

White people had this misconception about Indians. They thought they were all wild men, even though almost all of us had been to college and were generally more civilized than they were. Well, it was a dandy excuse to raise hell and get away with it when the mood struck us. Since we were Indians we could get away with things the whites couldn't. Don't think we didn't take advantage of it.

As a result of their wild ways, they went 3-6 in 1922, and 2-10 in 1923, and folded. I say Marion was their official hometown because they were a "traveling team," playing just 1 of their 21 games in Marion.

The Armstrong Air & Space Museum was built to honor Neil Armstrong, the 1st man to walk on the Moon, in his hometown of Wapakoneta, Ohio. The building is, naturally, shaped like a crescent moon. 500 Apollo Drive, 185 miles southwest of Cleveland, 93 miles southwest of Toledo, and 88 miles northwest of Columbus.

The tallest building in Columbus is the Rhodes State Office Tower, named for the longtime Governor who ordered the Ohio National Guard to fire on the protestors at Kent State University on May 4, 1970. Completed in 1974, it is 629 feet high, and every bit as ugly as the Administration it memorializes. 30 E. Broad Street, downtown, across from the State House.

While lots of movies have been shot and/or set in Ohio, Columbus hasn't been a popular location for them. There have been 3 TV shows set in Columbus: Family Ties, the 1982-89 NBC sitcom that introduced us to Michael J. Fox; Hope & Faith, a sitcom that ran on ABC, 2006-09; and Man Up!, an ABC sitcom set in nearby Gahanna that tanked and was canceled after 13 episodes in 2011.

Lima, the real town that was the setting for the Fox drama Glee, is 92 miles northwest of downtown Columbus. Further northwest, 152 miles from Columbus, is Sherwood, which was used as the setting for the film Heathers, with the oh-so-Middle American town's high school ironically named after Paul Westerburg, lead singer of the alternative rock band The Replacements. But both Glee and
Heathers were filmed completely in Southern California.


The Columbus Crew was the 1st franchise officially awarded by MLS, on May 10, 1994, beginning play in the league's 1st season, 1996. It has been saved for a 24th season, and beyond. They will continue to be a Red Bulls opponent for a long time to come.

As a Red Bulls fan, you can still go to Columbus, and have a Massive time.