Getting Stuck In: The Prince of Columbus

The Getting Stuck In column delves into some of the more intriguing aspects in US Soccer and MLS, shining a light on the stories regarding the league’s teams and its most-loved characters. This week Dave Lewis looks into Frankie Hejduk, the retired Crew SC and USMNT great, and the impact he is having on the city of Columbus.

By Dave Lewis

Remember Jeff Spicoli from the 1982 cult classic Fast Times at Ridgemont High? (Ok, you may need to Google it). Now picture him as a 140-pound (soaking wet) footballer with the aqua-lung capacity of a dolphin that can bomb up and down the right flank for 90 minutes a game. It’s Frankie Hejduk, the surfer dude from Southern California that ironically calls his adopted home Columbus, Ohio (C-Bus, as the local bearded hipsters like to call it), a land-locked capital city that is 900 miles away from the nearest beach and has more cloudy days than Seattle.

The Black and Gold of Columbus Crew Soccer Club has been coursing through Frankie’s skinny veins ever since he debuted for them in 2003. His footballing prowess took him to Germany (Bayer Leverkusen), South Korea and Japan (started four games for the US in their miracle run to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2002), a quick stop in Switzerland and then on to Columbus (played 8 seasons with Columbus Crew SC, winning the MLS Cup in 2008). Not a bad run, but the second half of his career is just kicking off.

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Walk or drive around Columbus today and you will most likely bump into Frankie. It could be a coffee shop on High Street, a bar in the Brewery District or at Fados Irish Pub. Hey, you might even pull up to a stoplight and idle next to him as he peers over the steering wheel of his black and yellow car with the Columbus Crew SC logo emblazoned on the side with Bob Marley blaring out of the windows. If you do see him, he will always take the time to talk to you, and talk some more and then talk a little bit more.

“Hey dude,” Frankie says in his best Spicoli-stoner tone as I bump into him on a chilly Tuesday morning at a local java spot last year. I say: “What up Frankie. Saw you the other day at Fourth Street. Looked like you were having a blast.” He says: “I am always having a blast man… don’t know any other way, dude.” He talks my ear off for ten minutes about everything from the Crew, Ohio State football, to the “rad” coffee this place has. In fact, Frankie is the rare athlete you have to tell, “Hey, I gotta run. No really, I gotta run”.

Frankie’s free-spirited nature is fan friendly – he once showed up in the Crew parking lot for a tailgate with fans before a game he was injured for to share a few “brewskis” – but not exactly corporate friendly. But somehow he has defied the odds, just like he did by dragging his scrawny body across pitches around the world. The Crew decided back in 2012, after he retired from MLS, to make him their brand ambassador. Some laughed at the appointment. “No way Frankie could rep the Crew in any other way than drinking some Buds and having a laugh with the fans,” the critics said. But he never changed his ways and that’s why management loves him.

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He has embraced his U.N.-like role and is now part of the fabric of not only Crew games but the city of Columbus itself. So much so that you might be looking out of your office and see Frankie running down High Street with a huge Crew flag as he chants “we are massive” on a random Monday (saw it!). Or maybe you will hang with him at Fados as he drapes himself in Crew gear and stands behind the bar minutes before an away game, leading the supporters in voice, giving out scarves and free tickets to future games while enjoying the spirit(s). But Frankie is best known in the Nordecke, the main supporters section that is located in the northeast end of MAPFRE Stadium (it will always be Crew Stadium to me), for getting the supporters worked up into a frothy frenzy.

Frankie was so loved during his playing days that the Crew die-hards paid their respects by singing:

He chugged a beer in a fan’s truck bed, HEJDUK! HEJDUK!
“Columbus til I die” he said, HEJDUK! HEJDUK!
The black and gold’s heart and soul,
Steals the ball and stops a goal,
Frankie Hejduk, Columbus’ number two…

He adores the fans right back because he is one of them. Just a regular guy. You know, a surfer dude from Cali that feels right at home in Middle America. As the infamous Jeff Spicoli once said: “All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.” Frankie would agree.

Header photo courtesy of Frankie Hejduk on Twitter: @FrankieHejduk2


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