Frankie Hejduk is the Columbus Crew.
No player is ever bigger than a club, however it’s hard to argue that Hejduk doesn’t embody everything the Columbus Crew stands for, acting as the bridge between the club and its community.
Perhaps the club’s most recognized icon, the bombastic U.S. Men’s National Team defender joined the Crew just before fellow local hero Brian McBride’s final season in Columbus. The 2003 season served as a passing of the torch of sorts as McBride would head overseas to Fulham FC of the English Premier League in 2004. Hejduk, with standout performances in the 1998 and 2002 FIFA World Cups under his belt, would become the new face of the Crew organization.
In his playing days in Columbus from 2003-2010, Hejduk captained the Black & Gold to four of their five major trophies winning the city’s adoration along the way. He fittingly scoring the exclamation point tally late in the Crew’s 3-1 win over the New York Red Bulls in the 2008 MLS Cup Final. Even in his victory-lap season of 2011 with the LA Galaxy, the Nordecke chanted “Still our captain” in Hejduk’s direction during the Galaxy’s visit to Crew Stadium.
But beyond the pitch, Hejduk has been the face of the Black & Gold around Columbus. Three seasons removed from his playing days, Hejduk remains the unofficial mascot for the club.
Whether it’s skateboarding up and down High Street draped in a black and gold checkered flag, leading Nordecke chants at local elementary schools to promote healthy living or loaning his MLS Cup ring to an injured fan, Hejduk has gone above and beyond for the Black & Gold in his role as Brand Ambassador since his retirement in 2012.
There’s a good chance a number of fans in attendance at Saturday’s Circle of Honor celebration might have never seen Hejduk play for the Black & Gold. Columbus is a growing city with plenty emerging business. It’s likely some of the transplants in the city never had the privilege of watching the charismatic leader on the pitch.
One thing is for sure, though: those fans know Frankie.
Maybe they had a beer with him at a local brewpub, where he can be found most Fridays giving fans’ tickets to their first Crew match. They might have joined him for his morning espresso at one of Columbus’ many coffee shops. Perhaps they’re an Ohio State student who’s stumbled upon Frankie playing soccer tennis on the campus Oval.
On thing is for sure, the Columbus Crew is what it is today, thanks in part to Hejduk’s contributions on and off the field.
For that, Hejduk is more than deserving to have his name as a permanent fixture at Crew Stadium in the Crew’s Circle of Honor.