It all happened so fast.

One moment, Columbus Crew fans were stinging from the sight of their former hero, Brian McBride, digging their club a 1-0 hole in the Eastern Conference Championship with a graceful goal for the hated Chicago Fire. The 29th-minute header didn't stomp out fans' hope, but it certainly harshed their buzz. Halftime was a bitch.

In what seemed like an instant, this Crew took control, as they have again and again this season, and restored joy to the Nordecke.

Chad Marshall's aerial domination reared its head once again, in most symbolic fashion, as he soared over McBride to slam home the equalizer. As Dave Han so eloquently put it, "The McBride legend is now firmly where it belongs, in the vaults of Crew history. McBride's goal reminded us of that history, but when Marshall soared above McBride, it was the perfect symbol for the ascendancy of the new Crew over the old; the future over the past. The king is dead; long live the King!"

It all happened so fast.

One moment, Columbus Crew fans were stinging from the sight of their former hero, Brian McBride, digging their club a 1-0 hole in the Eastern Conference Championship with a graceful goal for the hated Chicago Fire. The 29th-minute header didn't stomp out fans' hope, but it certainly harshed their buzz. Halftime was a bitch.

In what seemed like an instant, this Crew took control, as they have again and again this season, and restored joy to the Nordecke.

Chad Marshall's aerial domination reared its head once again, in most symbolic fashion, as he soared over McBride to slam home the equalizer. As Dave Han so eloquently put it, "The McBride legend is now firmly where it belongs, in the vaults of Crew history. McBride's goal reminded us of that history, but when Marshall soared above McBride, it was the perfect symbol for the ascendancy of the new Crew over the old; the future over the past. The king is dead; long live the King!"

Of course, once the Crew broke through, there was no looking back. Within minutes, Eddie Gaven deftly deposited the ball past Jon Busch another ghost of Columbus past to put the yellow fellows on top for good. They owned Chicago in the second half, and by the final whistle, they owned another trophy, too.

The sudden sea change that secured the Crew's victory was nothing new for this team. They've stared down deficits 18 times this season and come back to win or tie 11 of those times. They have a way of calmly shrugging off critical mistakes instead of succombing to panicky pandemonium. They give up a goal, they keep playing their game, slowly figuring out how to exploit their opponent. More often than not, they succeed.

In a way, that massive shift in momentum seems representative of the Crew's fortunes on the field and in the stands this year. After three years of poor-to-mediocre soccer and, to be honest, a full dozen years of not quite good enough it has been shocking to see Columbus reign so supremely for more or less the entire season. As for fan culture, the rowdy supporters section known as the Nordecke seemed to spring out of nowhere for the season's opening match versus Toronto. With each passing week, the boiling cauldron grew in size and strength.

The whole experience has come and gone like one glorious whirlwind. But like every perfect storm, it didn't just come together overnight. The patterns that led to this point reach back across months and years.

First and foremost, the Crew front office exhibited a much-chronicled patience in letting Coach Sigi Schmid build this team on his own terms. They did not cave in to the conventional wisdom that sends a coach packing after two lackluster campaigns. They trusted their man, one of the most accomplished coaches in U.S. soccer history, and they reaped the rewards: the Supporters Shield, the Eastern Conference crown and one of the most entertaining squads ever to take the pitch in Major League Soccer.

Similarly, the supporter culture sprung up after a few devoted fans sewed seeds over the course of 2007. Old-school Crew rowdies held strong with Crew Union. A new generation of superfans emerged as a few young soccer fans formed the Hudson Street Hooligans. And the club reached out to the local Hispanic population to create La Turbina Amarilla. A slow process of laying groundwork last year led to the unbelievable success of the Nordecke this year. (And there's the stage to thank, too.)

The symbiosis between the players and their backers has been the story of the year. The chants, beats and incomparable ruckus never stop. In turn, the Crew never gives up. Standing in the Nordecke during last night's postgame revelry, the connection couldn't have been any more clear as the players donned championship apparel and bounced in unison with the heaving mass of supporters. Young stud midfielder Robbie Rogers bounded toward the crowd, trophy in hand, with a giddy skip in his step. Defender Gino Padula, a grizzled Argentine defender who looks like Captain Morgan, beamed with childlike bliss. Guillermo Barros Schelotto, who secured his own place in Crew lore with his MVP-worthy campaign, cracked up at the sight of a poster that compared him to Scarface.

Last night's euphoria was the most fitting cap for this storybook season. In fact, one last task remains heading to LA to do away with whichever club emerges from tomorrow's Western final and it's going to be here and gone before we know it. "We're not done yet!" has been the mantra this postseason, but by now, the Crew and its marvelous run are almost done. When these seven months come to their real conclusion next Sunday at the Home Depot Center, it's going to be hard to say goodbye. For the first generation of Crew fans this writer included this season has been beyond belief. We had best enjoy it while it lasts.