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Reflections From the Road: 2011 Winter Classic January 2, 2011

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.

I’m not sure where to start writing about this game, so let me open with a half-baked quip and see what follows.

I’m not quite sure what Dan Bylsma was thinking with that hat of his. I don’t know if he was trying to find his inner Jack Abramoff, or whether he was trying to channel Toe Blake, but it didn’t quite work out. The Caps won the Winter Classic, 3-1, and extracted a measure of revenge for their extra-session loss a week and a half prior. And I got to be in the building for it–which I’m still amazed about the day after.

Before leaving for the game, I mentioned to Archangels Michael and Raphael that I was going to need some extra protection at the game, as well as travel assistance on the road, but that I’d make my request a little more formally–and out loud–in the car before we set out. That had been the plan, and I mentioned it to Stephanie–who was doing the driving–shortly after we got going. But then, I got the sense that I didn’t need to: once in my apartment was enough, and no need to make a show of it. Fair enough, I thought, and didn’t mention it again.

The trip up wasn’t entirely uneventful: there were a couple of missed turns, one of which led to one of the most epic, GPS-assisted, U-turns in automotive history. But we got there with plenty of time to spare, despite the weather, and somehow managed to find a cheapish lot which couldn’t have been ten minutes from the gate we were assigned to go in. Did it just happen to work out that way, or was it an answered prayer? I gave the matter little thought at the time–I just wanted to get into the building and not get mugged on the way–but it is something I may have to reflect on a bit.

As it turns out, my fears for my safety turned out to be ill-founded. Yes, in Pittsburgh, of all places. And I wasn’t exactly the only person who thought I’d be a target at the game. I actually requested passage from a group of Capitals fans that I knew would be going up on game day, and was told that they did not want me in their group. It being Pittsburgh, they didn’t want the extra attention of having me along. I am not naming names. But they know who they are, and they need to be ashamed of themselves. That is not what the Capitals are about.

The only concession I made in my game-night uniform was leaving my lights at home: based on the prohibited items list, I wasn’t going to chance those. Other than that, if you see me wearing it a Caps game, I was wearing it in Pittsburgh. Figure I’d be a sitting duck in a building with that many Penguins fans, right?

As it turned out, I wasn’t. I honestly cannot believe I’m about to write what I’m about to write, but it is true. I was on pretty much hyper-alert mode the whole night, listening for anything I could hear that might portend a Penguins fan with suds to spill, or a knuckle sandwich to be served cold. In other words, I was actively listening for any disparagement, no matter how slight. At the end of the night, the final tally was in the mid single digits, and none of it was really that nasty. There have been nights when I’ve gotten a lot worse–both in volume and in sheer nastiness–at Verizon Center.

And yes, I really am saying that I got less lip from Penguins fans in Pittsburgh than I’ve gotten some nights from Capitals fans in Washington.

There’s more.

In our section, we had a row of Penguins fans in front of us, and a quartet of fairly high-spirited Penguins fans behind us. To my right, I had a couple of middle-of-the-road Penguins fans. To Stephanie’s left, there were a couple of Capitals fans. The folks in front of us ignored us the whole game. The guys behind us were giving us some good-natured Penguins-Capitals banter: none of it in any way hostile, just fans of archrival teams playfully picking on the other guy’s sweater. It never got anywhere close to nasty. I was talking with the Penguins fan on my right for most of the game, and again, no problems–he didn’t even pick on my sweater, he was that polite. Meanwhile, the Capitals fan on Stephanie’s left wasn’t waiting for the whistle to leave his seat, and was dropping F-bombs at her when she called him on it. So Penguins fans in front of us, Penguins fans behind us, Penguins fans on our right, and Capitals fans on our left…and the only problem was from our left. Go figure.

Everyone else we met in Pittsburgh–from the parking attendants, to the gate crews, to the section attendants, to the concession workers–went out of their way to make us feel welcome. I was expecting something akin to a TSA pat-down to get in the place, but security barely looked at me twice. The parking attendant gave us directions, and even followed them up with, “I’m not steering you wrong, folks.” (He wasn’t.) From the folks who weren’t wearing Penguins sweaters–just the professionals of Pittsburgh–I heard nothing but respect. Even decked out in the enemy’s regalia. I was amazed, to be honest.

So I have to give a full-throat, unabashed, unreserved, irony-free, three cheers to the city of Pittsburgh, to the Penguins organization, to the staff at Heinz field, and to the Penguins fans we shared the evening with. That was a game I’ll never, ever forget, and for all the right reasons. Sincerest, bottom-of-my-heart thanks, Pittsburgh: you guys were great.

Now, once all that is said, I have to ask myself a very uncomfortable question. How is it that I can be in Pittsburgh, in practically my entire Verizon Center outfit, never once fear for my safety, and get less lip from Penguins fans than I’ve gotten some nights from Capitals fans in our own building? That either says something profound about Archangel Michael’s protective abilities, something good about Pittsburgh’s fans, or something bad about Washington’s fans. I’m not sure what the answer is, but the earlier the answer falls in that list, the better.

The ride back was just as uneventful, if a bit sleepy. No wrong turns this time, either. More travel prayers answered, I have to believe.

Think I got back at 4:30 AM or so, did a quick post-game look around the hockey web, and went to bed.

I won’t comment on the game itself–that’s already been picked apart by much more informed scribes than myself. I’m also going to keep all the road conversations out of this, as well, as none of that was for attribution.

Huge thanks to Stephanie for being one of only two volunteers to drive me up to the game. Had a great time, and I hope to see you around the Phone Booth sometime.

Would write more, but not feeling so well–worsening cold. Hope to be well enough for Tuesday night’s game. We’ll see.

Oh, one last thing. Caps fans, about that “Red” and “O” thing during the national anthem….I’d better not get started on that, because I won’t shut up.

Great game…and now it’s time for some more Mucinex and chicken soup.




1. Bobby - January 3, 2011

Stumbled upon your blog.

Glad you liked Pittsburgh! We’re a very friendly city, honest. We love out-of-towners (except Clevelanders), and are willing to go out of our way to help anybody who clearly isn’t being a jagoff.

I helped a few Capitals fans find their way around the North Shore and inside Heinz Field. I hate the overall team and region that is the Washington Capitals, but I’m not going to target some random person wearing a Capitals jersey just because he has a Capitals jersey on.

But I have to admit, I fully expected Capitals fans to come up here talking trash and getting in Pens fans faces. And that didn’t happen. I was shocked at how kind yinz are.

If we had been playing Philly, there’s a good chance every Pa. state police trooper would have been there.

Sounds like you didn’t spend the night here. So hopefully you’ll come back up and check out more of our great city.

We’re America’s Most Liveable City — and have the distinction of being named twice to that spot!

CapitalSpirit - January 3, 2011

My thing when I’m on the road is, I’ve seen enough buffoonery from visiting fans at Verizon Center, and some teams’ fans (Philly, Rangers, Buffalo, and yes, Pittsburgh) aren’t exactly saints in our building. A couple of years ago, back when Verizon Center was Igloo South, a fight actually broke out above me in my section while the game was going on, and I didn’t know if I should watch the game or make sure nobody fell on me. There have been enough misunderstandings in our barn over the years that I had reasons to have concerns for my safety.

I’m not going to be one THOSE fans when I’m on the road. At the very least, Matthew 7:12, you know?

One part of my game-night outfit is a small silver bracelet inscribed with part of the Prayer of St. Francis. “Lord, make me an instrument of your PEACE. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.” It’s too small for my wrist, alas, but I do keep it on me at all times. And that’s what I try to do: I’m not perfect, but I have to try. Because when I’m wearing that much on the road, I’m representing my city, my hockey team, and a much higher Team, as well.

Bottom line is that I’m not somebody who likes smack talking, no matter who’s doing it. Loving your team is laudable, but in the end, it is just sports, folks. While I think there are lessons to be learned from sports, and lively debate about them sure beats discussing politics, it’s still not worth some of the nastiness I’ve heard from some fans. It’s supposed to be fun, you know?

Far as visiting Pittsburgh goes, I’m not going to put you on the same bucket list as London, Venice, and the Vatican, but I’ll keep you in mind if I need close and inexpensive.

Thanks for stopping by.–CS

2. aces - January 3, 2011

I had a great time at the WC, and after reading your 12/24 entry, I was wondering whether you’d found transportation. Glad you made the game and that all went well!

CapitalSpirit - January 3, 2011

Thanks for stopping by.

It was kind of close. I was looking at group travel, but got turned down. And for the 12/24 entry, I only got two volunteers–count ’em, two–and the first one backed out. So I only made it by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. Glad I did, as the game was one for the ages. Would have loved to see Ovechkin score a hat trick, but a win is a win.–CS

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