Reflections From the Road: 2011 Winter Classic January 2, 2011Posted 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.
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.
ROAD WEARY, FEELING SICK…AND VERY, VERY GRATEFUL