…It’s not supposed to be.
The Penguins commercial rings entirely true for the die hard, the invested. Games like last night are why.
Some of us have spent the majority of our lives immersed in the culture of sports fandom. For a city like Pittsburgh, sports are as big a part of our lives as our family, our careers, our hopes and dreams. We only refer to our teams in terms of “us” and “we.” There is no “they.”
We are not just financially invested in our tickets, our gear, our yard signs, calendars, coffee mugs and mascot plush animals. We are emotionally invested. We feel pain, anger, confusion when they fall and elation when they are on top. We laugh, smile, cry and scream in agony with our athletes in Pittsburgh. They emulate what Pittsburghers believe our city is: a shining city, a city of greatness, a city of champions- from the man playing the saxophone on the Clemente Bridge to the man who sells hot dogs on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Wood Street, to our beloved departed Fred Rogers to our leaders.
I’ve been a Pittsburgh sports fan for as long as I can remember. I recall my first time at Three Rivers Stadium, my first Stanley Cup Parade and Rally, my first time in the Civic Arena. All of it is still as fresh as the day it happened. I remember during the 1992 Cup run, my mother bringing two TVs into the living room so that we could watch the Pens and Pirates simultaneously. Sports have helped my family to bond, whether it was my father taking us to Pirate games against the Cubs or Cardinals every night for a week just on the chance that that would be the night that Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire made history or carting my brothers and I from ball field to ball field, state to state for our own sports tournaments. I continue the tradition with my own son.
I want to take you through my journey last night at the Pens game. For the casual fans and the fans whom do not understand what the Pens mean to myself and so many others, this will help you to understand.
My brother and I have spent the past few seasons going to almost every game together. We don’t get up until intermission. We make it back to our seats prior to puck drop. We cheer from beginning to end. We stay through the 3 Stars. There is no place in the world we would rather be than in Consol Energy Center (Civic Arena). The energy of the crowd and what it feels like to be a part of something bigger than yourself is beyond magical.
We arrived to our seats by the 2 minute Heinz Count down, donning our white, waving our towels, screaming at the top of our lungs. The older couple next to us smiled and told us to save our energy, for they feared our voices wouldn’t make it through the first period.
The crowd was the absolute loudest I have ever heard in my life as a fan. I thought that Game 1 last season was the loudest. No. Game 2 last night from the players taking the ice, through the anthem and into the first period blew Game 1 2011 out of the atmosphere.
The puck is dropped. We’re still screaming, the crowd is chanting “Let’s Go Pens.” The echo is deafening. I cannot hear my own voice among the 18,500 others surrounding me. We are one. And then this… (video by my brother and I)
The game went on. We laughed and high fived with the guys behind us. We called out words of encouragement to the men on the ice below. We chanted and clapped. We absolutely lost our minds as the goals kept coming. But as the first period wore on, the ache started. The dull pain turned intense pressure in the back of my head and surging pain through my temples and forehead. Oh, God. Not now. Please not now. A migrane. I ignored it. I continued to scream despite the pain until I couldn’t take it anymore.
When the game broke for a hard commercial, I fumbled through my purse, blinking through tears, desperately seeking the orange bottle, my fingers shaking as I drew out the tiny white pill that is supposed to take the pain away. The period ended. I made my way up the stairs, one by one, knowing what I needed: food. Migrane meds on an empty stomach would not do.
I dizzily pushed my way through the crowd before me, barely able to hear because of that awkward deafness that comes when you are about to pass out. I made my way to a food vendor in front of one of my closet friends and the person he was attending the game with. They were in standing room only. He asked if I was okay. “Not really, but I will be.” I pushed through the masses and purchased an RC to get my blood sugar up and a pretzel to fill my belly with carbs. As I left the line my brother approached from his trip to the bathroom. “Found you.”
We made the journey back to our seats. The cheering continued. No. A migrane would not ruin my experience, would not ruin my night. Through the pain and dizziness, and feeling of nausea I still had a smile on my face. No. There is nowhere else I want to be but here in this seat.
The collapse came. Tyler Kennedy tied the game at 5. My brother and I lunged from our seats into the air, only to form a perfect stunned pic moments later as Sean Couturier immediately responded with a goal of his own. Then came Jagr. And then the place began to empty.
The feeling of disgust set it. Not because of the game. Not because of the lack of defense, because for some reason Head Coach Dan Bylsma wasn’t calling a gravely needed time out, or because of the frustration we felt knowing that the team below was capable of so much more. The feeling was because these thousands of people who claimed to be fans were not appreciative of the team-fan relationship that my brother and I hold so dearly.
Being a fan is like being in a marriage. In sickness and health. For better or for worse. In a city with a baseball team that just met its 19th losing season, we know what it is like to witness dark times. In a city that almost lost its beloved Penguins because it was crumbling under the financial burden of caring for a decaying arena.
You win with your team, you lose with your team.
Couturier wasn’t done. The hat trick. More people got up. We stayed. We stayed where we were and sarcastically asked the passersby where they had to be that was so important? “Where do you have to be that cannot wait another minute? You’re all pathetic!” The people in front of us stood, unable to decide what to do. The game continued. “Hey, sit down or leave! Some of us are still watching!” I yelled in anger. They sat. I glanced across the arena to the top of section 210. I could still see my friends. I smiled inside, knowing that they felt the same as I. I pointed them out to my brother. “They’re still here.”
The game paused. 6.7 seconds left. Claude Giroux got his hat trick. They left. We sat for the remaining faceoff. The pain in my head was the least of my concern.
There were upwards of a thousand people outside of CEC watching the game sitting on lawn chairs and the ground. Some had been there for hours before the game and they stayed until the bitter end.
You win with your team, you lose with your team.
This isn’t over.
Ride or die.
Also, read this by the ladies over at Puck Huffers “The Aftermath“.
Oh and we listened to this song in the car on the way home…sing along. It takes away some of the sting.