Over the years I’ve had the good fortune of attending hundreds of sporting events throughout North America. Stanley Cup playoffs include the 2004 game 7 final between Tampa and Calgary that was of particular significance to me because I’d taken a vow to never attend a Cup clinching game, unless the Leafs were involved. The way things are going for the Leafs these days, I may be waiting some time to follow that promise through. World Series, Super Bowls, Final Fours, the NCAA football National Championship in 2012. I also had made a promise to never attend unless Notre Dame was represented; their name was on the ticket to that game but I think we’ll leave it at that.
You don’t even have to be a fan of the school, but walking the campus and attending a game in South Bend is an experience every sports fan should check off at least once in their lifetime. Walking the hallowed grounds of the course Bobby Jones built while breathtaking, puts the Masters at the top of every sports fans list; sitting at Amen Corner with your dad and son as I did, takes it to an unforgettable level. For our 60th birthdays last year a friend and I, attended the four majors of golf. Not much of a racing fan, but numerous Indy finals along with a NASCAR weekend in Talladega were certainly hi-lights. Attending the Kentucky Derby a few years ago, my sure fire handicapping system (favourite number and the owners were Canadian) saw me pick the long shot winner, “Mine That Bird.”
Those are a sprinkling of the events I’ve attended over the years, so it’s safe to assume my judgment of special games would rank with the best, however I do cheer for the Leafs so my bar may not be set too high. Kidding.
This past Monday I travelled to Winnipeg to visit a client and attend the playoff game between the Jets and the Ducks. I knew this was no ordinary game because it was the first playoff game in Winnipeg since the team departed for Arizona in 1996. The game would be emotional and I expected the crowd to be engaging. Our firm has access to seats, so I’ve attended many games over the past few years since the Jets have been back, including the Leafs first visit (they lost).
I knew all about the “white-out” effect from back in the 1980’s and the bitter rivalry with the Oilers. My client had suggested I wear a white shirt, which I did but he brought me one anyway, in case I forgot.
The game was to start an hour later than the usual time that night because of the TV coverage, so we arrived a few hours beforehand to have a few drinks and something to eat. Sitting at the bar under the MTS Center, everyone was wearing white shirts. Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau later commented that most of these people must have taken the afternoon off to get ready. The outfits while all white, along with faces, hair, beards, were quite creative. It was with some irony that Gary Bettman the one person not dressed in white, marched through the restaurant in his usual arrogant and egotistical way, with that attitude he was the most important person in the room. Walking into the restaurant behind him, I said to my friend, that I wish I had a can of shaving cream to give this jerk a face wash like the ball players get on TV.
The buzz in the restaurant was like any you would hear before any playoff game and as the clock ticked closer to faceoff time the excitement mounted. After sitting at the bar for an hour I heard the roar of the crowd and the chant “Go Jets Go.” Nothing unusual about that I thought, until I looked at the TV showing the in-house camera scanning the crowd inside the rink and it appeared over three-quarters full. It was still 45-minutes to game time and the teams hadn’t even been out for the pregame skate and that was 15-minutes away. Pretty soon the bar cleared out and we found ourselves standing alone, as the patrons had scurried to their seats to see the warm-up. The echo of the noise got louder and suddenly erupted to another decibel as the Jets took to the ice for the pre-game. I looked at my friend and I guess my face said it all as he just nodded and said, “I know.”
The crowd didn’t stop cheering throughout the whole warm-up and finally our curiosity got the best of us and we made our way to our seats to take all of this in.
When the Jets took to the ice for the start of the game, to say the sound was deafening would be an understatement. The ovation Mike Weir received from a capacity crowd at the ACC following his 2003 Masters victory, still gives me chills thinking about it even today.
I don’t think there was more than handful of 15,016 people in attendance at the MTS Center that night not clapping and cheering. Those chills I felt the night of Weirs evening were back as the emotion, pride, passion and love of the Jets oozed from every clap, stomp and cheer throughout the game. The cheers seemed to get louder with every Jets hit, shot on goal or save. If I hadn’t witnessed it first hand I wouldn’t have believed it. TV doesn’t do it justice. Even when the Ducks scored, the air would come out of the building momentarily but as fast as it faded, it quickly emerged from the shadows of disappointment and grew to a frenzied state once again. It truly was a magnificent sight to behold. The crowd even in defeat was respectful, knowledgeable and classy. It’s a very rare commodity these days with rabid sports fans and the win at all costs attitude.
The only thing missing that night in Winnipeg was the massive picture of the Queen, which I’m told, is not only being restored at a warehouse in Toronto, but soon to be back in Winnipeg in all it’s splendid glory on display, for all Winnipeggers to enjoy.
The one common trait with every event I attend is the adrenalin rush entering the sporting venue; that’s the drug that resonates with true sports fans and why nothing beats a game or a race live. That playoff game in Winnipeg last Monday left two lasting impressions on me; one, its an absolute disgrace that hockey was taken from this city and secondly, the fans of Winnipeg exemplified what true passion for a hockey team can be and nothing is more Canadian than that, so I thank you.
Don’t ever change.