SportsProf

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Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Reflections from the Winter Classic

When they announced that Philadelphia would be hosting the Winter Classic, my sixth grader offered that it might be neat to go. Well, have a partial season ticket plan to the Phillies, and, presto, I got a chance to enter a lottery to buy two tickets to the event, "won" the lottery, got two tickets underneath the cover on the third-base line that gave me an obscured view of the scoreboard (but a good view of the rink) for the same amount of money that third-row seats to the NBA Finals featuring the 76ers about 10 years ago cost (for some perspective; I was a guest at that game). My wife and I decided to surprise my son for this birthday, so when he opened a relatively light box inside was an email touting the game and a warm pair of Wigwam socks. That was about four weeks ago.


The build-up was fun, what with the alumni game and a 66 year-old Bernie Parent, who lives on a houseboat in Wildwood, NJ, strapping on the pads for the first time since perhaps Ronald Reagan was President (first term) (the team hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 1975). The coverage of that was pretty cool and set the backdrop for yesterday's game.


The powers that be postponed the game from 1 to 3 p.m., owing to weather patterns, sun angles, glare, possible sun melt and whatever combination of meteorology and outdoor ice hockey would have not blinded the players and turned the playing surface into what the average Center City street corner looks like the day after a snow storm. So, my son and I ate lunch at home, foregoing the opportunity for a quick stop at John's Roast Pork for a cheesesteak (among the best in the city and featured in, of all things, Zagat's national restaurant guide). The traffic to Citizens Bank Park was okay, and when we arrived at the stadium complex we noted how early the tailgaters got there. We parked in our usual lot, albeit a bit further from the Bank because where we normally park was full of tailgaters who seemed content hanging out in 40-degree weather in little more than a turtleneck and a $199 commemorative jersey over it drinking much cheaper beer than they would find inside.


Our contribution to the great sale of all things Flyers was the purchase of two wool hats, the one for me being relatively standard, the one for my son being the type with the flaps that go over the cheeks. As we were walking to the stadium, we started chatting with a couple who presumably was doing the same thing. The man had on a Claude Giroux jersey, and my son offered that the Flyers' star was his favorite player. To which he got this response, "That's nice to hear. We're his parents." And then we got to chatting about how Claude likes Philadelphia (loves it) and whether they've had cheesteaks (plenty of times -- remember, I'm with a 12 year-old -- and that they had been to Geno's just the other day). They ended up peeling off to go to a get-together near the Wachovia Center, and we made our way to the stadium.

My son honored me and the old Flyers by wearing, as his fourth layer atop cold-weather Under Armour, a long-sleeved Flyers t-shirt and a hooded sweatshirt the Moose DuPont #6 jersey that my father bought for me at Mitchell & Ness (well before they made the vintage jerseys) when the Flyers went to the Stanley Cup for the first time in 1974. Under those layers, it looked pretty good on him, and it was neat to see him where it. Despite the fervence of the fans and some near misses, the Flyers haven't won a Cup since 1975. It was cool to see him in this garb, even if the temperature dictated pretty quickly that he needed to don his winter jacket to stave off the cold.

The whole area was jammed, a sea of orange and black, with some New York Rangers' red and blue interspersed (Flyers' fans take note -- the average Rangers' fan spent a lot more for his tickets than you). The weather was okay to start, but got colder as the sun began to set and the winds kicked in. It was electric to a degree, and here are some observations:

1. The "experience", as it were, lacked two things that the Phillies add that would have made it a little more fun -- a) having photographers take commemorative photos of you that you can purchase on the website and b) giving out towels for the fans to wave. The former would have created revenue and keepsakes; the latter, well, a more electric environment akin to a Phillies' playoff game.

2. It's amazing how many beers people will drink in a below-freezing wind-chill factor environment.

3. The bathrooms seemed much more crowded than at any Phillies' game. Is it because the crowd is more male, or because people can go 18 times between innings, and only twice between periods?

4. People who wore only a turtleneck beneath a $199 dollar commemorative Winter Classic jersey found out how cold it can get and were cold.

5. We counted 20 different Flyers jerseys, at least from the names and numbers on the back. the most prominent were Giroux jerseys, but we also saw Hextall, Clarke, Powe, Sinisalo, Boucher and a dozen or so others.

6. I wore about 4 layers, we had blankets, and the "warmers" that hunters use that we kept in our gloves to keep our hands as warm as we could. We sat under cover, and the wind kicked up pretty strongly for most of the game.

7. We had pretty good seats, sitting behind the goal where the Flyers shot at twice. Henrik Lundquist, the Rangers' goalie, was terrific as the Rangers sleep-skated through the first period. The crowd stood for the entire first period.

8. Yes, it was hard to see the puck and the average fan cheered not at a score, but when he/she saw the players from his favorite team celebrating a goal. Remember, baseball stadiums are designed for baseball viewing, not ice hockey. So while it was exciting, it wasn't like every seat was a good one (and the purist could debate how many seats really gave the viewer a great shot at the action -- perhaps the luxury boxes along the third base line, which were high up enough to see above all the boards).

9. The Flyers need a goaltender.

10. People were generally pumped up to be there, as most people in most cities like to go to events, spend a lot of time at them and a lot of money on them. We had fun, we were cold, and we wished that the outcome were different. Overall, it was a good experience and showed a city that favors football and baseball that hockey can appeal to a group that's larger than the core of diehards that has subscribed to season tickets for years.

11. As for prices. . . beers were $7.75, programs $10, and parking $25 ($50 for larger vehicles).

12. We saw Barry Melrose walk by us as we walked into the stadium. The grey mullet kind of works on him, but he's not as big as he looks on camera.

13. Is it me, or have they grown bigger hockey players since, say, 30 years ago? The Rangers have a 6'7" center, and there were a bunch of players over 6'4" out there.

14. By my count, players from about 10 different countries were represented.

It was, in many ways, a classic, and, of course, when you go to a main event with your son for his birthday present, it's all the more special.

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