Some of you may have spent your New Year’s attending or watching a college bowl game. Zzzzzzz.
For me, it was Hockey Day in America, and the epicenter was Wrigley Field in Chicago. Or at least as close as I could get to Wrigley without having to pay over $300 for an actual ticket.
I probably could have had this post on the internets on the actual day of the event, but I was too hung over from the night before to even turn a computer on. And I was on an airplane the next day, so you aren’t reading this until now. But since there have been enough delays, without any further ado, here’s a look back at Winter Classic 2009.
At approximately 10:20 a.m., I wake up in a chair in my friend’s living room. Of all the brilliant touches the NHL put on this event, why the hell did they decide to drop the puck at noon? Even 2 p.m. would have provided sufficient time to shake off the cobwebs.
But no matter. I decided that this is what college football fans who actually watch their teams play in real bowl games have to go through on an annual basis. Gotta support the team.
I hop on the El and head to Wrigleyville to meet up with my buddy Detroit Vince, who is not surprisingly a Red Wings fan. I try taking a couple of pictures while waking from the Addison stop to the Cubby Bear. After two photos, my brand-new batteries claim to be dead. This enrages me enough to swear a lot in public, until the friendly doorman points out that it is so damn cold out that it drains your camera batteries. Who knew?
I arrive at Cubby Bear around 11:45, and was pleased to find that it wasn’t overwhelmingly crowded. There weren’t any tables available, of course, but anytime you go to that bar without having to throw ‘bows in order to move around it’s a victory. I guess people aren’t quite awake yet. Can’t imagine why.
Much to my consternation, the game isn’t even close to getting started by the time noon comes around. To kill some time, I join Detroit Vince in ordering a beer. I’m pretty sure the next thing I feel is my liver internally karate-chopping me.
Finally, the teams make their way onto the ice for warm-ups, prompting the first chants of “De-troit Sucks!” of the afternoon. Vince tries to rally his Red Wings brethren — total strangers, of course — with a chant of “We’ve got Stanley,” which is a reference to the Stanley Cup and not Penn State men’s basketball player and alleged library masturbator Stanley Pringle.
I’d like to take this moment to point out there’s a reason the chant is “Detroit sucks” rather than “Red Wings suck.” To paraphrase Pedro Martinez, Blackhawks fans realize that the Red Wings are our daddy. They are what we aspire to be someday. But no Chicagoan would ever aspire to be from Detroit, or even wish such a fate upon their worst foe, unless he’s Rod Blagojevich and you don’t know where else to put him. Thus, “Detroit sucks.”
(Sorry Vince. Oh, I apologize to you as well, Kid Rock. Actually, come to think about it, Kid Rock says everything you’d ever need to know about D-town.).
As both teams line up for the National Anthem, I start clapping to see if the cheering catches on like it is wont to do during the Anthem before Hawks games.
And then they start playing “O Canada.”
I like “O Canada” as much as the next guy, if not more. But even though Detroit is across the river from Windsor, that does not qualify it as a Canadian team. Why the Canadian anthem? If you’re going by the nationalities of the guys playing, we’d also have to listen to the Russian, Swedish, Czech, French, Finnish and Slovak anthems to be fair.
Anyhow, once everyone stopped standing on guard for thee, we finally got around to the Star-Spangled Banner. And while the noise didn’t quite compare to that being made at Wrigley, I was impressed by the Cubby Bear crowd’s raucous effort, which even turned into a sing-along by the end. The crowd had filled out behind me quite nicely since I arrived at the bar.
The first big roar of the game comes as Brent Seabrook blasts the Wings’ Dan Cleary over the boards and into the Hawks’ bench head-over-heels. Just a couple nights earlier, Cleary had taken a shot at Hawks’ star Patrick Kane, rendering Kane slightly gimpy.
The momentum carries over for the rest of the period, as the Hawks jump out to a 3-1 lead and everyone seems to forget they were nursing a hangover. The atmosphere has become electric — even moreso than for any Cubs game I’ve ever been in the neighborhood for. (I haven’t been in Wrigleyville for any Cubs playoff games, though those haven’t exactly been very electric as of late).
With so much excitement in the air, a neighborhood tour was in order.
During the first intermission, we decided to stop by McDonald’s for some nourishment on the way to the next bar. Unfortunately, everyone else in Wrigleyville seemed to have the same idea, including the Chicago Office of Emergency Management. I wasn’t Nuggnuts enough to stick around in that line.
Our next stop was Bob Brenly’s favorite post-game hangout, Bernie’s. (I’ve seen him there twice, which qualifies it as his favorite post-game hangout in my personal, unscientific manner). Unfortunately, by this time the whole neighborhood was a bit more crowded, and there was quite a line to get into Bernie’s. It was cold out. Thus, lines aren’t for me.
We scurried a little further up Clark Street to Yak-Zies, a labyrinthine bar that keeps revealing more rooms as you venture into its bowels. Unfortunately, none of these rooms had a place for us to sit, but that was hardly a surprise at this point. However, it was also difficult to find a good spot to stand.
My first choice was a good enough angle of a big screen, but we were close enough to a group of rather ruffian-like Hawks fans that I feared for Vince’s health should Detroit mount a rally. We headed back to the first room, which was also unsatisfactory due to the fact that the only place to stand was next to some drunk buffoon who was creepily hitting on two unfortunate lasses and pointing to the TV saying “Now these are athletes!”
As we wandered about the joint looking for the perfect spot, the Blackhawks looked just as lost. The puck spent uncomfortable amounts of time in their zone and the offense didn’t looking capable of doing anything. This wasn’t boding well.
And sure enough, 3-2. 3-3. And shortly before the end of the period, 4-3 Red Wings. This was slowly becoming a disaster.
After the second period, I was left with no choice but to eat. And thus in the middle of the afternoon we stopped by one of the finest late-night eateries in Wrigleyville — and perhaps the entire United States — Wrigleysville Dogs. (Why the ‘s’ in Wrigleysville? I have no idea. But it’s there).
Our next destination is Murphy’s Bleachers, which is naturally located across the street from the entrance to the bleachers. Once again, we’re greeted by a lengthy line. Once again, screw that.
One thing that I noticed on the walk to Murphy’s was the flags atop the Wrigley Field scoreboard. From afar, I figured the NHL had added another nice touch and placed the Western Conference divisional standings there, just as the Cubs do with the National League standings.
To my horror, the flags on top of the scoreboard were actually advertisements. In fact, there were ads all over the place. I realize hockey’s a bit different in that every inch of the arena is available for ad space, but at the same time I hope that no one in the Cubs’ front office gets any clever ideas from the overwhelming ad presence at this event.
As we circle around on Sheffield Avenue, a minor roar escapes from the stands. Concerned by the lack of decibel level, I look up into the top row of the bleachers and see my worst fears realized as several Wings fans exchange high-fives. The bastards have scored again.
Just moments later, we get to the peephole (for lack of a better term) that allows you to look onto the field from the sidewalk on Sheffield. From where I’m standing, it’s possible to see the Detroit bench. And after just a few moments, it’s possible to see the Detroit bench celebrating.
Wait, didn’t they just score like a minute ago? You mean to tell me they did it again?
As we head towards Harry Caray’s and past the demolished pieces of a bar that was called Sports Corner before it was demolished, my mood has turned foul. Would it be possible, just once, for a team to host a nationally televised sporting event at Wrigley and not piss it away? And where did all these Red Wings fans come from? Once we walked into Harry Caray’s, Vince suddenly found himself in the majority.
After the game ended, even more Wings fans showed their faces. And Hawks fans. An already crowded area became a super-saturated sea of faces, with nowhere to move comfortably but away. Of course, this led to some interesting altercations, like the one we witnessed between a belligerent Hawks fan and a Wings fan who amazingly kept his cool.
The Hawks fan, a drunk fellow who had foam hockey sticks sticking out of his shirt and pants, started razzing the Wings fan, who had actually been inside Wrigley for the game.
“The real fans couldn’t afford to go in!” he thundered.
Only the razzing turned ugly when he insisted that the Wings fan couldn’t possibly like hockey because he was black. And I don’t think the Hawks fan took too kindly to the fact the dude was dating a white girl.
How the Wings fan restrained himself from beating the crap out of a guy who was yelling inches from his face, I do not know. But it may have been the most impressive performance of the entire day.