We were young. We were giddy.
Wait, let me start again…
We were giddy. Blame it on Sean McGonagill.
Doc and I were still basking in the glow of one of the most unexpected treats we’d ever witnessed on a college basketball court – a freshman tossing in 39 points over, under and around everyone in sight, while wearing headgear from the Hannibal Lecter Collection.
So it was only natural that the seedling of an idea that had been germinating for a few days began to sprout and ripen at an alarming rate. I’m talking Jack and the Beanstalk stuff.
A little background…
See, way back at the beginning of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour’s Winter Sports Swing, the first casualty of fickle weather had been a scheduled pilgrimage to Ithaca, NY, where through a sepia-toned lens I planned to vicariously re-live my own college basketball “playing” days, if I may be somewhat expansive when using that term.
There we were with 70 or 80 of our closest friends, on a night that a dog wouldn’t have sent us out into.
I was with old friend and hoops aficionado Doc, and we were making the best of a bad situation. Ice-stormed out of an originally scheduled pilgrimage to see Doc’s beloved Syracuse Orangemen play against Connecticut, we had opted for a somewhat less glamorous Division I basketball contest – an Ivy League game.
We were at Brown University’s Pizzitola Center, where the Bears were playing host to the Columbia Lions. Somewhere in there was a joke about tigers just begging to be cracked, but we were still a little despondent about the weather having forced us to stay close to Doc’s Pawtucket, RI home.
My friend Doc has worked for the Syracuse University Athletic Department for each one of the 34 years I’ve known him. But if you were to contact SU, they’d tell you they’ve never met him. They really should make the effort, for Doc has been the best unpaid PR agent the Orangemen have ever had.
Many years ago Doc relocated to New England for reasons of love and money, but that hasn’t deterred him from his appointed rounds as Diehard. Should anyone doubt his passion, consider the following…
Immediately upon moving to Rhode Island, Doc applied for and was delighted to receive license plates that read “ORANGE”. When the time inevitably came for him to get a new car, he did his research and negotiated a sweet deal on a leased vehicle. Except for one tiny thing. Almost as an afterthought, he was told that he wouldn’t be able to transfer his existing plates to the leased car.
Houston, we have a problem.
A team of diplomats worked through the night to find common ground, before the dealer finally caved in and agreed to tackle the administrative red tape necessary to keep Doc and his ORANGE plates together.
Hearing this story didn’t faze me (or anyone else who knows Doc) in the least.
I’m not exactly sure what he was talking about though. For me it was easy. Airline service to Hartford is plentiful, and from there it’s a short drive via either I-91 or I-84 to Ellington, CT.
Perhaps Mr. Wolfe had problems at the car rental counter. Or maybe I’m missing his point.
No matter – despite his warning, it would have been inconceivable for me to conduct a sports walkabout that didn’t include a stumble down memory lane. See, there’s high school basketball, and then there’s Ellington Knights high school basketball. I know this because back in the day, I proudly wore the purple and gold.
Live roller derby is charming. Yes, charming. Borderline cute. Definitely endearing.
When I bought a Derby Dolls ticket to see the San Diego Hard Corps host the L.A. Sirens, I didn’t know if I was expecting classic Bay City Bombers mean girl shtick, spacey Drew Barrymore in the movie Whip It, or something in between. But what I got was more like Halloween – the trick or treating kind, not the Michael Myers kind.
This was my second attempt to catch live roller derby, having been left staring at a “Sold Out” sign in L.A.’s suddenly chic Echo Park entertainment district in December. Derby Dolls action is part of the overall scene there and understandably the province of the young and hip. At the San Diego Fairgrounds in suburban Del Mar though, a roller derby “bout” seemed more like a destination for the curious.
Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario, CA is perfectly suited for a small-market location. Somewhere between “serviceable” and “deluxe”, it is big and gleaming enough to inspire civic pride, yet modest enough to operate profitably.
There are some flashes of big-time amenities, such as the Cross Bar, where for the price of a mere two-drink minimum (on top of your regular ticket price) you can while away the game at a cocktail table overlooking one of the goals. But in general, nothing is over the top or flashy. And clean? Crumbs don’t dare fall off hot dog buns here. And if they did, somebody would be there to catch them before they hit the floor.
I was in search of an Official Program for the minor-league hockey game between the Ontario Reign and the Utah Grizzlies. I hadn’t seen any being hawked when I entered the arena, so I asked the usher stationed at the portal to my section where I might go to find one. He seemed genuinely concerned, and suggested I try the Main Entrance. Which I did…to no avail.
A customer service representative working there was also intent upon helping me, but he didn’t have an answer either. “Let’s try the souvenir stand,” he said, and off we went.
The search wound up involving about a half-dozen well-intentioned employees of Citizens Business Bank Arena, and eventually brought me all the way around the concourse – so I got a program AND a free guided tour. Very nice.
It’s all very simple. Knowing full well that The Bird would be riding shotgun, I was ornithologically required to choose an Anaheim Ducks game for the NHL portion of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour schedule.
Come to think of it…“riding shotgun” is probably not the best phrase to use in a paragraph that includes Ducks and Birds. But I digress.
On paper, the game between Anaheim and the Chicago Blackhawks should have been a sell-out, given that the defending Stanley Cup champs have a strong contingent of ex-pat fans who brought their love of both warm weather and their former hometown team with them from Chicago. Moreover, the two teams are currently jostling for position for the final play-off spot in the Western Conference. And to top it all off, it was Free Hat Night, one of just six promotional games on the Duck’s schedule.
So when the game popped up as an opportunity on Goldstar.com (the absolute best discounted event access site in the Free World), I took it as a continuation of Christmas and accepted the thoughtful gift of half-price tickets.
Just walking into Loyola Marymount’s Gersten Pavilion brought about a wave of nostalgia – if it’s possible to be nostalgic about something that happened only ten months ago. For it was here that I went “live” with the first test event that ultimately led to the formation and international accreditation of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour.
That was a memorable evening, made more so by the LMU Lions’ upset of #9-ranked Gonzaga University. It was the first and only time that Gersten had ever played host to an LMU victory over a Top 10 team. A good omen, to say the least.
Sunday morning came early to the lavish World Headquarters of the “It’s Game Time Somewhere” Tour. As soon as the first rays of light filtered through the blinds, I was wide awake and headed for the Executive Locker Room to shower.
What prompted this burst of energy on the sleepiest morning of the week? I was going to an NFL game! The pinnacle of fan-dom, a fact that ESPN reminds me of every 6 minutes. As I brushed my teeth I found myself actually starting to care whether Brett Favre was coming back to play in 2012. Or 2013. Or…well, you get the picture. I was excited.
My mind wandered back to all of the enjoyable times I’d spent at NFL stadiums in the past – both inside and out, tailgating with friends. And as I thought more about it, I was genuinely surprised to realize that it had been over ten years since I’d been to an NFL game. My pulse quickened…
Many hours later, I rolled back into the IGTS Parking Garage, ascended to the Board Room and wearily slouched into an over-stuffed chair. In the ten years between my visits to the NFL, the product had, ahem…evolved, shall we say?
Commissioner Goodell, we’ve got a problem.