Thursday, May 14, 2009

BLOGGER SEES HEAVEN'S GATE... GATES OF HELL IN SAME DAY!


ABOVE: This is not a place you want to see or visit. Thanks to the Penguins not winning game six at home, I became an unwitting victim of circumstances!

It was a day of wild contrasts, so startling in nature that I just had to share this second half of the story with you.

If you can recall, (or if you didn't read my last post about heaven, just scroll down and catch up before reading this one) on Wednesday I had a gourmet lunch at Morton's Steakhouse, sipped on Crown Royal, the nectar of the gods, and listened to Stan and Guy, Barry Melrose and Steve Levy of ESPN. For a sports lover, this was as close to heaven as you can get.

It was a great time and a great day. The best part was that tonight was also game seven of the Pens-Capitals epic series! I couldn't wait. What a perfect day this was! One of the best in a long time.

The trouble began right after my wife came home.

No, it's nothing like that. My wife and I are about as compatible as two people can be that have been married almost 34 years. We always enjoy doing things together, I've always tried to treat her like "my girlfriend," not as my wife as that can become very boring for people. This has worked very well for us. On Wednesday night it didn't. On Wednesday night I learned a lot about myself. I also learned a lot about the Pittsburgh Penguins.

My wife, Darlene, is a hard-working office manager and after a long day at work, she rushed in and almost immediately began preparing dinner. I (I'm ashamed to say) was in more of a male "zen state" having had a pleasant day, not a typical grinding work day. I was still enjoying the afterglow of the experience and I also wasn't even hungry because I'd had such a wonderful and abnormally large lunch. So I said rather innocently after sweetly kissing her hello, "Why are you in such a hurry tonight honey?"

"We have to hurry up and eat. Did you forget that we have Base Community at 7:00".

There was a moment of silence as my former zen-brain scrambled to process this information. As the old cranium struggled to come to grips with the seriousness of the information it was attempting to process, only one word could come to my lips.

"WHHHHHHHHHAAAAAAATTTTTTTT!!!!!!!!!?????????? The Penguins are playing tonight!!! It's game seven!!! This is one of the most watched series ever!!! We can't go tonight!!!"
NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!



ABOVE: No this is not Simeon Varlamov, just a decision that I faced as game time approached.

For most of you, you've probably never heard of "Base Community". It's a once monthly meeting that takes place in the home of a neighbor. Various Bible passages are read and then discussed. Each person's input is sought on each reading to interpret the meaning and how it affects our lives. Following the Bible study and discussion, desserts and snacks are served. Our neighborhood has a small group, but we've been doing this for three years now. To not go would be unthinkable, especially with no notice. So without even an argument, I instinctively knew that there was zero point zero zero zero percent of wiggle room on this one. I had this terrible sinking feeling.

It was here where I knew that I was peering into the gates of hell. I had been so greatly anticipating the resolution of the Pens-Caps series and had already been having such a perfect day! This wasn't fair, it just wasn't fair!

ABOVE: No, this isn't me, just some other poor tortured soul.

WHY ME? WHY ME? I kept asking myself this question over and over again as my anxiety turned to self pity.

We arrived at our neighbor's home a couple minutes after seven. By this time they were probably doing the pregame interviews that they tape at around 6:30 when there are only a few hundred people in the building and the teams are taking pot shots at their own goalies.

As we met with the other attendees and exchanged pleasantries, I could feel myself becoming more and more distant. As I looked at my watch, I saw that it was already 7:15. By this time they had already sung the national anthem, I figured. They'd be dropping that puck anytime now. I could practically hear the roar of the crowd.

We sat down around my neighbor's kitchen table, said our opening prayers and then started praying for our special intentions. One person prayed for help with an ailment, another offered a prayer for our country. I sat there thinking, "God please let the Penguins win." I didn't dare make that my special intention to the group.

As we were ready to wrap up this part of our opening prayers, one of my neighbors chimed in, "That the Penguins will defeat the Washington Capitals tonight." Everyone smiled and nodded their heads in agreement. Me? I put my head in my hands. How could I, a Pittsburgh blogger, be missing this most important game?

We completed our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles and began pondering the questions
that had taken on an even greater degree of difficulty than normal. My brain was a blank slate. All that I could imagine was how furious the pace was to open this contest. This is a game seven, I mused, can you imagine the frenzy that must be going on there right now?

My wife. seated to my right, had her cell phone on the table. Suddenly it signaled a text message. She flipped it open to find a brief message from our son. The entire content of the message: 1-0 PENS! She was kind enough to share it with the entire group. Everyone was happy and moved onto the next reading. I was happy and angry. Happy for the lead, angry that I'd missed it. My mind was still focused on Washington D.C.. Can you believe that they scored the first goal already? That place must be in shell shock! I'm missing this!!!

Soon another text message. Oh no, I can't believe that Washington already tied it! But no, after opening the cell phone, my wife announced, "2-0 Penguins." The famous two goal lead had been achieved in the first period! Was this going to turn into one of those anticlimactic blowouts that sometimes occurs in a playoff game?

Next came 3-0 and 4-0 followed by a final, "5-0, this is freaking unbelievable".

I had missed the assassination of the Capitals.

By the time the second intermission had ended, we were now into the social portion of the program so the men retired to the living room with a glass of wine and some snacks to watch the "exciting" conclusion, if you can call bleeding twenty minutes off the clock exciting. The best thing I managed to see was Sidney Crosby stealing a puck from Alexander Ovechkin and scoring on a breakaway, proving to the world (with an exclamation point) who is the greatest all-around player in hockey.

What was most interesting about this circumstance is that the Penguins managed to win this most critical game without my even observing it on tv, let alone watching in person! I've come to realize in later years that whether I root for the Steelers or Penguins or yes, even the Pirates on occasion, fan participation is a "fun" thing and not a necessity for the team's success. We do it because we love the feeling that we get when our teams win and from the anxiety release that we get when victory has been attained. We in Pittsburgh have become addicted to this wondrous adrenaline high, to the point of being crack addicts to it and the frequency of success that we have been enjoying has only added fuel to the fire and worsened our addiction.

As proof of this, much like the Steelers who today are being called "America's Team" by some, Penguin fever has risen each year to a point where today it's not uncommon to hear a national broadcaster, such as Steve Levy of ESPN say earlier in this same day that "Pittsburgh is the greatest hockey town in America. You get off the plane and there are signs and banners everywhere. If you go to Anaheim, say, their fans in the arena are just as fervent, but outside of the arena there's nothing at all like Pittsburgh." He's right. In Pittsburgh you'll find thousands of fans watching outside of the arena, in what could be a downpour, on a giant screen. Last year, they FILLED Mellon Arena for away games during the finals! What other city has that kind of passion for its' teams?

No city in America has fans that are as fervent as Pittsburgh's, period. We're addicted to our teams. Especially when you consider the relative size of the city versus many other large market teams. The people here are heavily involved in the Steelers, Penguins, Panthers and to a lesser degree, Pirates. I shudder to think what would happen if the Pirates ever got their act together and had a competitive team on the field. The fans would then be able to keep their mania going 365 days per year!

I came to realize on Wednesday evening that what I missed was the wonderful adrenaline rush that a juicy game seven win would provide me. Yes folks, I'm an addict too, just like you and I didn't like not seeing that game, not one little bit. But I made a big sacrifice that night and I hope that "the man upstairs" puts that down on my chart! While I was preoccupied, the biggest lesson that I learned was that some things will always supercede others. No matter how painful sometimes, you can't lose that focus, even if it is the Stanley Cup playoffs.

ABOVE: This book has been around for quite a while, much longer than the NHL in fact.