Sports are not meant to be watched in silence. They are there for fans to cheer or boo, yell at the officials or scream unsolicited, obvious advice, like when 17,000 people yell “Shoot!”, as if Zdeno Chara doesn’t know what he is supposed to do with the puck.
But there is another world of sports viewership. A secret, oppressive world. And those who live in that world almost always lead a double life.
June 13, 2011
I was in the building for Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals between the Bruins and Canucks.
The situation was exciting if not ideal, with the Bruins down three games to two. As cool as it would be to see the Cup raised in person, even by the F-ing Canucks, I wanted a Bruins win and a Game 7 back in Vancouver, where Boston was 0-3 in the series.
The game was a laugher. Boston scored four times in a span of 4:14 in the first period. The Canucks pulled goalie Roberto Luongo less than ten minutes in, and the sellout crowd at TD Garden was in a frenzy.
As the goal horn blared, and the din inside of the arena grew, I glanced around at the people seated near me.
Like myself, they were silent and emotionless.
Two days later, my friend and I donned Bruins sweaters, despite the warm spring weather, and took the T into town early in the afternoon to secure a spot at “The Grand Canal,” a now-defunct sports bar just steps away from the Garden. We ate an early dinner and then continued to order drinks and appetizers so we wouldn’t lose our table once Game 7 started.
As Boston surged to a 2-0 lead, I cheered with hundreds of people who had packed into the bar over the course of the day, including some strange men who had taken it upon themselves to pull up seats at our table and who tried to buy my friend’s autographed Bruins shirt off his back.
When Patrice Bergeron netted his second goal of the night to put Boston up 3-0 late in the second period, one of those men ripped off his shirt and jumped on a chair, splashing beer in the air. Following his lead and thinking nothing of it, I jumped up and down in front of him, spraying my bottle of beer as if it were champagne in the locker room.
The next thing I knew, I felt a strong grip on my shoulder, and my friend and I were ushered out of the bar.
Our new acquaintance was somehow allowed to stay, hopefully with his shirt back on. He and his companions surely swooped in to consolidate power at our table, but the joke was on them. As we had never started a tab for our long day of eating and drinking, anyone in those seats at the end of the night was likely now responsible for the entire bill.
The Celebration Continues
The setback did not deter us. In fact, free from the burden of paying for the day’s consumptions, we were as giddy as ever. We splurged on a cycle rickshaw ride over to the North End, watched the third period at the bar of an Italian restaurant, and then ran back to North Station, where we spent a few hours screaming our heads off and high-fiving everyone in sight to celebrate Boston’s first Stanley Cup win in 39 years.
We dispensed with public transportation and walked the two miles from North Station back to our car at Sullivan Square. At home, we made a fire in the pit in our backyard and stayed up late, reliving one of the most joyous events of our lives.
Back to Game 6
My three-year unpaid stint covering the Bruins for a national hockey magazine was an incredible experience. I got free entrance to every single Bruins home game, access to the locker room media scrums and Coach Julien’s post-game press conferences, and free snacks in the press box, where I had my own reserved seat, indicated by a card with my name and affiliation.
This was my first experience on media row, and I was introduced to some harsh realities of a career in sports, including the Golden Rule: “No Cheering in the Press Box.”
While the sea of black and gold below us yelled and danced, drank beer, and taunted the Canucks, up on Level 9 the press box was solemn and serious. Clad in suits and hovering over laptops, the pack of media members silently nodded in recognition that they had seen the goal, and then robotically hammered notes out on their computers or flipped through stat packets for up to date facts and figures.
Most of the local media were life-long Bruins fans, though aside from the rebellious few who grew playoff beards in solidarity with the team, there was no indication that anyone on Level 9 had any interest in the outcome of the game.
It was merely a live news story, unfolding in front of them.
My Double Life
At each sporting event, there are tens, if not hundreds of people silently lurking around the arena. Attending the game, yes, but in a different world than the fans they may have crammed together with on the Orange Line to get there just moments before.
No one who isn’t a sports fan would choose to be a part of this secret world, where you eat, sleep and breathe sports. And then once you arrive at the stadium, acting like a sports fan is forbidden- even looked down upon.
Those of us who have chosen a career in sports lead a double life, like those two versions of myself, just 48 hours and less than a quarter mile apart from each other.
For nearly a decade, I have moved between stoic worker and passionate die-hard fan. Often I am ecstatic just to have a ticket to a game, never mind an intimate knowledge of the post-game odor in the locker room. By the way, ask for an autograph in the locker room and your press pass is immediately revoked.
That was the first and only time in my life I have gotten thrown out of a bar. Still, that person who watched Game 7 at The Grand Canal is the one who, according to my wife, screams “Get the Ball!” at the TV at least once during every football game I watch. It’s the one who threw a roll of duct tape through the wall of my college bedroom after a regular season Red Sox loss. It’s the one who still paces in the tensest moments of a playoff game, sinks into depression after a fantasy football loss, and does flying leaps onto his sofa when his teams, real or imaginary, are victorious.
Not Just in the Big Leagues
The secret world doesn’t only exist at the highest levels and with the biggest stakes.
In my professional life, I am now often the one responsible for ensuring that my worker’s behavior mimics my shared experience of Game 6 on the 9th Floor.
Even in the tiniest of portable press boxes at lightly attended games between some of the worst teams you’ve never heard of in Division 3 college athletics, there are those who are there to watch – and only watch.
The students who work for me don’t know that they are in the secret world. They want to support their school, and yell for their friends who are on the field.
But the rules are unflinching: “No cheering in the press box.”
Two years ago, the women’s basketball team at my school won the NCAA Division III championship, completing their second consecutive undefeated season.
Since I began working in college athletics, one of my career goals was to win a national title with one of my teams. And yet, as that became a reality, I did not – could not – do anything.
In my seat at the end of the scorer’s table, I was just inches from coaches and players that I spent months collaborating with and promoting. They were jumping up and down, hugging each other as the final seconds ticked off. Those that had traveled to Minnesota for the Final Four cheered for their daughters, their friends, their colleagues.
And I was there….sort of. Just in that secret world.
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