Friday, June 08, 2012

Outhouse to the penthouse: Where I was eight years ago last night

(I think it's safe to tell this story in public now. At least I hope so.)

Eight years ago last night (June 7, 2004), the Tampa Bay Lightning were facing the Calgary Flames in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. It was the most fantastic, incredible night I've ever experienced as a sports fan, although it definitely didn't start out that great.

I was not an employee of the Lightning at that time, but I was a huge fan, as I had been since the team began back in 1992. The NHL playoffs are two months of severe manic mood swings. Wins produce euphoric elation. Losses result in soul-crushing despair. Friends and co-workers would base decisions on whether or not to interact with me based on the team's performance the night before. Yeah, it was a big deal.
Being as I worked at the Sun Dome, an arena across town, I had peers, colleagues and friends in the Lightning organization, some of whom were able to hook me up with tickets for games during the regular season as well as the playoffs. Away games were spent at The Press Box, Tampa's oldest established sports bar. As the team advanced, tickets were difficult to get. When the whole thing boiled down to Game 7, a single winner-take-all contest to decide the whole thing, they were non-existent for freeloaders like me. However, one of my friends was dating an upper-level executive with the team at the time (he's actually in that photo at the bottom). She told me that she and others would be in a suite and if I could somehow find my way there, I was more than welcome to join them. Meanwhile, another friend who was actually an executive herself told me she didn't have tickets, but she would be willing to open a side door while looking the other way. Hey, 2/3 of a plan is better than nothing! Although that missing middle part was pretty important and would need to be addressed somehow...
I left work early and got downtown around 3:30 in the afternoon. True to her word, my friend opened the door and said "Good luck, I don't know you" as I hurried through. I quickly made my way to an elevator that took me to the floor where the suite was located. I found a men's room, locked myself in a stall, squatted on a toilet and read the Tampa Tribune, standing up every now and then to discourage pesky leg cramps. Occasionally, someone would come in and I would freeze like Lucas Haas in "Witness".

"Ohh shiii..."

But nobody ever challenged me being in there and later, when I was finally sure I could hear crowd noise out in the concourse hallway, I got up and tried to dart across the hall into the suite...but I'm not really a darter. I got nailed by an usher who wanted to see a ticket I didn't have. I told her I'd forgotten it and would go back and get it. I walked down the concourse a few feet, looked back and saw her step away from her post and doubled back quickly and got inside before she saw me. I was there before my friend, so I had to introduce myself to the other people in there, among them Lightning general manager Jay Feaster's wife Anne, head coach John Tortorella's wife Christene and goalie coach Jeff Reese's dad. No longer stressed about being discovered and getting thrown out (or arrested!) after hanging around a men's room for over four hours, I relaxed and helped myself to free chicken tenders, chips and spinach dip and ice cold beer, all while watching the Lightning skate to a 2-1 victory over Calgary to win the championship. 

1 comment:

Jessie said...

Ohmygod. We didn't know you then, but if we had, we would've had a victory party with you the day after. We were INSANE with excitement. Paul went out and documented celebration parade and submitted them to his newspaper in Czech. Not sure if they ran or not, but he was beside himself giddy. :D