I will be flying to Toronto later this afternoon for a work meeting tomorrow morning with a client. The timing of this is fortuitous: I am a die-hard Boston Bruins fan, and the Bruins are playing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the NHL Playoffs, with Game 4 set for a 7pm puck drop this evening. As someone who suffers from an extreme Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO), I bought myself a single ticket in the balcony and will be attending the game. My plan is to wear my Bruins jersey and I will be honest, I am a little nervous about it.
People often make the stereotype that Canadians are very friendly people. In my experience, that is true until you start getting into hockey. Toronto has a rabid fanbase, a team that has lost to my Bruins in the playoffs twice in the last five years, and overall has not won a Stanley Cup since 1967. Their fans are hungry and passionate, and I am sure that my Black and Gold will stick out like a sore thumb amongst the blue and white. And yes, the capitalization and lack thereof in that last sentence was intentional.
I’ll be honest, I’m a bit bummed that the Bruins are down 2-1 in the series. Kind of gives me the heckling low ground for this evening’s affair. I plan to be a good civilian regardless – in spite of the fact that one Toronto player nearly beheaded a Bruin in Game 2 and is now suspended for the rest of the series – and I am overall quite hopeful that it will be a fun, new experience. I’m actually really looking forward to it, albeit somewhat anxiously.
Anyway, the experience got me thinking about my top 5 most hostile moments as an opposing fan. Here they are listed below:
- High School – Wrestling at Brooks School
This is kind of a cheap pick, but I am rolling with it. I wrestled at Roxbury Latin, and back in my day, we had a rivalry with Brooks. Weigh-ins were held an hour before the match, and the entire Brooks team would surround the area where our team weighed in. They also waited for us at the door as we entered the building. For some reason, the fans were allowed to surround the mat on foot, and the gym was always packed full.
In retrospect, a bunch of teenage kids trying to be scary isn’t really that intimidating. And it didn’t matter much to me because I pinned my guy in like a minute anyway.
- Patriots at Jets (various occurrences)
So this makes the list ahead of several other stadiums – like the Cardinals in Arizona, the Saints in New Orleans (although it’s really loud there, but the fans are too cool), the Titans in Tennessee (they could not care less), and even the Cowboys in Dallas. Although I will admit, I did go to the Patriots/Falcons Super Bowl as well as the Patriots/Eagles Super Bowl and even though those games were played in neutral territory, there was a surprisingly high amount of animosity in both games.
Jets fans are particularly challenging because their lives as sports fans are so miserable rooting for perhaps the worst combination of teams (generally Jets/Mets/Knicks/Islanders), that their entire well-being is predicated not on their own successes or failures, but on the failures of others. I think it’s possible the Jets could win the Super Bowl and be happier that the Patriots didn’t win than the fact that they did win. That’s what makes them a formidable away stadium: their obsession with what they cannot have (success).
- Princeton Wrestling @ The University of Iowa
Gotta get a college wrestling experience on here. Carver-Hawkeye Arena is the most intimidating place to wrestle. Mind you, I went as a fan. Still wasn’t easy. What probably exacerbated the issues was that I was wearing a Tiger helmet. Turns out if you are an Iowa wrestling fan, you don’t really like when the opposing team wears their mascot head and yells for takedowns for two hours. I was only threatened twice in the bathroom and once in the popcorn line, so all in all I would say this was a notch more intense than a Jets game (where half the stadium is Patriots fans anyway) but also a notch below others.
- Red Sox/Yankees (various occurrences)
I’ve been into the belly of the beast many times with my Red Sox jersey, both for regular season and postseason games. This is no small feat. There are very few Yankees fans who see a Red Sox jersey and can resist the urge to say something negative about it. On one such occasion, my college roommate, who is a Chicago Cubs fan, and arguably the nicest person on the entire planet, was thrown out of Yankee Stadium. Why? Because he told fans in our section that it was inappropriate to boo an injured player. Subsequently, the entire section pointed at him, chanting the same profanity at him over and over again…and then my friend was ejected.
Moral of the story? You can be a morally upstanding human being surrounded by banshees and get punished for it. I will say, the most rewarding Yankee Stadium experience for me was last year’s playoffs, because I was absorbing a lot of heat and then the Red Sox ran away with a 16-1 victory. I was the boss that night.
1.Boston Bruins at Philadelphia Flyers, Round 1 Game 4, 2010
Let me start out by acknowledging the cold hard reality that the Bruins were up 3-0 in this playoff series and this loss to the Flyers ended up being the first of four straight that made the Flyers the first team in NHL history to ever overcome a 3-0 playoff deficit. It had only happened like once or twice in sports history. It was probably the most devastating thing I have ever witnessed as a Boston sports fan with the Miracle in Miami being a very, very close second. But there is nothing more depressing than being at a Hooters rural New Jersey (suburbs of Philly) seeing your team blow a 3-0 deficit AND a 3-0 lead within the final game!
None of that matters for this story. In the context of this story, the Bruins are up 3-0, they’re probably going to sweep the Flyers, and if not, it’s 3-1 and who cares. Well, don’t tell that to Flyers fans. I was wearing a Bruins t-shirt and was a mere college student at this game, which I attended with a female friend. This did not stop anyone from hurling insults at me or my friend (who is a Calgary fan!!) for the entirety of the game. After the game, which the Flyers won, I witnessed a man who must have been 6’6” legitimately chasing a young woman who was no more than five feet tall and wearing a Bruins jersey and yelling some of the ugliest obscenities I have ever heard from a human mouth. I hightailed it out of there.
Suffice it to say, I have been very careful about going back to Philadelphia for a game.