By Blake Schnitker
Fair warning: this is another one of my meaningless, sarcasm-filled stories about another one of my own experiences involving sports. It’s intended to entertain, maybe even provide some humor. But for the really good stuff, the truly top shelf writing, please turn to page 3 where you’ll find Ken Bradbury’s article. While I accept the fact of having the better head of hair between the two of us, I’d trade in my comb over in exchange for KB’s literary prowess any day of the week – I mean really, there’s a reason page 3 is his page. Anyway, now that I’ve reciprocated Mr. Bradbury’s kind words, here’s a story about how an entire arena full of people came to despise me on my 24th birthday … sounds like one heck of a way to celebrate right?
The middle of April is the time of year when baseball, basketball and hockey all come together – the MLB season is just starting while the NBA and NHL have entered postseason play. The middle of April also means that it’s birthday time for yours truly. And at this time last year, I decided to spend my birthday in a strange and rare way: by conducting my own (impromptu and very uncalled for) social experiment during a full day in St. Louis – a day in which, looking back, was both the scariest and fun-filled birthday I’ve had in recent memory. What I did that day was stupid and obnoxious – it really was – yet all things considered, I think I would do it all over again … okay maybe not.
If you’re looking for a way to hone your trash talking/crisis-prevention skills, just do what I did on my 24th birthday: attend a playoff hockey game between in St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild … in St. Louis … while wearing a Chicago Blackhawks jersey. Reminder: the Blackhawks were not one of the two teams playing on that particular night so yeah … I was that guy.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Blues or the Blackhawks, or the NHL in general, what happened here was that one incredulous redhead (myself) willingly chose to enter a massive sporting arena filled to maximum capacity (just shy of 20,000 people) wearing a jersey that essentially read, “Please shout obscenities in my general direction. I deserve it,” in huge black and red letters.
Sounds crazy right? It was, but let me explain: as a Cubs fan, I’m used to having the majority of St. Louis and surrounding Metro area despise me. Cardinals fans have gone out of their way to insult me roughly 4 million times in my 25 years of life, so much so that I’ve actually built up an immunity for it. Come to think of it, I’d probably be more uncomfortable if St. Louis fans weren’t constantly shouting their disapproval of me. In a weird way, this sort of behavior from opposing fans is welcomed because well … I guess I am (definitely) a little crazy.
Hopefully by now it’s become obvious that what was said to me that night was 100 percent deserved. I quite blatantly asked for it in fact. But the good news is I made it out alive, and if you’re ever in a situation such as this, let me take you through my short, yet effective survival guideline. Step 1: meet every verbal attack with a polite smile and friendly wave – doing this confuses the hate-filled name-callers … it will freeze them on the spot. Not expecting to be met by a friendly gesture in the face of their expletive-ridden tirade, they walk away shamelessly, realizing that the joke is actually on them. The key here is to acknowledge your own stupidity. Retaliation only makes things worse. Step 2: carefully, and I mean care-full-y, choose short windows of time that allow for light-hearted humor – jokes must be harmless towards the home fans’ vulnerable psyche … tread lightly and don’t overstep your boundaries. Step 3: pray for divine intervention. In this case, my guardian angel arrived in the form of a highly intoxicate Detroit Red Wings fan – the one thing in the universe capable of uniting the fans of Chicago and St. Louis, even if only for a brief moment. Back to the story.
Allow me to recreate that day, skipping to the part where we first arrive at the arena. As my friend and I walk to our seats, I can feel our section collectively trying to burn holes through my Blackhawks jersey with their flame-throwing pupils. We find our seats. Immediately the group sitting one row behind us let’s their opinions of me be known. But I try to remain friendly and positive. I tell them that yes, I know how stupid and obnoxious it is of me to be wearing this jersey in this arena on this particular night, but that I was not there to actively root against their beloved team. This exchange went over fairly well – much better than I had expected – and soon we were engaging in genial conversation with all of those around us. This was my first real test, and if I had to grade it, I’d give myself a B-minus … not great but not disastrous.
Now for test number two. Unquestionably, the last place I wanted to be in this particular situation was inside the men’s restroom during an intermission, where I would surely be surrounded by increasingly belligerent St. Louis fans. So, logically, that’s exactly where I went as the first period came to a close. Lines to the men’s rooms at professional sporting events – especially during a 20-minute intermission of an NHL game – are typically comprised of thick-bearded, physically unpleasant men now fully regretting that fourth beer they finished just before the last period ended. But the worst part of this entire ordeal occurred as I was standing in the back of the line. With half the arena needing to “go” at the same time, the line to the restroom had extended beyond the entrance and into the concourse area; I was a sitting duck – out in the open, exposed and vulnerable … an easy target
Wearing the jersey of a rival team in the concourse area is like covering yourself in reverse camouflage. Now stranded from my friend with nowhere to hide, I was stuck in the midst of a cramped hallway – the sports fan’s equivalent to no man’s land – where hundreds of fans constantly pass by in either direction, just long enough to lob four-letter words beginning with the letter immediately following “e” towards me before disappearing back into a sea of blue jerseys. Test two: D-plus.
Once I finally enter the restroom – my third and final test – I breathe a short sigh of relief. This lasts mere seconds before I’ve been spotted again. My only option is to keep my head down and hope that a stall or urinal quickly becomes available. Still, I’m being bombarded from every direction with phrases that I can’t repeat here … that is until the skies of heaven opened up, sending my guardian angel (we’ll call him Mr. Detroit) to bail me out in one of the most unforeseen turn of events in the history of public restroom hostility. Suddenly, I hear a voice coming from my right. I turn to find my angel, a young man in his mid-to-late 20s with tattoo-covered forearms and a severe misunderstanding of bathroom etiquette, sporting the ugliest Detroit Tigers hat the world has ever seen. Then it happens, my guardian angel begins yelling back at the Blues fans in my defense. The PG-rated version of what he said went something like, “hey man, forget them, Red Wings all the way! Blues stink!” In reality, he was demonstrably shouting strings of R-rated profanities in an increasingly hostile manner. I was in the clear. Thank you, Detroit, I am forever indebted to your motor mouth fan base.
Why Mr. Detroit decided to come to my defense, I’ll never know, but as a result of doing so, he had now replaced me as the most hated person in this cramped, urine-scented horror chamber. Sensing this growing derision, I immediately make it known that I am absolutely not with Mr. Detroit, that he is in no way an acquaintance of mine and that in no way did I request his assistance. The difference between Mr. Detroit and I was in our respective defense mechanisms – mine being to bob and weave each insulting blow thrown at me, while he on the other hand choseto fight back, knowing (or maybe he didn’t know) that his supporters were few and far between. I mean, even the guy whose live he had saved (me) had turned against him. I was now became the second most hated person in the room. Mr. Detroit took the initial bullet for me, but no way was I going to further antagonize the situation by siding with him. Now you might be thinking, “What the heck? A stranger comes to your rescue and you instantly turn on him?” Yes, I absolutely did do that and no, I don’t feel any remorse for having done so. I know divine intervention when I see it, but that doesn’t mean I’m obligated to reciprocate. Test three: A-minus.
So what are we to take from this story? What lessons did I learn from my own adolescent social experiment? Number one, people take loyalty very seriously when it comes to their favorite sports teams. I’d be the first to admit that, in the grand scheme of things, my own obsession with my favorite teams, and with sports in general, is entirely irrational. But fandom isn’t meant to be rational. Most importantly though, what I learned from this experience can be summed up in the old saying: stick and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me … as long as there’s an obnoxious Red Wings fan nearby.
Back to the present; now that the 2016 series is over, I’d like to congratulate the Blues for coming out on top. It was a bloodbath of a series that took all 7 games to decide, and as a realist, the Blues were the better team this time around – they deserved to win. And although my heart is with the Blackhawks, I’m sincerely pulling for St. Louis as the playoffs continue. And unlike my experience a year ago, I’ve witnessed nothing but mutual respect from both fan bases. St. Louis, I tip my cap to thee.