Big Lead Sports Bar

5/26/2009

THE CAROLINA EXPERIENCE

After a few days away from blogging, I'm kicking off Tuesday with...a post written by someone else. Rather than listening to a half-hearted recap of Freddy Sanchez's six-hit performance against the Cubs yesterday, I thought you'd prefer to hear a first-hand account of the atmosphere at Game Three this past weekend. It's written by A.J., who has done a number of great pieces for the site over the years, most notably "The Official Playlist of the NHL Playoffs" last season. So sit back, enjoy, and get mentally prepared for a potential broom game tonight.

Howdy, Mondesi Housers. It has been awhile since I’ve chipped in with any of the writing around here. There have been a few changes since the last time I posted. One of those things being that I am no longer A.J. of 105.9 the X. Instead, I’m just A.J. - recent victim of radio station budget cuts. Fortunately for me, I have another job and not all is lost. One of the benefits of no longer working Saturdays & Sundays and playing the same Pearl Jam song for the 1,137th time in my life is that now my weekends are open to do other things such as travel.

Last week after I failed to acquire tickets for any of the home games for the Eastern Conference Championship, I decided to log onto Ticketmaster and attempt to find some tickets in enemy territory. Low and behold, I was able to secure a pair of seats about 7 rows back from the ice several hours after they had gone on sale. I thought that they would surely have been sold out by the time I logged on, but there were plenty of seats available. I guess that kind of debunks the propaganda that the Hurricanes PR Department was spreading shortly after tickets went on sale.

I’ve made the trip from Pittsburgh to Raleigh, N.C. several times before and it’s a rather easy and scenic 7 ½ to 8 hour drive. This however would be my first voyage to the RBC Center and I was looking forward to taking in a game at the proclaimed “Loudest Arena in the League”.

The trip south was pretty uneventful. We did see a few Pens fans on the highway, so we knew we wouldn’t be alone once we arrived. I checked into my hotel which was conveniently located right across the street from the RBC Center and decided to grab a bite at a sports bar next to the hotel. As I walked in the door, I felt like I was entering bar on Carson Street not Hurricane Way. Had the guy at the door not greeted us with a “Hi Y’all”, I would have thought I walked into some kind of worm hole back to Pittsburgh. The place was filled with people wearing Pens gear, all grabbing dinner before heading to the arena. The atmosphere was quite festive and every time a new group of Pens fans walked through the door, a quick “Let’s Go Pens!” chant would break out. There was some playful trash talk between the Canes fans in the place, and a woman wearing a powder blue Crosby t-shirt roamed from table to table taking photos.

After dinner, we made the short walk across the street to the RBC Center. I had read previously on The Pens Blog that several of the readers planned on staging a tailgate party somewhere in the arena parking lot. We decided to grab a six pack and go looking for some Pens fans. Safety in numbers, right?

I’ve got to give credit to the RBC Center, the layout is really fantastic. Plenty of parking (that only costs $10 a spot!), easy access to the highway, and nice green areas in the parking lot make for a great tailgate experience for the Hurricane faithful.



Shot of the Caniacs in their natural habitat. It looks a lot like the parking lot of a NASCAR race.

Again, we took some good natured ribbing from the Canes fans as we walked through the sea of red, and even dished a little back. Example: When one them overheard me ask a friend “Where do you think the Pens fans are?”, a man wearing a Cole jersey shouted back “They didn’t even bother to show up!”. To which I replied, “Kinda like your team in the 3rd period the other night?”

So anyway, I was told to look for a Pens flag. Wait… what’s that… I think… Yep. There it is.


We spotted the flag and made our way down “Penguin Fan Alley”. You could hear the buzz of the crowd as we got closer. Pantera blared from a car’s speakers as fans swilled IC Light and tossed beer pong balls. The entire row was nothing but Pens fans as far as the eye could see. As the group spotted us approaching in our black and gold gear, another chorus of “Let’s Go Pens!” broke out as they welcomed us into the fold.



Pens fans turn the RBC Center into Mellon Arena South.

Finally, I left the parking lot for the arena as game timed neared. A few shots as players warmed up…


The view from my seat as Cam Ward prepares to give up six goals.


A Ronnie Francis Whalers jersey. My guess is that this guy was probably a transplant from Hartford, as later in the evening I had to explain to one of the locals that her team was originally The Whalers.


Speaking of transplants, we met a bunch of people in North Carolina that were originally from the Burgh. Such as these nice folks, who were originally from Mt. Lebo but now reside in nearby Greensboro. I was stunned by the number of Pens fans in the house. The section I sat in was particularly Pittsburgh flavored.


The National Anthem. I don’t know who sang, but they were no Jeff Jimmerson.


The scoreboard at the RBC Center. One of the reasons the building is so loud, is that you are under a constant assault of audio and video to either fire up the crowd or sell a sponsor’s product.

The Hurricanes love to feature local “celebrities” cheering on the home team. We heard all about Benedict Bill Cowher, but Marco Battaglia sounded the Hurricane Siren before Game 3. Yes, the same Marco Battaglia who played tight end in the NFL and was never particularly good at it. Apparently, he played for both the Steelers and the Panthers during his career. I guess the Canes just really wanted to rub it in our face that yet another former Steeler now sides with them. I suppose that would have really hurt… you know, had I remembered that Marco Battaglia ever played for the Steelers without first having to Google him.

Before the drop of the puck, the place was really amped. Pens fans and Canes fans fought to out-shout each other and there was a great energy in the building. When the Canes struck first, the place erupted. Half way through the first period, I made the stunning realization that I had not yet used my seat. The entire crowd (at least in the lower section) had remained standing for the first ten minutes of hockey. Just unreal.

In between periods, the arena played a video clip filled with various “celebrities” singing along to a Canes Fight Song (of course Benedict Bill was one of them). The tune sounded vaguely familiar to me…


Yep… knew I had heard this song somewhere before.

Wow! There hasn’t been that big of a rip-off in the music world since Milli Vanilli. Now, the Pens’ version of the song was performed by Roger Wood (same guy who brought us the infamous Steelers “Here We Go” song). The question is, did the Canes just blatantly rip him off or is the Here We Go guy also a Canes defector? Scandalous. What other ideas could the Canes possibly steal from the Pens?

Sid winning a defensive zone face off in the second period. All of the goals that the Pens scored happened at this end of the ice. I totally lucked out with the seats.

Of course by this point, we all know how the game turned out. Pens fans had a lot to cheer about and they made themselves heard. When the visiting team’s crowd can mock the home team’s goalie during a playoff game, it is epic.

Obviously, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip to Raleigh. The atmosphere at RBC is fantastic and the Canes fans that I met were all very friendly. I seriously doubt that many Philly fans would have bought me a beer after a 6-2 trouncing, but back at the sports bar after the game, that is exactly what happened. Then again, the Hurricanes fans were just a little outnumbered.


By the way, still plenty of seats available for Game 4.

UPDATE:

From Steve in Raleigh:

"Transplanted Pittsburgher trapped in Raleigh here. The Battaglia that ran the Hurricane warning siren Saturday night was not Marco, but Bates Battaglia. He used to be one of the Canes' most popular players in the early part of this decade, and most recently was with Toronto. He lives in Raleigh still and even owns a local bar."

A.J. said that two of his friends confirmed that it was Marco Battaglia, which he then added means that three of them got it wrong.

More A.J.:

PITTSBURGH VS. MILWAUKEE – A REBUTTAL

LEAVE MARIO ALONE!

PITTSBURGH'S ONE-HIT WONDERS

THE PITTSBURGH PIRATES ARE MY EX-GIRLFRIENDS

THE OFFICIAL PLAYLIST OF THE NHL PLAYOFFS

THE GOAL SONG: When Hockey Becomes a Rock Concert

The Ballad of Cotton Eyed Joe

The Greatest Defunct Places to Suffer Hearing Loss in Pittsburgh

Email: Mondesishouse@gmail.com Twitter: twitter.com/mondesishouse Facebook: Facebook Group

5 comments:

Billkamm said...

Roger Wood wrote the Canes song for them. Blame him for us having the same song as them.

http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?p=14296675

lauren_hbg said...

GREAT story - I love in-person recaps... Sounds like you had a great time!

BurressWithButterflyWings said...

Nice recap AJ. Sounds like there are some pretty sweet fans down there. I heard that some Pens fans were out of control according to a Canes blogger and if their account is true I am embarassed by those people associating with our fan base.

Otherwise, hopefully tonight we take the last step towards a very long awaited rematch and perhaps some even more deserved revenge.

LETS GO PENS!

godohoky said...

I was there too and everything AJ said was dead on.

Actually from my section I only noticed one pens fan get out of hand. He was running from section to section taunting canes fans. By the time the empty netter went in. A caniac got out of his seat and knocked a beer out of his hand and a punched him in the back of the head. Then promptly ducked and ran off. After the drunk yinzer realized what had happened, the ushers already had the exit blocked and wouldn't let him go after him. I'm glad a canes fan did it. Because I was on the verge of doing it myself. Pens fan or not you don't go into another city and act the way that guy was. Unless your from philly.

murfgrande said...

yeah...canes fans are so bandwagon...almost like another franchise that almost moved because no one showed up for 6 straight years