I walked out the door of my hotel, headed toward Market Square—and that’s when I felt it.
It was 3 PM and there’s was a buzz in the air—and energy of excitement and joy that I’ve never experienced before. Everyone was wearing black and gold. If they weren’t wearing an over-sized jersey, they at least had a Penguins t-shirt or a Pens ball cap.
Whenever you walked past someone else in Penguins gear—which was approximately every 3 seconds—you smiled at them. Everyone knew what could happen that night.
It didn’t actually happen, but Thursday June 9, 2016 is a date that nobody in that city will ever forget.
I took a stroll through the Arts Fest at Point State Park and walked down to the fountain at the Point. While I was standing at the spot where two rivers merged to form a third, little did I realize just how many people were merging into the relatively small downtown of Pittsburgh.
I made my way back toward Market Square and waited in a short line to get a single seat at the bar at Primanti Brothers. The guy next to me asked where I was from. I told him I came in from Wisconsin.
Turns out him and his wife were also from Madison. They shelled out $1,000 each for two tickets for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Finals. I was impressed. I only paid $325
As my fellow Madisonian was buying me a shot of Fireball, I looked up at the TV—and it hit me again.
The local news was showing helicopter footage of Consol Energy Center. There were already more than 20,000 fans seated outside the arena to watch the game on the big screen. It was 4:30 PM. The game started at 8.
I looked outside and saw some official-looking people scrambling through Market Square and making lots of phone calls. Turns out they were quickly organizing a second big screen, because the police had to turn people away from the one outside the arena.
It was a special day, and everyone in this city knew it. And everyone wanted to be together if it happened.
Everyone who was anyone wanted in on the action. Steelers players, Pirates legends and past Penguins all made their way to the rink. The players’ friends and families were all in the stands, as well. After an impressive laser light show, Jeff Jimerson belted out the national anthem. I sang along as loud as if I were actually the one performing it. All 18,680 people in attendance did the same.
It all proved to be too much of a distraction for the Pens though, as they came out flat and the Sharks jumped to an early 2-0 lead. The Penguins quickly struck back to tie things up, though—and it was the loudest crowd I’ve ever experienced in my life.
I lost my voice after the second goal and almost fell on the person in front of me. I had to shove him to keep myself from falling. His reaction? A high-five. This was all before the first commercial break.
The Sharks took the lead again at the end of the first, and despite controlling most of the rest of the game, the Penguins could never find that third goal to tie it up.
We waited, held our breaths. I clutched my rally towel so tight that it now has permanent wrinkles.
But it just never happened. We wouldn’t see Lord Stanley that night. The Detroit Red Wings remain the only team to ever hoist the Stanley Cup in Pittsburgh.
Everyone wanted it a little too bad, I feel. Many times out of the past few years, I’ve watched the Stanley Cup champion clinch it on home ice, and I’ve been so jealous. I wanted it bad. And I wanted to be a part of it.
It just wasn’t meant to be.
But I’ll never forget that atmosphere. The way you could just feel it in the air on that beautiful summer day in Pittsburgh, all over the city.
It was a special day, regardless.
I followed up my memorable Thursday with a visit to the most beautiful ballpark in the world to see my Pirates take on the Cardinals. In a tie game, the Pirates had the bases loaded with one out in the 9th inning.
All they needed was a fly ball to the outfield to win the game.
They lost by 6 runs in 12 innings.
The thing I’ll remember most about that game? The horrible Cardinals fans who sat behind me:
They were classic #BestFansInBaseball.
I get angry at Cardinals fans because they don’t realize how spoiled they’ve been with their World Series wins. But we’re pretty spoiled in Pittsburgh, too. I’ve already gone to two Stanley Cup Finals games, so I shouldn’t be too upset that I didn’t get to see the clinching win.
I guess my sports trip to Pittsburgh was just ill-fated from the start. I’ll go back to watching the games at home, where I can take my lucky pre-game Jameson shot with my stepdad before Game 6.