An Ill-Fated Trip to Pittsburgh I’ll Never Forget


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.

IMG_20160611_102631.jpgThe 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.

IMG_20160610_190241890.jpgIt 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.

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Frozen Findings

This past weekend marked the third time I’ve attended the best party in hockey—the Frozen Four.

It’s always an incredible, unique event, as fans from all over the country buy tickets months in advance and don’t even care if their team makes it. The best part is just hanging out at the bars talking to fans from different teams.


This year, the championship was in Boston, a city that features four Division I schools, and a couple dozen more within easy driving distance. If you didn’t see what happened, go check out some of the awesome work that my colleagues at College Hockey News did this weekend. Seriously, they did an awesome job, especially Jashvina Shah, who witnessed a Pitt-like collapse by her alma mater and still managed to write some great stories.

I don’t cover the Frozen Four when I attend—it’s my annual standing vacation. I turned off my work e-mail and just enjoyed everything. So below are my thoughts on a few random things.

Boston gets it

I’ve only ever been to one American city more hockey-crazed than Boston—Minneapolis/St. Paul. And that’s technically two cities.

One of the things I loved about the TD Garden was that the seats were Bruins-themed (black and yellow), and the rink is clearly designed for hockey. It’s a Bruins arena in which the Celtics just happen to play. That’s hard to find these days.

Everywhere we went, people knew exactly why we were there. “You in town for the Frozen Four?” our hotel concierge asked. The bartenders all asked the same thing. Even the less-informed people knew there was a “hockey thing” going on. That didn’t happen in Pittsburgh or Philly. Most of the bartenders/cab drivers in Pennsylvania asked us “What’s the Frozen Four?”

It was incredible to witness that kind of passion for college hockey. And I imagine I won’t see it again until St. Paul hosts in three years.

Nobody cared about the gays invading

Thanks to some new, awful legislation in Indiana, being gay at the Final Four turned into a political statement. There were lots of LGBT events there, including a get-together sponsored by You Can Play. That wasn’t present at all in Boston, but it would have been nice to have some LGBT events to go to.

And I actually met a few other gay people in Boston. I met a man and his “partner” (apparently, people still say “partner”) who were in town for the games because one of them went to BU. And I talked to a few other folks on Twitter and even Grindr who were there for the games.

ff6Last year, I wrote about how I had to work to be open about myself when talking to other fans. But this year, it wasn’t even an issue. It might have helped that I was with a gay friend this year, but we talked to lots of people about the Madison Gay Hockey League and about our awesome MGHA Classic team name. And everyone thought it was great.

Everyone just laughed when I talked about how the gorgeous and beardy Matt O’Connor needed a hug from me after what happened on Saturday. And if I could get BU fans to laugh Saturday night, I doubt they were too hung up on the fact that there were gay people there.

It was very refreshing to be able to be completely open and not have to worry.

Still, we really should have an LGBT fan event at a bar or something in future years. I’d be willing to help plan something in Tampa next year.

Fairbanks, you let me down

Once again, I played college hockey bingo. My friend made some sweet bingo cards with a random sampling of all 55 teams that were not competing. (We left out the four semifinalists because we knew we would see their fans).

Before we even got to Boston, I saw plenty of Wisconsin, Minnesota and North Dakota fans on my flight through Detroit. We didn’t start our bingo game until Thursday, though. One of the first jerseys I saw was Robert Morris (Let’s go Bobby Mo!).


By the end of the weekend, I saw every single team on my card except Mercyhurst and Alaska-Fairbanks. I’m not surprised about Mercyhurst, they’re a tiny school in Erie that has never made the Frozen Four.

But come on, Fairbanks…just because you were banned from the postseason doesn’t mean you had to boycott!

Omaha fans deserve an award or something

They won me over in South Bend with their die-hard, almost defiant, support of their Mavericks.

Omaha was on a Penguins-like skid heading into the NCAA Tournament. They had only won 2 games in the previous two months. One college hockey writer penned a regional preview and tweeted it with the headline: “Three of the teams here are playing extremely well, and then there’s Omaha.”

The Mavericks fans didn’t like that very much, and it became their rallying cry. After they earned a berth to the Frozen Four (beating out those three other teams that were playing extremely well), they sold shirts that said “And then there’s Omaha!”

But there was one little problem, Omaha is 1,500 miles from Boston. College students can’t exactly afford last-minute plane tickets. So the university organized three student buses, where $250 got students a round-trip ticket that featured game tickets for both Thursday and Saturday as well as hotel accommodations.

It’s 21 hours from Omaha to Boston.

They came out in full force Thursday night. They had a full student section in the upper level that rivaled BU’s students. Providence didn’t even have a student section, and their fans can reach TD Garden via public transportation.

Unfortunately, Omaha came up short in the semifinals, but the students stuck around for the championship game and enjoyed the weekend.

But then their bus broke down in Ohio and it took more than 30 hours to get home. Kudos to the students for their commitment.

Looking forward

ff5Next year, the Frozen Four heads back down south to Tampa. It may sound weird, but Tampa hosted in 2012, and everyone who went said it was a great time. It’s a small enough city so I’m sure the event will be a big deal. And after the cold, rainy weather in Boston this week, I won’t mind heading to a sunny Florida beach during the Frozen Four.

I know it’s way too early, but it’s always fun to think about the teams that will make the Frozen Four next year. I don’t think we’ll see any of the four teams we saw this year. BU is losing Eichel and some key seniors. Providence had a bunch of seniors and might lose their goalie. Omaha relied way too heavily on its senior goalie, and assuming Zane McIntyre leaves the North Dakota net early, they’ll be in a similar situation.

So here’s my dream Frozen Four:

  • Wisconsin – Of course
  • Robert Morris – Go Pittsburgh
  • RIT – Their fans are crazy
  • Omaha – Their fans are now just as crazy as RIT

But that will never, ever, ever happen. So here’s my actual, way-too-early picks for the 2016 Frozen Four:

  • Harvard – Vesey’s back, they’ve got to be early favorites
  • Michigan – They’ve been slowly building, and they won’t be kept down for long
  • Duluth – They’ve got a good goalie returning and they had a great year
  • Boston College – They make the Frozen Four every other year

Looking ahead even further, the 2017 Frozen Four is in Chicago, and frankly, I think it’s going to suck. The best part about the Frozen Four is hanging out at the bars before the game, and having a nice fan fest near the arena, but the United Center is out in no-man’s land. Yeah, I guess there’s a few bars over there, and if it’s nice, we might be able to tailgate in the parking lots.

But I just can’t imagine Chicago having the festive kind of college hockey atmospheres we saw in the areas around the arenas in Pittsburgh, Philly and Boston. I’m afraid it’s way too big of a city without enough of a college hockey presence.

In stark contrast with Chicago, though, St. Paul will host in 2018, and that will likely be the best one yet. The entire city of St. Paul basically exists to house a hockey rink. It will be magical.

See you in Tampa.

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The time I may have let a sex offender walk free

In January, I got a jury summons in the mail for the week of February 2. But there was one major problem, my two-year long project in North Carolina was finally going live on February 1.

I managed to defer my jury service, and I was able to pick a week that worked for me. I looked at my calendar and March looked pretty open. I decided to pick the week of March 9. Little did I know what I was getting myself into.

Jury Selection

I showed up at the Dane County Courthouse on Monday morning and was herded into a large room full of about 100 people who were not happy to be there. They showed us a hilarious video from the state that was obscenely patriotic—complete with bald eagles and “regular people” explaining how fulfilling jury duty was.

Then, I was ushered up to the sixth floor—along with about 40 other people—to Judge John Markson’s courtroom. I assumed the jury selection process would be quick. It was probably a stupid civil trial with people arguing over money. But when Judge Markson read the charges against the defendant, my heart sank.

“The defendant is charged with two counts of sexually assaulting a child under the age of 13.”

Continue reading

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More thoughts on masculinity

A few months ago, I wrote about the division between masculine and feminine gay men. But when I go back and read it, I think I sound a lot like the girl who doesn’t even go here.

That last post was bullshit. Sure, we all need to be nicer to each other, but there are much deeper issues at hand here.

Yes, I act more masculine than many other gay men…but it’s just that, an act. Am I really that person, or did my childhood steer me in this direction? Away from who I should really be?

This topic has been in the news lately, since openly gay actor Russell Tovey made comments on how his childhood led him to become more masculine and that he’s happy he’s not feminine.

But first of all, I want to disclaim that this post isn’t about Russell Tovey. The following quote from him just got me thinking a lot:

“If I’d have been able to relax, prance around, sing in the street, I might be a different person now.”

That qualifier (“If I’d have been able to relax”) is key. If we didn’t have external forces pushing us to behave a certain way, who would we all be today?

I had a very similar childhood as Tovey in that regard. Growing up in a town where I only knew of one openly gay person in my entire high school, I worked hard to blend in. I trained myself to speak in a masculine manner. In middle school, if I let a feminine inflection slip out, there was always someone there to shout “femme!” at me.

So I quickly learned not to talk that way. A greater man would have spoken in an even more feminine manner to let the assholes know that he didn’t care what they think. But I wasn’t that strong. I let it get to me and made the choice to give in and “act” masculine.

Maybe that’s why I got into sports. And probably why I shied away from theater, because it was assumed to be feminine. Eventually, I got the courage to join the drama club my senior year, mostly because I enjoyed singing. But by then, I had perfected the whole “acting masculine” thing just enough to fly right in the middle of the radar.

So if adolescence truly is the formative years, then my formation was significantly influenced by the external pressures to act masculine. But unlike Russell Tovey, I’m not happy about this, nor am I very proud.

Wade Davis, the director of the You Can Play project, wrote an incredible op ed about this issue. In it, he talks about how we have to try to “unlearn” this behavior and just be who we truly were meant to be. It’s a really good article, but there’s one problem…

I have no idea who I’m supposed to be. I spent a good 10 years trying to change myself to be what I thought I should be—what others thought I should be. That turned me into a so-called “masculine” gay man, which is stupidly valued in the gay community. I’m not going to lie, I may have used that to my advantage once or twice in my dating life. But is this really who I am?

Once you get past the false constructs of masculinity and femininity, we’re left with this seemingly impossible question. It’s easy to identify the issue, but I constantly struggle with resolving it.

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On a recent Saturday afternoon, I drank beer at a tailgate and cheered by butt off at the Wisconsin-Iowa football game.

That night, I danced my butt off to Taylor Swift at a gay club.

That’s who I am. And there’s nothing wrong with either of those things.

Recently, an Army basketball player who has two dads explained that his dads are great because they aren’t flamboyant or wear pink. Sure, he is straight and we can’t expect him to fully understand. But when I was in the closet, I also looked down upon those so-called “flamboyant” gay men. I wasn’t attracted to them, and I thought they were cartoonish.

That was wrong, and my hurtful stance stemmed from a few different places. Part of me was jealous that they were out of the closet and I wasn’t. Part of it comes from the fact that society stereotypes people like that as “less than” a more masculine man.

But all of that is complete bullshit.

Too many gay men—especially those in the sports community—pride themselves on their masculinity. They brag about their ability to blend in and not be suspected of being gay. You see it on dating sites (“No fems”) and even in some coming out stories on Outsports. Being proud of who you are is fine, but implying that others are somehow lesser because they aren’t like you cuts at the very heart of who we are as the LGBT community.

Also, if you’ve spent most of your life trying to hide in the closet, how do you even really know yourself?

Before I came out, I was terrified of turning into that stereotype. So when I finally came out, I started playing hockey to prove that I was just like straight people. But that was off-base as well. Thankfully, I chose to play with the Madison Gay Hockey Association—and they taught me to be better than that.

I’ve been out of the closet for 18 months. I’ve had my first real relationship with a man (along with my first breakup), I’ve made some great gay friends and some great straight friends. I’m finally starting to get a full picture of who I really am. And when I look back at everything I’ve done since I came out, the closeted Tony who looked down upon “flamboyant” men would not like me very much.

I’ve had so-called “masculine” men dismiss me because I like Lady Gaga and I own some pink shirts. And some so-called “flamboyant” men dismiss me because I’ve gone to six sporting events in the past month.

But the fact that any gay man looks down upon another man for who they are is unacceptable. All gay men have felt prejudice and hatred from homophobes—why should we have to deal with it in our own community?

I’m not asking for “masculine” men to go out and date the “feminine” men. You don’t have to be attracted to every type of man, but to dismiss them as friends before you even get to know someone based on their appearance is a dangerous thing to do.

I’m fully aware of the hypocrisy here—that I’m telling people what to do while at the same time telling them not to tell people what to do, but sometimes things like this require a little hypocrisy.

If you act more masculine than other gay men, that’s fine. But we also need to be careful about how we express that. We don’t want to belittle others in our community, nor do we want to change ourselves to try to fit in with the heteronormative culture of sports.

Today, I wore a bright pink shirt to work. Yesterday, I wore my Pittsburgh Penguins shirt.

That doesn’t make me any better or any worse than any of you. The one thing we all have in common is that we’re all different—so let’s stop trying to hide those differences.

And if that makes other people angry, then that’s their problem.

Actually no—it’s not their problem, it’s their loss.

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Pennsylvania needs a college hoops tournament

College basketball is back, and with it comes early-season tournaments. The Maui Invitational is perhaps the best-known tournament, and Pitt will actually compete in it this year.

But now we have several tournaments in New York, one in the Bahamas, Puerto Rico, Orlando, etc. It’s all part of the non-conference schedules for most teams and these tournaments typically try to get one team from a few of the major conferences.

For example, Maui features a team from the ACC, Big Ten, Pac-12, SEC, Big 12 and Mountain West. They try to feature the best teams in the country, but there are so many tournaments now that they are starting to get a little watered down. And they are all very national—with teams from all over the country.

Which is why I’m proposing that we start to make them a little more regional—and Pennsylvania is a great place to start this movement.

Think about it: The Pennsylvania Tip-Off Classic (it’s a working title).

Thanks to conference realignment, the eight biggest hoops schools in the state are all in different conferences—so we wouldn’t have to worry about teams from the same conference playing each other.

• Pitt – ACC
• Villanova – Big east
• Temple – American
• Penn State – Big Ten
• Duquesne – Atlantic-10
• Robert Morris – Northeast Conference
• Penn – Ivy League
• Bucknell – Patriot League

Sure, only a handful of those teams are good during any given year, but they all have some great history. Those eight schools have combined for 34 NCAA Tournament appearances in the last 10 years. (The only team that hasn’t gone dancing in that time is Duquesne)

And there are several great arenas that could host games throughout the state. Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh and the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia have both hosted the NCAA Tournament. The Bryce Jordan Center in State College is a nice, central location. And you even have some smaller venues—like the minor league hockey arenas in Hershey, Wilkes-Barre and Reading.

So below are a few options for how the tournament could work.

Eight team tournament, three games in three days.
This is how the Maui Invitational works. Each team plays three games in three days. The winners for the first four games play each other on the second day, while the losers play each other as well. Then, on the third day, you have the 1st, 3rd, 5th and 7th place games.

This is a great way to test a team’s stamina early in the season, especially when the end of the season often critically relies on a similar marathon in teams’ conference tournaments.

You could even guarantee a rivalry game to start the tournament, like having the City Game cap off opening day to guarantee that those storied games takes place.

Here’s a sample bracket:

Image and video hosting by TinyPic

East vs. West
Pennsylvania is basically two different states anyway (Team Sheetz for life!), so this could really play into that. In this scenario, the tournament would span two weekends. The four eastern teams (Penn State would be in the west for math purposes), and the four western teams would play each other one weekend. Then, have the championship game the following weekend.

Again, we could keep the City Game and you’d guarantee at least one Philly rivalry game.

Here’s what this would look like:
Image and video hosting by TinyPic

The Dates

You still want schools to have the opportunity to play in some other tournaments, and Pitt and Penn State always have a tough game the first week of December for the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, which is why in my examples above, I used the first weekend in December as the dates. This is usually when the City Game is played.

And we all know that Pitt and Penn State will not be playing football games on Championship Saturday.

But the following weekend is also a possibility. Finals are usually over by then, so we might even get some good student sections.

The Name
I’ve said “Pennsylvania Tip-Off Classic” is a working title. That’s because it’s also a terrible title. I’m open to suggestions. Let me know in the comments. Here are some of my ideas:

– The Quaker Shake (presented by Quaker Steak and Lube)
– The Keystone Classic
– The Pennsylvania Playoffs
– Second State Slam
– The Commonwealth Games (there would be some trademark issues there)

Hopefully, someone that actually has some influence will like this idea. So make it happen, ADs.

Also, if it does happen, I hope I get some royalties.

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Just because you don’t care, doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal

(This is an open letter to the homophobic people in my life and in my family. I realize you probably don’t want or mean to be homophobic, so please read this to try to educate yourself. I would love to discuss it further with anyone, provided you bring an open mind)

I still believe that many straight people don’t consider themselves homophobic, and they don’t actively try to be assholes. However, many of these same straight people are the ones up in arms over ESPN’s coverage of Michael Sam being drafted to the St. Louis Rams. Just look at some of these terrible reactions.

Granted, that’s Twitter and people do actively try to be assholes on Twitter. But I also heard several conversations about it from people close to me, including my family. One person wondered why ESPN needed to “push the envelope” and “push an agenda.”

Then they always add, “just play football and who cares” – as if that excuses their homophobia.

But here’s the thing. ESPN’s coverage wasn’t for you. You don’t have to care. Just because you don’t think it’s a big deal doesn’t mean that it isn’t a big deal to someone else.

This moment wasn’t for straight people. This moment was for the young football player currently struggling with his sexuality, wondering if he will have to quit playing because he’s gay. Michael Sam is helping prove to these young kids that they don’t have to choose. They can be happy with a boyfriend and still get drafted to the NFL.

And ESPN proved that we don’t have to hide it anymore. The worst part of living in the closet is hiding who you truly are. And even people who are openly gay still have to face the pressure to hide their relationship, because straight people might be squeamish about it. But it’s about damn time we stop hiding it.

We are here, and we exist. If you can walk down the street holding hands with your girlfriend. I’m going to walk down the street and hold hands with my boyfriend. If a straight football player can kiss his girlfriend in celebration, then a gay football player can kiss his boyfriend.

Keeping it out of sight and away from you straight people who seem to think it’s so disgusting is only perpetuating the dangerous believe that our lives and relationships need to remain hidden and swept under the rug.

But no more.

THAT’S why what ESPN aired is important. Airing Sam’s reaction to his selection wasn’t for you straight people. It was for young gay athletes struggling with their identities. It was a huge deal to gay people around the world. Just because you don’t care, doesn’t mean that it’s not important to a small section of your world.

Even though that group of people may make up a very small minority, it’s extremely important for us.  So was it really so bad that you had to watch his reaction a few times on ESPN? It does not affect 90% of the population, but 10% of the population was absolutely elated. Isn’t that worth airing?

You don’t have to care about it, but if this makes you uncomfortable, it’s time to re-evaluate your double-standards.

If this makes you uncomfortable, you might be homophobic.

Equality means treating gay people the same way you treat straight people. If networks air images of players kissing their wives/girlfriends, then equality means that they can show the first openly gay player to ever be drafted to the NFL kissing his boyfriend.

If you don’t understand that, then yes, you are homophobic. I understand that you may not consider yourself to be homophobic and you probably don’t want to be. So in that case, I’d be happy to discuss this further with anyone who wants to chat and hold a productive discussion. Education is key here.

All we really want is to have a productive discussion in hopes that you might actually treat us like you treat everyone else. But if you think that is “pushing an agenda,” then I have no room for you in my life.

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