It was not a typical Saturday night. It was a hockey night in Pittsburgh. Cup fever had taken complete control of the city, and a weeklong buzz was finally giving way to an actual hockey game. The excited anxiety I battled during the weeklong break transformed into nostalgia. While attempting to distract myself during the day, I reflected on vague memories of the Pens’ first two Stanley Cup runs. To be perfectly honest, my thoughts were far from the PNC Park.
Around 5:30, I headed down to the Mellon Arena. After waiting in line for about an hour, I piled inside with more than 13,000 of my closest friends. The atmosphere was amazing, considering we were only there to watch a hockey game on the Jumbotron. As the game began, the building was probably as loud as it has ever been for an actual game.
That lasted for just over one period. Detroit took control of the game, and the scoreboard read 4-0 when the final horn sounded. The crowd that had entered the arena full of energy just four hours earlier was somber as it slowly dispersed. My car was relatively quiet as we turned onto Fifth Avenue and slowly made our way home.
After dropping off a friend, I began flipping through the radio. I was surprised to hear Lanny’s voice when I came upon 104.7, and I quickly increased the volume. Trying to orient myself with the game, I found that we were currently in the top of the 14th inning. Realizing that I was approximately 13 minutes from my house, my foot grew a bit heavier on the accelerator. We moved to the bottom of the inning, and Freddy Sanchez reached on an error. I sped along the quiet road, praying there were no cops lurking in the darkness. Sanchez made his way to third base with one out and I was five minutes away. After an intentional walk to Nate McLouth, Jason Bay walked to the plate. I hit a red light, slightly slowing my journey. Bay fell behind 1-2 as I moved within a quarter mile of my house. Michael Wuertz stretched, delivered and Bay drove the ball to left-center. I could tell from the crowd’s reaction that this game was over. Sanchez scored on the single and the Bucs took the 14-inning victory.
My delighted screams into the night were weak and hoarse. My voice had disappeared hours earlier as I yelled encouragement to a giant screen hovering above the Mellon Arena ice. But no matter how much my throat ached, I could not hold back the exuberant shouts. My enthusiasm became a silent smile as I backed into the driveway. For several weeks, the streaking Penguins had served as a beautiful distraction to the heartache of being a Pirate fan. For one night, for one 15-minute drive that seemed to last an hour, the Bucs had returned the favor.