Saturday, January 30, 2010

College Hockey Cures the Winter Blues

Don't get me wrong. I love TCU. I'm a permanent (albeit reformed) Horned Frog fan and a lover of Horned Frog football in particular. I have no regrets about where I chose to go to school.

But nothing's perfect, and that notion applies to TCU just as much as it does to anyplace else. Even when the football team was bad--really lousy--I loved TCU football game days. There was always a buzz on campus, even if it did largely emanate from opposing fans on many occasions. (Things have certainly changed since then...for the better. Much better.)

In my last two years at TCU, when the team was occasionally half-decent, the buzz was much more palpable and sometimes even downright exciting. OK, so ESPN never sent the College Game Day crew to cover a TCU team struggling to become bowl-eligible or just trying to avoid a losing record. (Then again, I'm not sure that College Game Day existed in the mid-'90s. If it did, I rarely woke up on Saturday mornings in time to see it.) Still, TCU game days were almost always a lot of fun.

But the end of football season--even a 2-8-1 season like the one we had in 1992--was always a letdown. The weather cooled (or so I thought--the temperature outside is in the single digits as I type now), and the campus kind of sank into a wintertime funk--and not the good kind of funk. The kind of dull, repetitive funk that involved a sport that mostly depresses me: college basketball.

OK, I like the Celtics. But other than that, basketball doesn't do much for me as a sport. And college basketball in particular is a real downer. For me, it has always epitomized the beginning of the long football off-season and the toughest part of the slog through a winter of discontent (is there any other kind?). I went to a few TCU basketball games in my time in school...but not many. It just...well, it just wasn't football.

Sure, I might have liked basketball better if I'd gone to Duke or some other basketball school with insufferable fans, but I didn't. And I'm a Texan, so I'm all about football. Well, almost. I also like baseball well enough and really love soccer, rugby...and hockey. Especially hockey. I think that hockey would be my favorite sport now if I'd grown up in some cold-weather city with a real hockey culture and had learned to skate when I was two. But I didn't...and I digress.

College hockey at BC has filled my craving for winter sports, especially live winter sports. (In fact, it helps me get through winter, period.) It's a lot like college basketball, I suppose--it's (usually) an indoor sport, and it doesn't really crank up in a serious way until after football season ends. But, for some reason, college hockey games are just a lot more fun than college basketball games. Hockey is a far superior sport in comparison to basketball, to be sure, but college hockey in particular is wonderfully hype-free and simple.

When I see college basketball highlights (I don't watch the games live), I look at all the copycat hipster-kid fans from all over the country and get the feeling that they're at the games because they feel as though they're supposed to be. Some of them probably love basketball (my brother-in-law, the Kansas alumnus, really does), but most of them seem more interested in looking like dorks and trying to attract the ESPN2 cameras than they are in watching the game.

I don't get that feeling at college hockey games at all. The fans at BC games--the students in particular--at least seem to be there because they really love hockey. They can get loud and create a great atmosphere, but they're also really into the game. They get it, and they love it. And they're only minimally obnoxious, which is really nice for me now that I'm in my mid-30s and don't have the patience for group silliness that I once had.

College hockey is almost never broadcast on national TV, so it doesn't suffer from over-hyping by ESPN or some legion of loud-keyboard bloggers. It's a regional sport--mainly in the Northeast and Midwest, although it stretches out to Alaska and down as far as Alabama--and it's kind of an intimate sport, if that makes sense. Tonight, the weather outside was bitter cold--probably about 10 degrees (and windy!) at game time. But inside the arena, there was a certain genuine warmth that I don't feel at plastic, overproduced college basketball games.

There was passion for BC, sure (although not much for poor Providence, which mostly failed to show up on both the ice and in the seats), but there was also passion for the game itself. And it was real passion, not some false emotion stoked by TV talking heads and half-tanked frat boys with painted faces. There's no way I could ever quantify this, but my guess is that the typical college hockey student crowd has a higher average GPA than the typical college basketball student throng has. (There must be, of course, individual exceptions, such as my very smart brother-in-law, who almost assuredly had a stellar GPA at KU and probably went to a lot of basketball games.)

Hockey may be a rough, sometimes brutal sport, but, at least at the college level and among college students, it seems to draw the thinking fan who wants to both have fun and really appreciate the game itself at the same time. And they do that. And so do the rest of us. I have said for years--barely even jokingly--that TCU should just scrap basketball altogether (not many people would miss it...), flood Daniel-Meyer Coliseum, freeze the water and "field" men's and women's hockey teams.

I didn't have that when I was in college (and TCU will likely never have hockey, of course)--but if I had, I would have spent a lot more winter nights over in Daniel-Meyer. I have college hockey now, though, and I'm glad I do. College hockey is a fantastic cure for the post-football winter blues. It's always a great night out with friends--usually with my good friend, Steven, who has become a real hockey fan over the last couple of years; and with my work buddy, Scott, and his family. That was the group tonight. Good times.

Oh, and it doesn't hurt that BC's usually pretty good. The Eagles won tonight, 5-2. (It was 5-1 after the first period...) As always, my unedited, untouched photo set is online for your examination and comments. A few samples follow. Go Eagles!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Kids Just Love the Celtics

A friend and I made the Celtics game tonight--tickets for games against the Clippers aren't exactly tough to find--and I would say based on simple observation that the Celtics franchise is setting itself up well for the the court, at least.

On the court, I have no idea. I like the Celtics, but I don't watch much basketball other than Celtics games. (OK, the only basketball I watch is Celtics games.) I do know that with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce--my favorite Celtic and maybe my favorite Boston athlete of all time--all aging, the Celts need to win another title soon if they want to hang an 18th banner in the new Garden.

But what they have going for them off the court could be very powerful for years to come. From what I could tell tonight, the average age among Celtics fans is about 19. I don't think I'm exaggerating here. Sure, there were plenty of typical, 30- and 40-something male sports fans there tonight. But there were also loads of teenage and 20-something fans, and absolutely scads of kids.

Now, granted, the two games I've seen this season have been against weak opponents (Golden State and the Clips), meaning more tickets than usual were probably available for school groups, church organizations and the like. Still, most of the teens and kids I saw tonight seemed to be with their parents--and the parents hadn't dragged them to the game. If anything, it was the other way around.

The Bruins get plenty of kids at their games, too, but Bruins games tend to have an older, rougher, more intense feel overall. Maybe that's just the nature of hockey in comparison to basketball. Honestly, the typical Bruins crowd creates a little better sports atmosphere--it's a bit more serious and edgy than the atmosphere that Celtics games offer.

Celtics games are fun, but they're fun in a big-party sort of way, not really in a pro-sporting-event sense. They're a tad silly, from the goofy dancers in the crowd caught on the Jumbotron right down to the game presentation itself, which really emphasizes dancers, upbeat music and wacky side shows. The Celtics crowd is plenty passionate, though, and very involved in the game. The new Garden can get loud for both winter-sports franchises. Other than at Fenway, where the goal for many now is to see and be seen, Boston generally has good sports fans who go to games to see the games and not just to hang around and socialize.

In any case, both the Bruins and the Celtics offer great ways to pass winter days and evenings if the tickets to their games are cheap enough (as they were tonight). It's clear, though, that while the Bruins' fan base seems to trend toward older supporters, the Celtics have a strong hold on the future of Boston sports fans. Of course, success might have a lot to do with that. If the Bruins could finally win another Stanley Cup (no, I'm not holding my breath) to match the Celts' 2008 championship, the kids in Boston might just get into pro hockey for a while. If only...

As it turns out, we were lucky that tonight's game took place at all. Warm, wet weather--probably 60 degrees at game time--led to lots of condensation on the floor at the new Garden and very likely to some of the Bruins' ice melting and seeping onto the Celts' parquet. (Is there anything the Bruins can't screw up right now?) We noticed tonight that the mop team was going at it with exceptional vigor, even mopping one end of the court while play was taking place at the other.
Tony Allen nearly took out a mop boy during a breakaway. Sure enough, I just read tonight that the two coaches nearly canceled the game in the first quarter. Fortunately, everyone survived (including KG with his wonky knee--he actually played very well), and the show went on. That's good because if the Celtics hadn't played out their contest tonight, we would have had a whole bunch of cranky kids on our hands at the new Garden. In the end, though, the kids were alright. And the Celtics won, 95-89.

As always, my completely unedited, unvarnished and untouched photo set from tonight is at your disposal. I'm probably done with Boston pro sporting events for the winter season. This Friday, though, it's Providence at BC for more college hockey (and even more youth).

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Close Encounters with the Penalty Box

OK, so, despite my complaints about ticket prices (and despite how lousy the team has been this season), I broke down and went to a Bruins game today. Well, I didn't really break down. My lovely wife threw a baby shower at our apartment for her little sister today, and I, uh, didn't want to be there...although I'm sure it was lovely.

So, Friday night, I troweled around the Bruins ticket exchange on Ticketmaster and found a single balcony ticket for $15--or $19.95 with Ticketmaster's mystery fees (I printed the ticket myself, so there was no delivery charge) tacked on. I figured that was a pretty good deal. I also figured that taking in a B's game--they are my favorite Boston sports franchise, after all--would be a great way to pass a winter Saturday.
I went to the game and mostly enjoyed myself despite the Bruins dropping a rather dull 2-1 decision to Ottawa. (I've been on the brink of a full-scale Bruins rant since I started this blog, but I'm not ready to unleash it yet. It's still building. Beware. Seriously, beware.) Anyway, there's something about the communal nature of sporting events that I really enjoy, win or lose--although winning is always better.

Being around a bunch of people who share an interest with me--even if I don't talk to them at all, which I didn't today--is comforting somehow. I feel like part of something that's greater than I am, which is clearly the case when I'm at a game. That feeling of community seems to fulfill a basic human need, and I also feel very Bostonian when I go to B's games. I sport a vintage late-'80s black B's jersey over a BC sweatshirt and a t-shirt for a three-layer, no-coat, hockey-game look.

I look like part of the crowd, even though I'm not, really. I didn't grow up in Greater Boston, didn't start learning to skate until last year (at age 35) and don't work as a contractor in Woburn or for a unionized construction firm. I don't have kids in youth hockey (although that will hopefully happen someday), and, although I've been a B's fan since 1993, I don't make that many games compared to most folks who do go. It's surprising how many people at the games know each other. It's like a big fraternity, and I'm like the quiet, nerdy guy who's trying to just fit in and look cool without actually causing anybody to notice me.

Think about the Paul character from the last few seasons of Cheers--I'm Paul, except without a Norm there to constantly try to get me involved in things and make me part of the group in earnest. I do cheer like mad when the Bruins score, though, and I do follow the game closely and pretty vocally. I've developed a nice little working knowledge of hockey over the past couple of decades. And I've developed a pathetic, entirely unrequited love for the Bruins.

Regardless, the colors of Bruins games are great--with the black and gold everywhere--and the atmosphere is usually very good, sometimes electric. Hockey just lends itself more to moments of spontaneous excitement (goals, fights, great saves) more than most other sports do. (I feel the same way about soccer, actually, but I digress.) Plus, the Bruins' game presentation is frankly first rate and is almost entertaining enough in itself to make fans forget how bad "their" Boston Bruins usually are.

Anyway, my real adventure began after the game when I realized that the 4:30 train from North Station to Waltham I had expected to take home didn't exist and that the next train wouldn't run until 5:30. In order to kill some time, I dropped into--actually, waited in a really long line to get into--the tiny Bruins Pro Shop in North Station. While I was there, I heard people speaking in hushed tones about LB, and some woman was busy confirming LB's e-mail address. LB, of course (in case you live in Boston), is Lyndon Byers, former Bruin and current radio personality on one of Boston's rock stations, WAAF.

LB played on two Bruins teams that reached the Stanley Cup finals--the last two, from 1987-88 and 1989-90--but he wasn't exactly known for his fleet skating or skilled puck handling. In fact, LB was known much more for beating the living tar out of people (and sometimes taking a bit of a licking himself). Nevertheless, he is a former Bruin, and when I saw him towering over the crowd in the extremely packed, intensely hot Pro Shop, I figured I had to meet him.

I think he was just there as a fan, not really making a public appearance per se (he was buying stuff), so I didn't want to hound him too much. As I was making my way toward LB, I head some guy walk up to him and say, "We could have used you out there today." (True--the B's were listless and could have used some, uh, physicality.)

I made my way over to LB not knowing exactly what to say but knowing that I wanted to meet him. I was by myself with no kids in tow or anything like that--I didn't want a photo or an autograph; I just wanted to shake his hand. So, I walked up to him and said, "Hey, LB, I just wanted to shake your hand." (Nice intro.) He looked at me...let's say curiously (sometimes I forget that I look like this now, and I'll have more on this picture later)...
and said, "Hey, what's up, dude?" His massive hand enveloped mine. The guy is not small. Now, I have a tendency to freeze in front of celebrities, even minor ones, and this was no exception. Not sure exactly why I wanted to meet this guy or what I was going to say, I looked at him and guessed it..."We could have used you out there today." Yes...I said exactly the same thing some other guy had said to him maybe 45 seconds before. Smooth. Can you tell I work with words for a living?

Anyway, he was polite and friendly and said something about how he wouldn't be able to play in the league today and how players skate faster now than they did in his day. I think I said something like, "Nice to meet you" and maybe "cheers" (a bad habit I picked up from hanging around too many English guys in Europe) and walked away only somewhat mortified. Everything considered, it could have gone worse. And I met LB! At random, and not at some staged event! I think that counts as a brush with greatness. Maybe.

The Pro Shop didn't occupy me for that long; I still had about an hour to kill before my 5:30 train. So, I walked outside North Station and took a few pictures. Then, I came upon this place:
The Penalty Box! Now, I still haven't lived in Boston long enough to know all of the famous local institutions, so maybe anybody and everybody has been to this place and knows all about it. But I had never seen it before, and I figured that I couldn't meet LB after a Bruins game and not go to a bar called the Penalty Box while waiting on my train. So, in I went--the photo of me from above is a self-portrait I took in a mirror at the bar; almost the whole bar is reflected behind me.

I was kind of hoping for a blue-collar, townie crowd, and the place definitely had that feel to it, with fading photos of Boston athletes all over the walls and a beer selection that wasn't even worthy of that of a state-school frat house. Unfortunately, the crowd tipped just toward mildly trendy rather than blue-collar (although not by much--there were plenty of 50-something contractors in there rehashing the disaster that was the game), but I enjoyed the place, anyway. I put away a couple of Bud Lights--served to me by something of a stumpy woman in a Bruins jersey--and enjoyed watching the East-West Shrine Game (one of those lame college football all-star games) on old-school TVs.

I manged to snap a couple of pictures inside the bar. They're a tad blurry (and I think my finger's in one of them), but they hopefully provide some idea of the atmosphere.
I even snagged a little video, just to give the (nearly) full sensory experience:

I liked this place because it was a pure bar, from what I could tell (no food or anything like that) and because the music was good and the people were having a good time. It wasn't a depressing hole, as I had kind of feared it might be. It was, actually, a pretty darn good place for a cheap drink.

There are a couple of ways to approach sports. Well, there might be more, but I can only think of two right now. One way is to treat it as life or death, to let a loss or a bad run by your team simply ruin your life for a while and to only really enjoy the games when your team is winning--which, let's face it, probably doesn't happen that often and certainly won't last forever.

The second is to enjoy not just the game but everything that goes with it--to appreciate the atmosphere and the skills on display even when your team loses (although second part's not always easy to appreciate) and to cling to the entire experience--the anticipation of filing into the stadium, the electricity of the crowd before the game starts, the color and the pageantry (to steal a phrase from college football), the communal atmosphere, and the post-game drinks and celebration or commiseration...whichever turns out to be appropriate. I do believe that was all once sentence.

I have embraced the second approach, so, despite another fairly pathetic Bruins loss, I count today as a fun day. Not perfect--a win would have put it close to being in that category--but fun nonetheless. Besides, what's more Bostonian than meeting Lyndon Byers and then swilling cheap beer in a bar called the Penalty Box? Maybe I'm not such a poser around here after all. Monday night, Clippers-Celtics at the Garden and another chance to feel Bostonian, albeit with a very different crowd.

Meanwhile, although I don't see it coming this year, the B's need to get to work on hanging another one of these. Just one in my lifetime (which hasn't happened yet...) is all I really ask.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Ben Johnson Steals My Thoughts on Tapas

Sometimes--maybe often--I see something and think, "I wish I'd thought of that," or thought to do that first, or whatever. The Alan Partridge character is always the first thing that comes to mind, and the Fail Blog is never far behind. Tonight, though, the entry in my pantheon of things I didn't do before somebody else did is simpler than those creations but brilliant nonetheless.

Ben Johnson--not the disgraced former sprinter from Canada, but a guy I met at a conference at BC this summer--summarized perfectly my thoughts about tapas for, a Web site that serves the great city of Kansas...City. (OK, that sounded kind of awkward. Too many instances of the word "city" in there somehow. KC is great, though. Go Royals!)

Anyway, there's no need for me to repeat what Ben says about tapas (you'll have to click the link), nor is there any need for me to expand on it. Ben nails it pretty completely, from the awkwardness of trying to share the tiny dishes in a group to the feeling of grumbling hunger I always have when I leave a tapas restaurant.

Compound all that with the one thing that Ben doesn't explicitly mention--the fact that people always think I'm saying "topless" place when I say "tapas" place--and you have a nice summation of my contempt for the sometimes tasty but always way-too-tiny Spanish dishes and the restaurants that serve them. Just give me a burger, thanks.

Friday, January 15, 2010

BC 6, Maine 1

The best sports value in Boston was back tonight, as BC's hockey team took on Maine. BC scored before I could even get through the turnstiles at Conte Forum, and the rout was on. It was an entertaining rout, though, with plenty of big hits and some superb goals by BC. (Maine's goal was pretty nice, too.)

My buddy from work was there with his family. He was in his season-ticket seat, which is one of the best in the arena. The crowd was a bit thin, so I sat with him and the gang and really enjoyed the game. We got to see loads of checks delivered just a few feet in front of us, and the puck sounded like a pistol going off when it hit the boards or glass near us. It was a tremendous sensory experience.

Total cost for me: $10. Not bad at all--it's the same price as a movie but much more entertaining (plus, the parking is free, which is always a bonus around here). I managed to get some photos. The full set (unedited and unaltered as always) is here. The photo at the top of this post is just a teaser, although it might be the best of the bunch.

Next game: Jan. 29 vs. (I think) Providence. I'll try to get the camera out for that one, too.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A Note about the Ads You See Here

I just noticed today that there's a political advertisement running in my little ad space on this blog, which appears after the top entry on the page. For the record, Google serves those ads randomly, and I have no idea which ads I'm going to get.

I never talk politics on here, and I don't personally endorse any candidate (not that it would matter, given that about five people read this little blog). I'm a total political moderate, and most politicians disgust me. I've never campaigned for a candidate; I've never even put a sign in my yard (on, in my current situation, on my balcony fence). So, if you see a political ad here, it's not by my choice. It's whatever Google gives me.

As I mentioned some time ago, I don't actually expect to make any money with my little Google ads. (And I haven't.) I really just wanted to see how the Internet-advertising thing worked and what kinds of ads Google would give me. Well...the ads are supposed to be contextual (I think), but they rarely seem to be. For a while, I had tons of ads for pens (as in writing instruments) running, presumably because my name is Pender. Weird. There have been a few ads about college football, which makes sense, and I've seen one or two about Boston sports tickets, which also makes sense. The fact that those ads are sometimes weeks out of date does not make sense.

Given that I never talk politics here, a political ad running on this site seems a little less than contextual. In fact, it seems pretty random. I'm not complaining--I just want to make it clear that the ad space is Google's space, not mine. Your guess as to what will run there is as good as mine. That's all. Thanks for reading, and carry on...

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Frozen Fenway Fotos

Sorry, I just couldn't resist the visual alliteration. Anyway, this is just a brief entry intended to send the intrepid and the curious to my completely unedited and undoctored photo sets of the BU-BC game at Fenway and the Frozen Fenway skating spectacular. I am still basking in the afterglow of these events. Enjoy!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Just about the Coolest Thing I've Ever Done

Some years back, when I was maybe 12 years old (let's say 1986 or so), Coca-Cola ran commercials that I absolutely hated. In the summer, Coke would run commercials reminding viewers of the "fun of winter;" scenes included sledding, skiing, ice skating and the like. And, worse (much worse), in the winter, Coke ran ads reminding us all of the fun of summer. On our old tube TVs would appear images of happy people surfing, riding bikes, hanging out at the beach or whatever.

I hated the summer ads (the ones showing winter fun that ran in July or August) because they aggravated what I now know is Seasonal Affective Disorder--and, yes, I really do have it. I'd see winter scenes in July--the kind of scenes we couldn't possibly have in Dallas-Fort Worth--and panic about the end of summer and the onrushing and inevitable darkness of January. Yes, it was that bad.

But the other ads, the summer-fun ads that ran during winter, were way worse. Those just teased and taunted me, even though I was living in a place where we could have 75-degree days in January. We could also have 25-degree days in March, and those were the ones I hated. Seeing summer fun in the dead of winter was just too much for me. As for "winter fun," I was pretty sure that it didn't exist, and, in any case, I sure didn't know what it was.

But today, finally, I found out just how much fun winter can be. Having failed at skiing and being generally too lazy to haul a sled to a hill after a snowstorm, I took up ice skating last year--at the age of 35--as my "winter sport." I liked it well enough, and I'm sticking with it--but it didn't do all that much to pull me out of my winter doldrums.

Today, though, I had the skating experience of a lifetime. Thanks to my lovely wife's vivacious little sister and my brother-in-law, I had the truly once-in-a-lifetime chance to skate on the temporary rink at Fenway Park. I hardly have words to describe this experience--it was (sorry, but it's true) magical.

First of all, I had never skated outdoors before, and it way beats skating indoors. The crisp air and blue sky were a vast improvement over generally stuffy, overcrowded rinks. Beyond that, I got to skate on a real NHL (and NCAA, for that matter) ice surface. I sat in an NHL penalty box to tighten my skate laces. I passed the point--I managed to get around a few times--where Marco Sturm scored the winner for the Bruins in the Winter Classic on New Year's Day. Honestly, the Bruins connection (and the BU-BC connection) excited me more than the fact that I was at Fenway Park.

Still, it was incredible just to be on the field at Fenway, even if I was tottering on metal blades. I have to really concentrate when I skate, but from time to time, I'd look up and think, "There's the Green Monster!" Or, "There's the Pesky Pole! And Ted Williams' red seat! And the press box with 'Fenway Park' stretched across it! And the Prudential Center in the background! And I'll never, ever see Fenway or Boston like this again." I was skating on the infield, probably right to the edge of the base paths, with the pitcher's mound right beside the rink. Amazing.

I heard a father tell his young son while the two were on the ice, "Remember this day because it's a once-in-a-lifetime experience." Sadly, I think he was right--I can't see Fenway converting into a winter wonderland again anytime in the near future, unless the NHL or NCAA decides that the Fenway games were such a success that they should happen regularly. And, in a way, that might spoil the fun and the incredible atmosphere I experienced today. Maybe this sort of opportunity shouldn't come around every year, although I'd do anything to be there if it happened again next year.

What struck me about today was the happiness inside the park. Boston can be a dour city, especially in winter, and its residents can be a bit, well, cold this time of year. But today, folks in Fenway were happy. More than happy, actually--simply overjoyed, almost floating on air (when they weren't falling on the ice.) Tickets for this event were very hard to get (thanks again, Christine and Steven), and those of us who got the golden ducats took advantage of every second we had in the shadow of the Green Monster in the park that dates back to 1912.

As probably the only adult on the ice--and very nearly the only person, period--who was a beginner skater, I even developed a small cheering section (two or three guys, total strangers) who followed my skittering path around the ice sheet and congratulated me--sincerely--when I stepped out of the rink. That was exceptional and as rare in Boston as a Yankees-Red Sox game with empty seats. But it gave me a good laugh and probably gave my little fan club a better one.

The Winter Classic and the BU-BC game have brought some needed attention back to hockey in Boston after the Bruins had an unexpectedly good season--their best in a decade--in 2008-2009. Boston will always be a Red Sox town in terms of cheering interest, but it is at its sports heart a hockey town and always has been. The declining fortunes of the Bruins in the '90s and '00s took some fan enthusiasm away from the NHL franchise, but college hockey is still very popular and kids and adults alike play the sport regularly.

I'm hoping that this month's spate of hockey activity will continue the reawakening of hockey passions in this city. The Bruins could help by snapping out of their funk, but if the Winter Classic and the NCAA game encourage folks to strap on the skates and hit the rink for the first time in years, all the better.

As for me, I still need a lot of work on my form (as you can see from the photo above taken by my lovely wife), and it'll be a while yet before I'll have the skills to join a low- (or non-) contact hockey league, which is my ultimate goal. But today was simply spectacular, one of the greatest and most memorable moments of my life. And I finally understand what those winter-fun Coke ads were all about all those years ago. Maybe in the heat of the summer, I'll miss snow, crisp winter air and ice skating.

OK, probably not. But I'll always relish the memories of sliding around the ice sheet in the glorious winter wonderland that was Fenway Park on Jan. 10, 2010. For that, I'm thankful. Pardon the pun, but I can honesty say that skating at Fenway was just about the coolest thing I've ever done.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Turn out the Lights; the Fiesta's Over

I don't want to rehash TCU's loss to Boise State in the Fiesta Bowl because there isn't that much to rehash. Neither team looked particularly interested in the game, and both played poorly. (Both had clearly been hoping for a different bowl opponent, but that's life with the BCS.) TCU played worse, and Boise was a deserving winner. C'est tout. Yeah, the game was suspenseful, but it was also sloppy. In fact, sloppy is probably the best word to describe it.

But the main thing I took away from the Fiesta Bowl is that bowl games are all about the experience and not so much about the game. (They're also about the anticipation prior to the game, which is great and immensely fun.) The game was almost incidental in comparison to everything else we did in Arizona; it was the only four hours of the trip that I didn't enjoy. Everything else was great. Sure, I would have preferred a win, but the pre-game tailgating was superb, and Arizona was so sunny and beautiful that at no point did I feel particularly upset about TCU's poor performance--not even right after the game as my lovely wife and I walked out of the excellent University of Phoenix Stadium.

There was a time when a TCU loss like the one we suffered in the Fiesta Bowl would have had me down for weeks--really down, as in barely able to function. And I always thought that if TCU did achieve the impossible dream of going undefeated and making a BCS bowl, I'd be so overcome with emotion that I'd cry before the game. The purple end zone, the bowl logo on the field, the huge stadium, the crowd--I had fantasized about it so many times over the course of so many years that I thought that the reality of it would be too much for me to overcome.

Well...I didn't cry before or after the game. I cheered; I watched. I commiserated with other TCU fans. I walked out disappointed but also looking forward to what the next day would bring. I wouldn't call a loss fun, but I got over it pretty quickly--in a sense, I didn't really have to "get over it" at all. And I was thankful that we had an excuse to head to the Valley of the Sun during a Boston winter. We might do it again next year regardless of where TCU plays a bowl game (unless we make another BCS bowl, of course).

I'm still a die-hard TCU fan, but I've grown up a bit. I don't attach my self-esteem to TCU football wins and losses anymore. And, as cliche as this might be (and is), I've gained a sense of perspective as to where sports in general and TCU football in particular should fit into my life. I used to suffer though TCU games and football seasons--I kind of did this year, despite our success. I couldn't stand the thought of even one loss. But I won't be doing that anymore. I've learned to have fun with football even when the results don't go our way. Maybe I'm becoming less of a fan, but I'm also becoming a more balanced person--and I don't think that's a bad thing at all.

I was more sad that the small-"f" fiesta--the whole Arizona trip--had to end than I was that we lost to Boise. In fact, the emotions weren't even comparable. It's nice to be home, but I could have hung out in the sun for a few more days. It's been a bit of a downer being back, although the hockey game at Fenway was great last night. In the final analysis of all this, at least the Horned Frogs gave us a reason to get to Arizona in the first place. For that, and for a great season, I thank them, even if I'll never watch them in quite the same way again.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The "Other" Winter Classic

Having failed to score tickets to the Flyers-Bruins game played at Fenway on New Year's Day, I settled for a Boston University-Boston College match-up played there one week later. But it hardly felt like settling. If anything the BU-BC game had a much more "outdoor-hockey" feel than the NHL Winter Classic had.

Blowing snow gave Fenway a mystical, snow-globe feel, and the college-game atmosphere was fun all night and electric at times. Decked out in BC gear, I continued to be a jinx at big sporting events for teams I support. After the Fiesta Bowl debacle, I witnessed BC slog TCU-style through two awful periods and spot BU a 3-0 before coming back furiously in the third and just falling short of tying the game. Final score: BU 3, BC 2.

Of course, I had no real emotional investment in this game the way I did in the Fiesta Bowl, so the "loss" didn't hurt at all. In fact, tonight was a great night overall, aside from temperatures in the 20s that had me worrying that I'd lose a toe or two to frostbite. Fortunately I came home with all ten.

And my friends and I made it through the whole game, which is more than I can say for probably 50 percent of the people in attendance. (BU brought more fans than BC, but BC fans stayed longer than BU fans did for the most part.) Hey, we're New Englanders... Actually, we're not (none of us is, in fact), but we showed our winter toughness tonight.

Friday, January 8, 2010

A Farewell to the Desert

I didn't want to leave Arizona, but it's always nice to get home after a long flight. I'll post more on the trip (and, yes, on the wasted opportunity that was the Fiesta Bowl) a bit later after I've had a chance to catch my breath a bit.

Let me just say this for now: If you're vacationing in Florida or California for the winter, consider Arizona for your next journey into the sunshine and escape from the cold. No, you won't find beaches, but the weather is spectacular, and the landscape is gorgeous (plus, there's no lack of swimming pools). As an added bonus, the lack of beaches makes everything cheaper and less crowded. Yes, I could work for the Arizona tourism board now...

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Arizona Continues to Be Awesome

Today, a drive north to Sedona. The views were spectacular. This is a shot from somewhere near Red Rocks State Park. That formation is called Cathedral Rock for reasons I hope are obvious. Arizona is an amazing place, absolutely captivating. I've been here before, but this is the first time I've really experienced the desert. I don't want to leave. Alas, we depart for snowy Boston tomorrow.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Arizona is Fantastic

Forget the Fiesta Bowl. Sure, it was a huge disappointment, although the tailgating was great. (I actually had a lot of fun on the day overall.) Despite the loss, this trip to Arizona has been fantastic. I love this place. I'll have more on this later, but this is the most fun my lovely wife and I have had in quite a while.