There and Back Again: A Penguin Fan's tale in Columbus
Thursday morning, I left downtown Pittsburgh on I-279 along with thousands of other Penguin fans and began my journey to the city of Columbus, Ohio. I found two tickets online in what is the equivalent of section E row D at Mellon Arena and my journey was set.
About an hour into my trip, my girlfriend decided she needed a bathroom break. So I pull into the next rest stop and I get out to stretch and take in the sights of the small secluded rest stop.
Immediately I noticed that the car next to me had a Penguin sticker on the back window. I turn around and a group of four Penguin fans are walking towards me dressed in their powder blue jerseys ready to high five me because I, too had a Penguin jersey on. This is when I realized the entire rest stop was full of Penguin fans making the same journey I was making.
Two hours later my girlfriend and I arrived in Columbus, Ohio and entered our hotel. The lobby looked like the entrance to Pens Station at Mellon Arena. Everywhere the eye could see there were black, white, and blue Penguin jerseys and hats and sweatshirts… It was a sight to behold. I began to wonder if there would be any Blue Jackets fans at the game.
We then took a walk around the fantastic Arena District to do some sightseeing before the game. It took us nearly thirty minutes of walking to see our first Blue Jackets jersey. A Steve Mason jersey no less. We grabbed a bite to eat at the Rise & Dine breakfast and lunch restaurant that was open for dinner during Arena events. Rise & Dine, an Eat’n Park type restaurant, had a 10 minute wait as opposed to the hour and a half wait at many of the other Arena District restaurants.
We entered Nationwide Arena at 6:45 with a group of Penguin fans and immediately we were the subject of some lighthearted booing. My Lemieux jersey was revered rather than ridiculed unlike the many Crosby and Malkin jerseys that littered the concourse.
We found our seats in a full row of Penguin fans and once we were sitting, we saw the interior of Nationwide Arena for the first time. My initial reaction was: color. There were ads everywhere. There had to of been a 90 foot Toyota Prius Ad directly to my left on the wall of the arena. Neon lights running around the balcony seats as seen in the picture. There was bright lights and colorful ads everywhere you looked. The seats were blue but the people who sat in the seats wore every color under the rainbow. The Penguin fans were instantly recognizable due to the large amount of Black, White, and Baby Blue in the crowd. The Blue Jackets fans on the other hand, did not seem to wear jerseys to the game. Many of them could be seen wearing everyday clothes to the game, a rarity at Mellon Arena.
Now while my initial reaction to Nationwide Arena was color, my next reaction was wow. The seats were well padded and very comfy. And blue, a primary color of the Blue Jackets. Not orange. The building was massive inside and the rectangular arena was designed perfectly. There was not a bad seat in the house. No limited view seating here.
Now a quick clarification for all the Blue Jackets fans (do they read this site?): the Penguin fans who were booing the ceremony for Ken Hitchcock were in the extreme minority. But if you look at Hitchcock’s history with the Penguins, you can understand why they were doing it. They were not booing Hitchcock, coach of the Blue Jackets. They were booing the former Flyers coach that whined about Crosby “diving” and had coached against the Penguins for years.
Once the puck dropped, the energy inside the arena was electric. However, the Penguins took the early momentum and ran with it and the away fans consistently made their presence felt with chants of “LET’S GO PENS!”
Once the greatest of all Penguin killers, Kristian Huselius, snuck a shot through Fleury, it was our turn to feel the wrath of the Jacket. Chants of “OVERRATED”, “Flerrr-Eeeee! Flerrrr-Eeeee!”, and “Let’s Go Jack-ets!” broke out and continued in intensity with each goal that was scored.
Once the momentum turned in the Penguin’s direction, the Arena became deafening. What had once been “Let’s Go Jack-ets! clap-clap-clapclaplclap” was replaced with Let’s Go Jack-ets! LET’S GO PENS!”
When the game was tied, several Blue Jackets fans just put their head in their hands because they had awoken the two-headed monster of Crosby and Malkin. Penguin fans even managed to get a “Maaaa-soooon! Maaaa-soooon!” chant going, much to the displeasure of the home fans.
Many Blue Jacket fans who had once dreamt of a 3-0 shutout were now hoping to escape with a point.
As we all know, the Blue Jackets earned two points with a Kristian Huselius shootout game winner and the Penguins were sent home with only a point.
After the game, the Blue Jackets fans were confident in their win but acknowledged the skill and talent the Penguin’s displayed in the third period. Very little taunting occurred after the game because both sides understood they almost lost the game.
All in all it was a great trip to a surprisingly cool city which I would gladly repeat next season if given the chance.
Some quick notes on the game:
- The crowd was very loud most of the game. The competing chants encouraged each fanbase to be louder than the other.
- The ingame announcer was overly loud the entire game. John Barbero does it the right way. Their announcer felt it was necessary to pump the crowd up every 30 seconds and it got old very fast. The crowd was into the game as it was.
- There was a gimmick during every commercial break. Mellon Arena has the “Kiss Cam”, spin the wheel, and Penguins Trivia. Nationwide Arena had Celebrity Look-alike, Burritos Parachuting from the rafters, Pizza Toss (one section randomly determined got tossed a personal pan pizza for each person), Dance contest, digital beach ball bounce, hold up your Blue Jackets bank card to win future tickets, blimp that dropped not only envelopes, but stuffed animals and hot dogs as well. Much like the Pittsburgh Pirates, they are trying to draw people into the games but there’s a limit.
- People in Columbus are obviously new to the hockey thing but they need to read Seth Rorabaugh’s Jersey Foul Bill of Rights. Some jersey’s I saw:
~A dad and his son. The son’s jersey said “Keaton”. The dad’s said “Keaton’s Dad”.
~A #1 jersey that said “GO JACKETS.”
~The “Jesus Christ” jersey featured on Empty Netters
~and several personalized jerseys as well.
- Columbus is primed for a winning team. If they can put a few winning seasons together they could establish a solid fanbase and potentially grow the fanbase. They simply must play the Penguins twice a year to attempt to create a geographic rivalry akin to Pittsburgh-Cleveland in football.
All photos are property of the sites that hosted them. My camera was broken so no pictures from me.