Sports Stories: Waffle fries and victory

Everyone has a sports story. As part of my mission to create peace in the world between sports fans and non-sports fans, I am doing a set of interviews of people on both sides of the line. Whether you’re a die-hard fan with their favorite player’s face tattooed onto their body or someone who is not a fan but whose life intersects with sports in some way, you have a valuable story to tell. Sign up today to tell your story on our easy to use booking page.

To get things started, I’ll be sharing some of my own personal sports stories here.

Although we grew up in Central New Jersey, my friend James and I have been Pittsburgh Penguins hockey fans for around 20 years. Like many young people (read this New York Times article about this phenomenon) we jumped on the bandwagon of a winning team in that impressionable age bracket between 8 and 12. Back then, the Penguins were a skilled hockey team that played a wide open style of play. They didn’t care so much if their opposition scored five goals because they were convinced they could score six. This provided a striking contrast with our local team, the New Jersey Devils, whose tactical choice to turn hockey into a grapple-first, skate-second sport eventually sparked widespread rule changes. Not only were we rooting for a winner, but we felt we had the favor of the hockey gods.

Fast forward to the Spring of 2009 and James I were both living in New York City. We weren’t close friends but we hadn’t had a falling out, either. Call us, dormant friends. Then, the NHL playoffs started, and for the second year in a row, the Penguins began a deep run. In the first round, they faced their dreaded rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. We started meeting up for games at a bar convenient to both of us called Dewey’s. The Penguins beat the Flyers in Game Six of the series. After giving up 3 goals to start that game, the diminutive and much-loved Penguin, Max Talbot, picked a fight with a much bigger Flyer. Talbot “got his ass kicked” as he said later, but it seemed to snap the team out of their malaise, and they rattled off five straight goals to win the game and the series. It was glorious.

Over the next few weeks, as the Penguins progressed closer and closer to their goal of winning the Stanley Cup, James and I settled into a superstitious pattern. Go to Dewey’s. Sit in the back. Get the waitress or busboy (most of whom knew us by then) to turn on the game. Order a pitcher of Yuengling. At the start of the second period, order chicken fingers and cheese fries and share them. We even had roles to play. James was the optimist, I was the pessimist. “They’re not going to win,” I would say, “the other team is too big, too strong, their goalie is too good.” James would talk me down. Our act worked. The Penguins beat the Capitals 6-2 in Game Seven on the road to win that series 4-3. The conference finals were a breeze — a four game sweep over the Carolina Hurricanes. This set up a rematch of the previous year’s Stanley Cup Finals between the Penguins and the Red Wings.

The series was an epic. The Red Wings won two games at home, then the Penguins won two games at home. The Red Wings took game five, the Penguins took game seven. Before we knew it, we were looking at one last evening at Dewey’s for game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. There’s nothing better or more thoroughly nerve-wracking than a game seven. The only problem was — James was hosting a party in his apartment that night. Not to worry, he said, he would get a friend to open his door and we could join the party after the game. NO WAY was he going to be responsible for a Penguins loss by changing up our routine.

We went to Dewey’s. The Penguins won. We hopped into a cab and rode it to Red Hook, Brooklyn, screaming happy inanities periodically through the open windows.

Thanks for reading. Share your sports stories with me soon. Book some time today.

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