The Nashville Predators and St.Louis Blues duked it out on the ice Saturday night in the Preds’ second game of the season. The Blues’ Ryan Reaves (center) won this battle with the Preds’ Zack Stortini (left), but the Predators would win the war, 4-2 at the Scottrade Center in St. Louis as Nashville begins the 2011-12 season 2-0 (Photo: Jeff Curry/Getty Images).
I came, I Didn’t See, We Kicked ASS!
Oye. Talk about your double-entendres. Saturday night the Nashville Predators came into St. Louis expecting a fight. When it was all over, it wasn’t just the Blues who came away hurting.
Nashville completed its sweep of its 2011-12 season-opening weekend with a hard-fought victory in The City By The Arch on Saturday, defeating the Blues, 4-2. In a season full of high hopes for their team’s return to the playoffs, the Preds’ spoiling of the Blues fans’ opening night fun left the full-house crowd at the Scottrade Center in an ill mood, and a number of Predators fans even more so as a result of their counterparts’ unsportsmanlike conduct.
And then there was yours truly, who missed the entire affair, as during warm-ups before the game, a puck sailed over the glass and plunked me just below the left eye. I spent the rest of the night either in the infirmary, waiting for a cab, or in the hospital. I can joke about it now, but I was pretty lucky; I came away from it with nothing more than a few stitches…and a buttload of awesome black-eye metaphors to throw around (It’s GOLD, Jerry! GOLD, itellya!).
But more on that later; first, I have something to talk about that’s more important than me.
Stay Classy, St. Louis…
While my own misfortune provides the kind of you-just-can’t-make-this-stuff-up material a blogger like me dreams of, not all black eye metaphors are necessarily funny – especially the kind that connote shame applied to the actions of a person or a group behaving unbecomingly. The abusive behavior of a dozen or more Blues fans on Saturday night was utterly shameful. From the section just above the block of seats in which 35 Predators fans that followed the team on the road this weekend with the Section 303 Roadtrip bus were seated, Blues partisans hurled insults and alcoholic beverages at their Music City guests all night long.
Other Preds fans making the trip individually or sitting in other locations in the arena reported harassment as well, including having a pair of sunglasses thrown at them to another instance of literally being spat upon after the game.*
So Much for Gateway City hospitality.
And please, before you call us wussies for not being able to deal with a little friendly derision, I’d invite you to go talk to the hometown fans in Columbus first; they actually seem to know the meaning of the term. Something else they seem to know something about is class. On our visit the previous evening to Nationwide Arena, Blue Jackets fans didn’t particularly enjoy our whooping it up at their expense either, and told us so — but they didn’t physically accost us for it either. They understood that good hosts exercise restraint in the face of frustration. That, ladies and gentlemen is class in a nutshell. Hurling beer, loogies, and a constant flow of F-bombs all evening is neither classy or even remotely friendly.
So, the bottom line is this: if you’d rather not have our business or our money coming into your city, supporting your hockey team, your hotels, your eating & drinking establishments, and the like – hey, no problem; you likely won’t be seeing us again anytime soon.
But please, do continue to make your annual trips to Nashville, St. Louis fans; come on down! We love to see you in your Blues jerseys, walking amid the honky-tonks, restaurants, and shops of Lower Broad, having the time of your lives. We love to see you sitting en masse at Bridgestone Arena, cheering for your team; trying – and failing – to out-cheer the very Section 303 fans whom you chose to abuse rather than compete with vocally on Saturday night at the Scottrade Center.
And even on those rare occasions that you do defeat us in our own barn, we may not like hearing your victory chants echo throughout the lower concourse as you file out into the night, on your merry way to party until the wee hours, but guess what? The only thing you’re likely to be showered with is our gratitude for coming and having a good time in our city.
Why? Because we WANT you to have a great time; and we WANT you to come back!
We want you to tell your friends what a fun place Music City is to visit; we want you to realize what a great place Bridgestone Arena is in which to enjoy a hockey game. We want you to have a great time in Nashville, but not only because it helps us; not just because in so doing you help support our economy. We want you to have fun because that’s what we believe sports – and hockey in particular – is all about: having fun.
I get that a lot of fans from around the league are rather put-off by the chants that our fan cheering section: Section 303, whose organizers put together the annual busload treks to Scottrade each season, throws out each game. I understand that you don’t like hearing the words, YOU SUCK directed toward your team. We get all of that; only an idiot wouldn’t see that all that could be pretty irritating.
And we’re not idiots.
However, as people love to remind us, Nashville is not a ‘quote’ traditional hockey market. Ours is a community steeped in collegiate sports fandom. Group cheers are a huge part of that tradition, so it was only natural that fan cheers became a part of our NHL experience when the Predators came into the league 14 years ago.
But here’s a news flash, folks, we DON’T THINK YOUR TEAM SUCKS; it’s just fun for us to say that you do. Yes it’s juvenile, yes it’s dumb, yes it’s irritating, but it’s fun, and that’s all it is intended to be. It’s all in the spirit of friendly competition; it has never been malicious in intent. As a season ticket holder for 12 of the Preds’ 14-year existence, no opposing fan to my knowledge has ever received a beer shower for cheering for his team in our building. We just don’t pull that crap. The fans just wanna have fun — and we want you to have fun too.
In view of our road trip experience in St. Louis, I find it even more ironic now to recall a conversation that I had with a gentleman Blues fan in Nashville back in the 2009-10 season. A few hours prior to a Preds/Blues matchup, I was walking into the washroom of a busy BBQ restaurant near the arena as the guy, wearing his team’s colors as I was mine, was about to walk out.
I asked him if he was here with a group; he affirmed that he’d traveled from St. Louis with a busload of his fellows, as has been a regular occurrence at least once per season since the NHL first came to Music City.
So I welcomed him to Nashville, wished good luck for his team and a good time for he and his friends while they were here.
This guy from St. Louis could have easily taken my pleasantries at face value, continued on the two extra steps between himself and the door, and headed back out into the restaurant crowd with little or no comment, but he didn’t. Instead, he made a point to pause and respond, saying something that I found as surprising as it was unexpected.
He told me that he really appreciated the hospitality he had always enjoyed from Nashville fans, as opposed to those in a place like Chicago, where Blues fans wearing their team jerseys are subject to constant and sometimes brutal harassment.
“I really like how you guys just let us come and enjoy the game,” he said. “Those guys up in Chicago can be pretty rough. It really makes it hard to enjoy a road trip when you’re always being hassled.”
Um, yeah, it does. Isn’t it interesting what happens when the shoe is on the other foot?
In my opinion, one of the most outstanding features of the Nashville hockey experience is the enthusiasm of its fans, both in the way we experience the game and in the way we treat our guests like friends – not enemies. Everybody know that, from the National Press to the players to anyone who takes in a hockey game here, they all know it, and they usually say so.
To be sure, St. Louis is an awesome and fun city in its own right. The few times I had visited prior to Saturday, I’d had wonderful experiences there, both at the arena and in the local nightlife destinations afterward. It would be a shame for both of us if that relationship had to end.
A Tale of Two Cities
On the other side of the coin is the experience we’d had 24 hours earlier in Columbus. Instead of verbally abusing us and showering us in beer, the Blue Jackets fans response was totally appropriate: they tried to drown out our ‘Let’s Go Pred-a-tors!’ chant with their own ‘Let’s go Jack-ets!’, which is exactly what what we expected them to do.
It became a competition. It was FUN.
I have to give special kudos to the section of fans sitting directly behind us at Friday night’s game who took a highly creative approach in our dueling chants battle. They turned our standard chant & clap, ‘Let’s Go Pred-a-tors! (clap-clap, clap-clap-clap)’ into, ‘SEX-U-AL PRED-A-TORS! (clap-clap, clap-clap-clap).’
I mean, that’s some awesome stuff, right there.
When it dawned on me what they were saying, I busted up laughing and turned to them to gesture my approval with a big thumbs up. Everybody was cracking up; yup, these guys, they GOT IT! Sure, not all the Columbus fans appreciated us, but you’ve gotta expect at least a few isolated, harmless jeers.
Beyond that, however, from the guy in the concourse who stopped me and said, “Hey, I’ve just gotta say this; I hate your team, but your new jerseys (the home golds) are awesome!” – to the guy I stood in a concession line with talking Tim Horton’s Coffee for ten minutes, the Columbus fans couldn’t have been nicer or any more decent.
But that was Friday. Saturday would be different, and not just by virtue of our experience with the fans, but in the special ‘impact’ the Predators would have on me, individually.
* Thanks to Kathy for the very sad update.