Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Baby, it's cold outside

There's something you might have noticed about me -- I don't really keep it a secret -- but I am an alum of Northwestern University, a place I couldn't be prouder of at the moment (but I'll have to get into why the NCAA is an immoral cartel some other time). It's a pretty spiffy place. The educational quality is tough to match, the proximity to a major American city is fantastic, and the campus itself is truly beautiful. Well, for about eight weeks out of the year anyway. The rest of the year it's pretty damn cold. Being as stupid as I was in my college years I opted to run outdoors throughout the winter, -20-degree wind chill be damned.

The weather was something I did not miss. Unfortunately for me and anyone else that resides in New York City over the past month, however, this Polar Vortex business had to come down and gum up the works, plunging our typically chilly January into an utterly frigid one. This has prompted a wave of people wearing layers, bright red faces and a barrage of tweets by people complaining about how cold it is as if the ability to wear the aforementioned layers does not exist. If I have any advice to people enduring these extremes, it is that, if they're not so into those temperatures, they should not do this:

They should not stand outside for five hours watching a hockey game.

I know this because that's exactly what I did this past Sunday afternoon, as my New Jersey Devils played one whole period of outdoor hockey against the New York Rangers at Yankee Stadium before standing around for 40 minutes while the Rangers scored six straight goals, as part of the 2014 NHL Stadium Series. Obviously that last bit of the whole deal didn't exactly please me, but on the plus side I got to freeze to the bone in the name of taking some pretty awesome pictures like this one or this one once the snow began to fall. And as an added bonus, the Devils shirked the temptation to wear gaudy new "futuristic" alternates in favor of their throwback uniforms from when the franchise first moved to New Jersey in 1982. Silly as they may look, I am always in favor of those fantastic green shorts.

Unfortunately, the green shorts were the best thing I had to look at once the second period began. After jumping out to an unexpected 3-1 lead in the first, New Jersey looked to be on its way to an impressive and memorable win in the elements. But a dirty goal (as they're called) late in the first by New York handed the Rangers momentum in the second period, and they drove it home by putting up a four-spot in the second inning.

By the time the third period, in which New York would extend its lead to 7-3 on a penalty shot goal by Derek Stepan, was under way, victory seemed thoroughly out of reach. This made the chilling temperatures and the $150 I spent on a ticket seem like kind of a drag. On the plus side, I was upgraded from my initial seats in the bleachers, which were covered with snow and salt, because they were obstructed view. Instead I was placed in section 115 row 27, which not only provided us with a significantly better view of the game, but also put us just under the second deck overhang and thus dry when the snow began to fall.

Also, Patrik Elias scored twice, which was pretty cool. And Jaromir Jagr continued to display the veteran savvy that he's had all season and -- this should not be understated -- might be the only reason the Devils are actually in the playoff race.

There were also a fair share of quirks around the building that made it interesting, such as the Yankees merchandise stores being completely supplanted with a preponderance of Rangers merchandise and, uh, like one or two Devils hats. Devils and Rangers flags ringed the top of the building rather than the standard baseball team pennants, certain warning signs around the building seemed a bit out of place and I found that for a stadium that is just five years old, it may not have been built with the finest craftsmanship.

Considering the Devils lost the game, and the two points that went with it, I tried my best to enjoy the experience. By the end of the game there was a certain perverted pride in having withstood the brutal temperatures, even if I could barely feel my toes or fingers by the end. As an added bonus, when the Devils introduced their fan of the game on the jumbotron, some guy named Malachi Clyburn, I manged to get some 15 seconds of fame as the lug in eight layers standing behind him.

I suppose in the end you can't beat that.

In the three days since, I've managed to put the whole experience in perspective, which is to say that aside from the loss, the chills I'm just now getting past and the chicken fingers and steak sandwich that cooled off in about four seconds (though my beer did stay ice cold), it was pretty damn cool. After all, seeing your favorite team play its most bitter rival outdoors in one of the most famous (if overrated) stadiums in America is a pretty unique experience -- one worth well more than the cost of my ticket. I often say that when I buy a ticket to anything I'm going for the atmosphere. If I want a great view, I'll watch on TV. An event like this provided atmosphere in spades.

The only thing better than watching the whole thing unfold was the 45-minute long hot shower I took when I finally got home. Not since I was marooned in Schiphol, the Netherlands this past summer and I took my first good hot shower after three weeks in Africa had I felt so refreshed. And now that I'm finally warm, cozy and somehow not suffering from pneumonia after enduring the elements for an afternoon, I'm doing the only sensible thing there is.

I'm going to another outdoor game tonight.

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