The Horn Man Blows
So frequent Bog commenter Wise Girls-DC sent me to interview this guy at last night's Caps game who spends much of the game tooting on a long black horn, which doesn't look exactly like this or these, but pretty close. The approximate sound is BRRREMP!!! BRRREMP!!! BRRREMP!!!, which is followed by the entire arena shouting "LET'S GO CAPS!" Or at least, that portion of the arena whose ear drums haven't exploded.
Silly blogger that I am, I wandered down to interview Sam Wolk, not realizing that the experience would cause permanent hearing loss and possibly bleeding of the brain. Sam, who shares the hockey fan's typical obsession with the slightly odd facial hair (in his case a Scott Ian-esque long-and-skinny goatee), actually has a fascinating horn history, which he shared with Caps fans last year via a Super Fan feature on the scoreboard. In case you missed it....
The Horn Man bought his first horn at George Bush the Elder's inauguration, when 14-year-old Wootton-High-attending Sam and his brother were allowed to skip school if they had a parental note promising that they'd go down to the glorious festivities. So they did, and they encountered a plastic horn salesman selling blue plastic horns for something like $5. So Sam bought one, and in the late '90s he began regularly BRRREMPing from Caps games. He's not exactly a musician, but he did take one year of trumpet lessons when he was nine.
(You know, speaking of music, how 'bout that super-hype pre-game big band mix playing in the phone booth last night. Dear sports marketers: If you wanna fire up your crowd, make sure you play the pre-game compilation of "Satin Doll," "Take the 'A' Train" and "In the Mood." The crowd goes nuts. Trust me. Or ask anyone who was there last night. Insane.)
(Speaking of people who were there last night, Canadian blogger Prairie Fire claims last night's game was the most sparsely attended professional sporting event he's ever attended, and also that a Caps game might be the whitest place in D.C., with the possible exception of the U.S. Senate.)
Anyhow, Sam The Horn Man. So he had this plastic horn that he would toot at Caps games, but then, as happens in any good sports feature, especially the kind that win awards, tragedy reared its ugly head. After a win over the Penguins, Sam was celebrating the victory and chanting "Go Home Pens" on the concourse, and the horn somehow fell out of his bag, and some Penguins fans did a little tap dance routine on top of his blue plastic love.
"It was never the same after that," Sam said. "It was heartbreaking."
Friends told Sam he could get those horns at RFK Stadium during DCU games, and so he went there soon after Horn One's demise and got a whole bunch of black plastic horns, which, all those years later, still were retailing for about $5.
"Inflation," he said, "apparently doesn't cover plastic horns, so that's good."
And gradually, his celebrity grew. Now, when Sam walks through the concourse, parents point and whisper to their kids, "there goes The Horn Man." Once, a boy came up and asked to hug him. Last night, for the first time, a fan asked him for his autograph. He's friends with fellow Super Fan (and Bog commenter) Goat, who sits on a lower level but helps lead the "LET'S GO CAPS!" chants. Others told me that the horn can be heard on the concourse, and in the lower levels; it can also be heard during radio and TV broadcasts, home and away.
I asked Caps newcomer Rico Fata whether the players can hear the horn; "now that you mention it, yeah, I actually heard it in the third period," said Fata, while eating a postgame slice of pizza. "I thought it was coming from the speakers."
Which brings us to the noise level. It's loud. It's deafening. Conversation is impossible when the horn sounds. Sam aims toward the roof, so as not to actually puncture ear drums. When kids are seated nearby, Sam and his friends warn the parents to cover their children's ears. Season ticket holder (and RoadkillRampage proprietor) Andrew Mickert asked for his seats to be moved because he found the aural onslaught "annoying as hell."
"Then I was like, 'Ah, hell, this isn't that bad,'" Mickert said, and asked to be moved back. Others who sit nearby have come to similar conclusions; "that ear drum's already popped," as Andrea Neuman put it. Some fans have actually requested to be in The Horn Man's section.
"I chose to sit behind him," Brian Bean said. [Previously misspelled as Dean, apologies.]
"The key word there: behind," his friend, Peggy, said.
Visiting arenas aren't always as welcoming. In Atlanta, they told him he was too loud. Madison Square Garden officials threatened to kick him out. So did people in Pittsburgh. At Flyers and Islanders games, he was told he wouldn't be allowed in with his horn. In Montreal, he had to put the horn inside a locker.
Other Caps horn blowers have gone and gone, and newcomers still pop up around the building. One guy struggles to reach the high notes and instead slums around the horn's lower, dying-moose range; Sam and his friends chant "Kill the Moose" when this happens.
Finally I bid The Horn Man and his friends goodbye, and promised I'd be back.
"Wear ear plugs next time," Peggy said.
October 19, 2006; 12:52 PM ET
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