Rangers Fans: Polite, Asleep
Shortly before Game 6 began, I was walking through the 300 level of Madison Square Garden, where I saw a Rangers fan. Asleep. Head lolling back and forth. The whole bit.
More than an hour later, I walked up through a different section, and saw a different fan. Eyes closed. Off in some different, less Russian place. I don't know if he was technically in REM land, but he looked every bit as sleepy as the actual Rangers.
So yeah, it wasn't exactly the raucous cauldron of vein-popping hatred I had predicted after seeing those front-row Caps fans enter into a screaming match with Rangers boss John Tortorella Friday at Verizon Center. If you wandered down to the equivalent area of Madison Square Garden on Sunday--front few rows, behind the visiting bench--the mood was...well...
"Depressing," offered Danny Nazaruk.
"But at least we don't live in a city filled with politicians, right?" his friend, John Demase, said hopefully.
(Note: I'm really just writing this to get angry arguments in the comments and to quote Cyndi Lauper and some fellow front-row types; it is not meant as an actual comprehensive report on fan conditions at Madison Square Garden. Caps fans have e-mailed me both positive and negative reports in that regard.)
The Rangers' letter to NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman claimed that D.C. fans had been tossing out homophobic insults at the Rangers bench. And as previously mentioned, stand-in coach Jim Schoenfeld explained that Tortorella was merely standing up for his players against a verbal assault from the stands.
"I know the thing that triggered it, and it wasn't any sling they threw at him, and there were many," he said. "It's what they said about one of his players....And there's a certain line that people cross. And that's what happened with John. You can say what you want to Torts. I know the man. Call him whatever you want. He'll tell you what to do with your horse, but he's ok with that. But DON'T get down on the people he cares about. He'll fight for them. He will fight for them, and that's what he did."
All that said, how did those fans in the front rows of Madison Square Garden act toward the Caps?
"Like every other New Yorker: with respect," Derek Wilbert said. "We're not trash, like D.C. fans, and you can quote that."
"A lot of people yelling, but no cursing," Jack Jaredstruss added. "Legitimate hockey fans, calling it like it is."
"We don't curse," said a third fan, Arthur Gordon. "If we curse, we get thrown out."
Indeed, the fans down low said the MSG security folks won't tolerate any bad language. And there was at least one guard more than usual behind the Caps bench. The rest of the arena has an easier time; as the big-screen was blaring its pre-game anti-obscenity warning, those Rangers fans were showering Caps fans with "[Bleep]-hole" chants.
To be serious, there are real reasons it would have been harder to have any sort of fan incident at Game 6. Sunday afternoon games bring a more family atmosphere. The rowdiest Rangers fans sit much higher in the building, keeping the action away from the glass. There's a large buffer zone between fans and the bench, preventing any sort of close encounter. Guards stand right at the glass.
And part of the issue may have been the massive number of celebrities occupying those prime seats. The team distributed a print-out listing Spike Lee, Whoopi Goldberg (booed), Chloe Sevigny, Matthew Modine, Will Arnett and Cyndi Lauper among the VIPs. Lauper was sitting directly behind the Capitals' penalty box (and the ensuing buffer), but she said she wasn't getting into it with the sin-binners.
"We're New Yorkers, we believe in showing it on the ice," Lauper told me. "I don't heckle. I may boo once in a while. Now, I heckle the refs for not calling a horrible foul, which sends a horrible message to the children....By not throwing [Brashear] out of the game, you send a message to the little ones that dirty play is ok. It's not ok. If I want to see wrestling, I'll go see the WWE."
Across the ice and behind the bench, Gordon and his friend Adam Rosen were doing their part to make the arena inhospitable. They heckled Sergei Fedorov about Anna Kournikova. They heckled Brashear about being a goon. They heckled Alex Ovechkin about spraying his Gatorade onto the ice, which they interpreted as disrespect.
"He thinks he's all that and a bag of chips," Gordon told me. "He ain't even a bag of chips. I told him to go to Brighton Beach, we'd take care of him. He'll know what I mean."
"He said it smells here," Rosen added. "Listen, you don't come into the world's most famous arena and bash it. You don't say that about Madison Square Garden. I don't care if you score 80 goals, you're not bigger than Madison Square Garden."
Rosen was plenty chatty with the Caps, and he earned an admirer in the Knicks' Chris Duhon, who was sitting right behind Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau, along with teammate Danilo Gallinari. But they weren't about to stand up like that sweatpanted D.C. fan, trading insults with the opposition.
"No, no, I know how it feels," Duhon said. "I just kind of sit back and watch."
I didn't see any Free Torts signs, nor were there any noticeable cheers in honor of the missing coach. In fact, there were hardly any cheers of any kind: lots of boos, at least one "Fire Sather" chant, ever-broadening swaths of empty seats from a fan base that repeatedly e-mailed invective at me after I suggested that they, like other fan bases, can act like front-runners.
Seriously, if there's a better verb for "booing your team and leaving the game early when your team is behind on the scoreboard," just let me know, and I'll use that word next time. Or tell me the best word to describe a crowd that reacts to "Welcome to the Jungle" with all the fiery roars you usually hear during the famous "O patria mia" aria when the Met stages Aida. It was quiet, in other words.
But I did hear at least one fan reference the rumor that a D.C. fan had tossed a beverage on Tortorella. I mentioned that rumor to Lauper.
"Maybe New Yorkers got more class," she suggested with a laugh.
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