It seems that sometimes in our lives inspiration and great joy come from the most unlikely places. Recently, I had a chance to attend a Stanley Cup Playoff game at the PPG Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. But this blog is not about the Penguins.
After being on the road for most of the week, I was back in my old hometown to visit my father, who over the past few years has lost his eyesight to macular degeneration and has begun to battle the challenges many eighty-eight-year-olds face. After spending several days being with my father and doing a little home repair work, I was planning to fly back home to Seattle.
But the Pens won their second-round series the day I arrived and a very kind and generous friend and his wife invited me to attend the first playoff game in the eastern conference finals against the Ottawa (Canada) Senators in Pittsburgh, if I’d change my flight. Despite being tired from a long week, and frankly a little depressed about my father’s deteriorating health, I was excited to see the game with them and their wonderful twelve-year-old son, who’s like a nephew to me.
We met at my hotel and walked to the game among a sea of black and gold clad fans, peppered with a few Ottawa fans dressed in their team’s red jerseys. As I entered the arena, I felt the pride and sprit of the city rising within, seeing the great fans of Pittsburgh who’d sold out the arena for nearly five hundred consecutive games.
After grabbing a few souvenirs, along with a hot dog and a beer, we made our way to our seats as the rumbling music and roaring fans watched the players take the ice. The arena was a sea of gold—a ‘gold out’ my friend’s son explained. Colorful lights and lasers roamed the ice as the Pens video played on the giant screen above center ice. Then, the teams took their places on their blue lines, removed their helmets and rested their sticks on the ice, as they always do in advance of the national anthem.
I’d seen the Penguins’ games on TV, and when they play the national anthem it’s an emotional event. In Pittsburgh, a town that came from the hard working, tough as nails steel business and that developed the reputation for having some of the toughest and most loyal fans in the country, everyone sings the national anthem. Like many Americans, for me the anthem stirs an emotional pride of all that’s come before, including all the sacrifices others made, to allow that moment to happen.
So, I was ready. This would be a moment to remember. You could hear a pin drop, just before the announcer said, please remove your hats and join us in singing the national anthem. I removed my Penguins cap and placed it over my heart and cleared my throat to join in. The singer walked to the ice and raised the mic in the spotlight…and everyone started singing the national anthem—of Canada! Not just listening, singing, loudly, all the words. They had the words on the scoreboard, but it seemed most knew the words as if they’d done it before. I was overwhelmed with pride and emotion as twenty thousand Americans sang O Canada at the top of their lungs. When they finished and cheered, they sang our national anthem with a pride and spirit that was as special as the first anthem.
Pittsburgh is a melting pot. It was built on the hard work of proud immigrants from around the world. And you could see that as their descendants and their transplanted neighbors showed that night. With all the challenges going on in the world, the fans of Pittsburgh made me very proud to be an American. For me, they didn’t need to drop the puck. I had gotten more than my money’s worth already.
While the Pens lost to the Senators that night, I was not disappointed (I still would like them to win the Stanley Cup!). If you wanted to see the effect of such a simple benevolent act, all you had to do was be with me as I was walking out of the stadium with my friends’ young son. Packed in a stairwell, he stopped and high-fived a grinning kid half his age, dressed in an Ottawa jersey, and told him and his father their team played a great game. O Say Can You See…