Monday, July 6, 2009

The Day Ended With a Kiss

I can, unfortunately, count on one hand the number of adjectives that I use to explain events on a daily basis. "That was amazing/incredible/unbelievable/phenomenal" get the picture. But none of those worn-out and over-used descriptors can do justice to the experience I had on a Tuesday in June when I spent the day with the greatest trophy in sports - The Stanley Cup. So, what I usually do with one word (the closest I've gotten is "special," but even that doesn't come close), I'm going to try to accomplish in, say, a thousand.
I was sure I fully realized the magnitude of the day until I crossed the Fort Pitt Bridge into downtown Pittsburgh around 6:35 a.m. My heart was finishing Stage 7 of the Tour de France and was simultaneously telling me that I had underestimated this moment. I walked through the doors of FSN-Pittsburgh and into the studio, where I was told the Cup would be displayed. There was nothing there yet, so my boss gave me an editing assignment right away: I was to create an hour-long loop tape of the final 3:17 of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals so we could play it all day on the TV's in the studio for the visiting families to watch as they got their picture taken with the Cup. Talk about suspenseful - I was reliving the moments where my Penguins were winning the Stanley Cup just minutes before I would see it in person. I couldn't help but remember Pens radio commentator Mike Lange's words after the clock hit triple zero: "Oh, Lord Stanley, scratch their names on your fabled cup." My sports brain took my real brain back to watching now-USSR-red-clad Marian Hossa catch his breath while the Soviets celebrated on Lady Mellon Arena's ice, and then slowly moved through the roller coaster 2009 season - listening to the opener in Sweden, hitting rock bottom after six unanswered goals against the Leafs, hearing about a coaching change that unfortunately needed to happen, watching TSN online as news broke about huge Pens moves at the trade deadline, listening to Lange announce the first of five straight road wins for a Pens team stuck in 10th place, and finally exhaling after Marc-Andre Fleury's breakaway robbery of Alexander Ovechkin and Rob Scuderi's desperation saves in Game 6 of the Finals. As any sports fan can attest, you feel like you take the journey right alongside your favorite teams, not from a couch hundreds of miles away.
When the video was done and I had come-to, the rest of the interns had arrived and we went to the studio to be briefed on the day's happenings. A blue box had appeared on the studio floor, and it looked more like a rolling coffin or a "suspicious package" that would warrant airport security's time than the traveling sanctuary for Lord Stanley's Cup, but nonetheless, I was already in awe. The history of the Cup is unbelievable - it's the oldest trophy in sports (dating all the way back to 1893, the first year engraved on the cup) - and so are its traditions - each person involved with a Cup-winning team gets a day with the trophy, and if you aren't a person directly involved in the team's success, you don't lift the Cup above your head (I really hope that if someone were to try this, the Cup would either sprout arms and smack the person in the head, or go on the Janet Jackson diet and become too heavy to lift).
As we left the room, a man with a Hockey Hall of Fame crest on his jacket pocket passed us. The man, Mike, who I called the "Cup Bearer" for lack of a better title, is part of a special fraternity of people who are with the trophy threehundredandsixtyfive days a year. These men are to the Stanley Cup what the Secret Service is to the President (I was afraid to ask if he would take a bullet for it, but I think I already knew the answer), and they are about as intense as the First Family's bodyguards, too. When we returned to the room after receiving more instructions, I think I stopped breathing for about the time it took me to write this paragraph.
There it was, resting on the table, light seemingly hitting it from all the magnificent angles, The Stanley Cup. I couldn't say so before that moment, but I am now a believer in love at first sight.
I took my position on the floor, not anywhere mentally close to ready to greet people who would be arriving shortly, but I semi-snapped out of it as I, for the fourth time in an hour, saw Fleury make the save on Nicklas Lidstrom that ensured that 375,000 people would get the chance to participate in a parade on the streets of Pittsburgh. I saw that play almost twenty times in eight hours, and got chills every single time. I'm sure I can expect the same emotion each time I see it for the rest of my life.
Back to reality, once again, where a closer look at Mike found him fully equipped with a scowl and a pair of dark sunglasses, but also with a great knowledge of his commander-in-chief. A visitor was perusing the names on the Cup, when, without hesitation, Mike stood up, walked to the Cup, barely looked at it, pointed in two spots and said "Mario Lemieux, Mario Lemieux."
Unspoken question, answered.
The next seven hours were a huge blur for me, with 1,100 people coming in and out of the studio, each one wanting group/individual/semi-individual/half-group/double-baby/half-body/hugging/kissing pictures with it. We had to remind a group of guys that, sure, they could make out with it, but they should remember that they were kissing a bunch of guy's names. They proceeded anyway, and why wouldn't they? More famous lips have kissed that trophy than maybe any other thing in the world, except maybe Donald Trump's keester.
But after my work was done, and everyone was starting to physically (not mentally) leave, I got a chance to move closer and get my picture taken with Lord Stanley's Cup. Can you believe it? Yes, I realize nearly a billion pictures were taken with the Cup in a matter of hours, but I was trying my best to not ruin the moment. Every "epic failure" scene in a movie was rolling through my head at one time: I'd trip over the platform and knock over the Cup into the back window, the glass and the thirty-five pound metal trophy would somehow shatter and I'd go to jail for life after Mike punched me continually in the esophagus.
As I got within inches, I could see the famous flaws - besides the Cup itself being dented, there was the 1981 misspelling of "Islanders" as "Ilanders" and an uninvolved man's name crossed out with a series of X's, and the lack of a rhyme or reason to the engraving (in 1991 - M. Lemieux, Capt - and in 1992 - Mario Lemieux, Capt.), among many others.
I guess that's part of the lure of the Stanley Cup, it is as imperfect as you expect a hundred-plus year trophy to be and it truly is the player's trophy. The players spend the most time with it (the Cup has been everywhere from strip clubs to the bottoms of swimming pools to the tops of mountains - the most uttered phrase that day was "If the Cup could write a book..."), and it is available for human contact, whereas if you were to go to the Steeler complex, you would see six Lombardi trophies enclosed behind protective glass. The Stanley Cup doesn't have its own private jet or bulletproof glass, it gets wheeled onto the plane with Mike and its cover is a ventriloquist's trunk with a few "Fragile" stickers attached to it.
I got my picture with it quickly, and then contrary to what my history has been with girls, I went in for the kiss. Dry and cool, but still, the best kiss of my life. Quite the spectacular aura surrounds The Stanley Cup. Despite the imperfections, I'll be surprised if I ever think another trophy is as beautiful as this one, all factors included.
My boss reminded me to pick my jaw up off the floor so I didn't trip and basically had to push me out the door so he could go home, but I left the studio feeling upliftingly odd, like something inspiring had flown to my car with me. And as I sat in horrible rush hour traffic that I didn't even bother to notice, I often wondered if the reason for my excitement was that I had actually stolen the Cup and was still in its presence.
I left checking my rear view to make sure the beautiful casket wasn't residing in my back seat; every time I looked I genuinely wondered if it was there.
I left having had the experience of a lifetime, one I wish every hockey fan could get the chance to have, and feeling as though Lord Stanley had scratched his name on my memory forever, and that I'd probably never actually leave that moment.
I left knowing that I desperately needed to find a new adjective.


  1. Love the blog! Sounds like FSN has been great. Although, there are too many germs on that Cup. I couldn't kiss it.

  2. "Unlike my experience with girls..." Very clever and this is wonderful.