Don’t get me wrong; outdoor NHL hockey featuring two original six rivals on New Years Day is a special event. However, this scene doesn’t even compare to the spectacle of coming within a matter of feet from a childhood hero.
From my vantage point below the private suites I was lucky enough to catch a glimpse of a number of high profile celebrities. Actor Vince Vaughn, director John Hughes, Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan, and numerous athletes all received warm receptions from fans as they hustled back to their exclusive latte filled accommodations.
Yet, for me, no emotion was as strong as the overwhelming sense of pure bliss I felt as a true pioneer of the television game show industry made his way above the awe struck Chicago crowd (and no I’m not talking about Jeff Probst). Of course I’m referring to the legend himself, Wheel Of Fortune’s Pat Sajak.
This was one of those once in a lifetime moments where you simply can’t believe your eyes. Time literally stopped as Pat casually strolled atop the gondola barely glancing down at his throng of game show groupies below. As the crowd broke out into a “Paaaaaat Sajak” chant it was really all we could do to contain ourselves. We were like a bunch of Dead Heads running into Jerry Garcia in 1972.
But, unlike some of the other more cordial celebrities it became painfully obvious that Pat’s television fame had gone to his head as he failed to acknowledge his devoted followers. The chant quickly took a dark turn as fans in unison now screamed “F- – - You Sajak.” Moral of the story is that our television idols aren’t always who we think they are.
After trailing 3-1 at the end of the first the Wings completely took over the game in the second period. Jiri Hudler potted two goals, while Pavel Datsyuk’s dazzling effort to split between two Hawk defenders and slide the puck through goalie Cristobal Huet gave Detroit a 4-3 edge heading into the third period.
During the second intermission one thing became crystal clear: nobody was having a better time than Bobby Hull. By this point my New Years Eve had really gotten the best of me when an affable, rosy-faced, cheery Bobby Hull floated by me I could only dream about being in similar form. It was as if he didn’t have a care in the world.
Now I recognize that in Part 1 I referred to Bobby as inebriated and for the record I’d just like to say this may or may not have been the case (although I’m strongly leaning towards option number one). What’s the point of this story you might wonder? The point is this: a festive Bobby Hull beats out a sober Pat Sajak everyday of the week.
Detroit picked up right where they left off in period two. Brian Rafalski and Brett Lebda scored 17 seconds apart early in the frame making it five unanswered goals by the road team. As the crowd began filing out of Wrigley I stumbled down to the Wings’ dugout in hopes of getting some Winter Classic memorabilia.
Red Wings fans were jockeying for position as trainers handed out all types of gear to onlookers. I had my eye on Tomas Holmstrom’s stick that was subsequently given to some fair-weather fan who probably had it posted for sale on eBay before he left the stadium.
Another diehard Wings fan beside me was handed Andreas Lilja’s stick from Wings personnel. He then turned to me and asked, “Do you know who Anne-Dris Lil-Jah is?” I said, “Yes. He plays third base for the Pistons.” He gave me a somewhat puzzled look as he sauntered off into the Chicago day with his new souvenir.
But, don’t feel sorry for me because this story has a happy ending. Before exiting into the dugout a trainer must have witnessed the expression of sadness on my face and yelled up at me, “Hey bud here ya go” and tossed me a blank, black, used, hockey puck. Thanks.
In the interest of full disclosure I must tell you the highlight of my trip to the 2009 Winter Classic had absolutely nothing to do with the game. In truth, it took place a night earlier at a somewhat chic Chicago nightspot.
After taste testing several different kinds of wine my friend made his selection and decided to purchase himself a personal bottle. However, around halfway through the bottle he had a change of heart and called the waiter back to our table to demand a full refund.
“But, sir you sampled the wine before you purchased it” said the distressed waiter who seemed to be raising a good point. And, with quite possibly one of the most audacious responses I’ve heard in my entire life my friend retorted, “Yes I did, but unfortunately my tasting palate was off.”
The amazing thing is this bold move actually paid off as he received a full refund (shortly before he was kicked out).
Chicago you truly were a hospitable, welcoming, and charitable host. Without question you are everything Mr. Sajak despises.