Adventures in the Cup Finals: Part 3

Sorry for the delay on this one, folks. I've been working for the man all week, training (again) with a bunch of ex-convicts and drug addicts so that I can sell local and long distance packages at Talk America. Don't worry, that story will appear here soon enough, it's worth telling. On with the show...

And now, join me as I conclude my journey through the Stanley Cup Finals...

So after game 6, I drove back to Gainesville the next day (Sunday) and got a grand total of three hours of sleep. I awoke at 8:30am on Monday and drove across town to work at the Wrights' Hallmark store since the manager was out of town. At noon, I made my way back to campus and took a test in my intro to psychology class...

...and then it was time to hit the road. A number of my friends got into this whole hockey thing, since it was all I talked about for the entire two months of the playoffs, so everybody was pretty excited for game 7. Brian made a trip up to Gainesville and rode with myself, Alex and Alex's sister Jackie on the two hour trek to Tampa.

We made it to the Forum by about 6:00 and met up with my 'rents and Fraser. Every fairweather fan and their mother decided to descend upon downtown Tampa, so we decided it best to watch the game at our old stomping grounds - Hattrick's. After all, I hadn't seen a loss there yet.

Disaster struck early. I ate before we left Gainesville and the combination of no sleep and shot nerves from the impending game 7 meant very little appetite. Fray wasn't even hungry enough to order his Reuben, and I could only eat half of my Cuban...

It's amazing how sports make everyone think every little thing they do affects the team.

Hattrick's was more crowded than any of us had ever seen. Putting a million people in a crammed shitty bar inevitably means disaster, so of course the toilets overflowed and poured out into the bar. And it wasn't even Fraser's fault this time.

Brian unsuspectingly made his way to the bathroom to realize it had turned into a wasteland. The manager was there and advised that he go behind the building to take a leak on the back wall. Classy place, as you can tell.

I was dehydrated as hell and was wearing long pants, a shirt, and a jersey, and the inside of the bar was about ten thousand degrees, so I damn near had a heatstroke before I took off my jersey and headed out for a breather in between periods. After the second period with a 2-0 lead, we decided to head down to the Forum to join the party. To prevent passing out and dying, I took off my jersey, doused my head with a water bottle, and put my hair up in a ponytail. It was at this point that I realized I was becoming a true Floridian redneck, wearing nothing but a plain white t-shirt, completely soaked in what a bystander would assume was sweat, with my ugly ass beard and a ponytail. All I needed was to own a Kid Rock album. If only I could get a tan.

Whoever organized the viewing party outside the Forum was a complete moron. They decided to use their own broadcast instead of ABC's cameras, and there was no score or time box available on the screen projected on the side of the parking garage wall. There we were, in the blazing heat, standing shoulder-to-shoulder with 50 thousand people in front of the Forum with no clue how much time was left in the game. Luckily, a kindly group of Mexicans behind us had a radio and supplied time updates whenever Dave Mishkin called them out in his broadcast.

A group of possibly homosexual frat boys in front of us decided it would be cool to get on each other's shoulders and yell stuff. Now I'm of the belief that it's okay to put a girl on your shoulders, but one shirtless guy holding up another shirtless guy is a bit too much.

But, as has been a recurring theme in these Stanley Cup stories, the beauty of sport brings together the most unlikely of friends. As we counted down the final seconds in the Lightning's 2-1 victory in unison with the Mexicans behind us with the radio to their ears, an assortment of hugs were in order.

Mexican radio listeners, guy who spilled his beer on me, shirtless homosexual frat guys, my father... they're not the type of people I usually give hugs to, but what can I say? I was in a good mood.

After squeezing the life out of everyone, it was party time. I damn near knocked the wind out of my dad after jumping on his unsuspecting back as we celebrated. Rick and the Chief were broadcasting live from in front of the Forum, and despite our best attempts to harass the Chief, he refused to acknowledge us. My parents fared better however. A few days later after the victory parade and rally at the Forum, they ran into the Chief at Hattrick's. My mom got to fulfill her lifelong goal of telling the Chief that he is "the sexiest man alive," while my dad talked to him for a good 30 minutes about hockey in general. While I'm disappointed I didn't get to witness that one, it's comforting to hear that he's as nice of a guy as he seems on TV.

As we made our way back to our vehicles after lingering around the Forum for awhile, we saw a number of buildings in downtown Tampa had arranged their office lights to look like Lightning bolts, and one building's lights spelled out "GO BOLTS." Very cool stuff.

The surely alcohol-fueled fans made their way home with their horns on their cars on full blast for the whole ride. A quick wave of the hand or scream while walking in front of a stop light ensured you a cacophony of assorted car honks.

And so we worked our way back to our cars for the long and happy trip back to Gainesville after one of the most fun nights of my life. As we crossed one street, we had an encounter with whom I still believe might very well have been Jarome Iginla's parents. We sat at a street corner with cars honking at us as a black man and a white woman wearing Calgary jerseys approached us and asked "Which way is the convention center?" The man had a thick African accent.

After I pointed them in the right direction, they thanked us and began to walk away. After they took a few steps off toward their destination, I grabbed their attention. "By the way," I said as they turned around to acknowledge me, "sorry."

The two of them stopped and then looked down at their Calgary jerseys before looking back up at me and laughing. "It's okay," said the African fellow. Whether they were truly his parents or not, I will say that Jarome represented them well.

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