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I remember how epic any win was back when I would grab a Student Rush ticket 30 minutes before game time back in the Dark Ages. Nothing beat an easily obtained Section A ticket for 20 bucks to watch Rico Fata skate really fast and miss open nets and jokes like Steve McKenna just generally suck. The Pens were horrid but every game marked a great time with great friends. I thought it was rough then but just a few years later those same friends and I were at rallies in the freezing cold outside of the arena praying for Mario and Isle of Capri to save our beloved 'Guins. Those were days marked by snow, clever signs, and poorly sung choruses of Don't Stop Believing. And thank Sir Buries It that we never did stop.
Of course the memories got better. One of my fondest memories was taking a close friend to her first game ever and seeing the speechless expression on her face just as she caught sight of the ice through the seats as we came through Gate 1. I remember hearing her just barely mutter "wow" under her breath. The Pens got shut out that night and Andre Roy was the Number 1 star with two goals. What was worse than that was Crosby got his infamous high ankle sprain and everyone thought the season was over. As vividly as I remember the sound of Sid clumping into the boards, I remember my friend's whisper of "wow" even more. Despite the loss she was dedicated from that day on, going with me to several games both away and at Lady Mellon. More recently she joined me in attendance for the greatness of things like Dupuis and Sykora's dual hat tricks and Geno's pure domination of Cam Ward. Neither of us can help saying Caaaam Waaaard every time the Canes are brought up since that night. We even had the honor of sitting next to a former member of the Montreal Canadiens at a game… he wouldn't identify himself but he showed us his Stanley Cup Ring. We couldn't help but look to the rafters after he showed us and hope for a third banner up there. Just a few months later those playoffs came. I'll never forget laying out on blankets playing endless rounds of Uno and eating big greasy Primanti sammiches on the Mellon Arena lawn all afternoon to save those spots up close to the big screen during the playoffs with some of my closest friends, who often became even closer with every victorious high five, hug, and toast as our boys of winter became our champions of the summer.
My truly euphoric moment at the arena came in June. I was walking back to Oakland by myself after watching the Victory Parade and made sure to walk past the Mellon. I stopped and saw the old arena, still abuzz, and fondly remembered all those great and not-so great moments. It was undeniably an important part of my life. Just across the street, hanging from massive steel girders, was an enormous banner that read "Say Hello to an Old Friend." I literally stood between parts of my past and inevitable future, and I may have never had a moment so bittersweet.
I was bred for this crap. I grew up mockingly chanting "Ollie" with my dad when he would take me to a Pens-Caps game and Kolzig would inevitably shit the bed. Now there's a hell of a recurring memory. So of course as I started to try to think back of my great times at the arena, I thought I might be better off asking the two longest running, most dedicated Penguins fans I know about their memories of the Civic Arena. Mom and Dad didn't disappoint.
My father got his first season tickets back in 73 when he found a special deal to get half the season as a student for three bucks a ticket. Damn. He knew a lot more about the Steel Mills in Homestead than he did about hockey and wasn't even sure if he'd go to all the games, yet the next season he was at every game as early as he could rockin' his sweet poweder blue Syl Apps jersey. He has trouble recalling any games in particular except for one on April 26, 1975. Yep, he rememberd the date and a lot of the non-bandwagoners probably know why. He was so excited to get into Game 7 against the Islanders that he forgot his playoff ritual: kissing the ticket as he entered the Civic Arena. That night the Penguins lost to allow New York to become one of only two teams to ever come back from a 3-0 series hole. He doesn't remember any details of the game itself but he does remember one thing like it was yesterday: as he walked down the ramps out of Section D7 he experienced what he swears was the quietest moment in the history of the Civic Arena. He has since never failed to kiss his ticket as he walks into the arena for a playoff game.
He was horribly discouraged but my dad kept his season tickets. Two years later in 1977 he attended a huge victory as the Guins beat the Sabres 3-2 in March. But that wasn't the huge victory. He had taken along his girlfriend who was quickly becoming a hockey fan after going to games with him for a few dates. That puckbunny went with the hopes of seeing hearththrob Pierre Larouche or the dreamy new rookie Malone. Yep, the first one. Of course, she also wanted to see her favorite enforcer Battleship Kelly beat some shmuck's ass. Seriously, she told me all that. Anyway, between the 2nd and 3rd period just after fans played a game of "Score-O" for prizes on the ice, my dad offered her a surprise souveneir of a very different kind: a "piece of the ice" as he called it (hey I never said he was romantic.) It was an engagement ring and a huge victory.
They've been married ever since, still hold season tickets up in D6, and raised 3 hockey fanatics including myself. Dad's appreciation for Jean Pronovost has morphed into a Staal fandom and Mom's strange fascination with Battleship Kelly has shifted to her adorning a Godard jersey, or "Battleship Godard" as she calls him. Over the past 35 years they've seen and experienced everything from the reign of Rick Kehoe to the mini-dynasty of Buries It to the just a few short months ago when they could say It's a Great Year for Hockey. They got their chance to touch the cup at center ice of the arena, which they still defiantly call the Civic Arena, and spoke of the moment as quote "electrifying." Surprisingly my Dad, the most impatient man in the fucking world, said waiting 4 hours for it was completely worth it since he had waited 17 years. My memories can hardly trump that, not even close.
Sorry again for the length guys but I hope you enjoyed some tales from some old timers (and my own lame rambling too I guess.) I know I did.