The Ice Bowl
As hockey fans know, the NHL Winter Classic game took place on January 1, 2008, between the Buffalo Sabres and the Pittsburgh Penguins. It took roughly a week for the ice surface preparation on the football field, thus transforming The Ralph (Ralph Wilson Stadium, home of the Buffalo Bills) into a hockey arena for over 71,000 spectators. The event marked the largest regular season NHL game ever attended and the first outdoor NHL game played in the U.S. (the first outdoor NHL game took place in 2003 in Edmonton). Though the NHL used the trademark term "Winter Classic" for this game, which was a regularly scheduled game that would have taken place in the Sabres' HSBC Arena, most local folk began to refer to the event as the Ice Bowl.
Of course, there were various drawbacks to the event: the unabashed commercialism (snow had been carted in prior to the actual snowfall to insure a winter wonderland setting for the television viewers--not particularly effective for the fans in the stadium as one can tell from the photo), the fact that the Sabres lost, the continuous snow flurries largely preventing a smooth ice surface (neither team seemed to sustain any momentum due to multiple play stoppages for ice repair). Still, the whole experience was pretty amazing. Seeing a steady snowfall from my window when I awoke, I nearly stayed in bed instead of joining my friends aboard the rented yellow school bus to begin the tailgating festivities at The Ralph by 10 A.M., a full three-hours before the game was to begin. Of the thirty or so people aboard the bus, only three did not have tickets, including me. Back when tickets first went on sale, the NHL claimed a total sell-out in less than thirty minutes. Then, a couple of months ago, hundreds of previously unavailable "obstructed view" seats (lower rows that were at ice level, making it hard to see more than the players' torsos) went on sale for $10, with the restriction that only families with young children could purchase them. Or something weird like that. Inexplicably, more obstructed seats were made available in the days before the game and were quickly snatched up. I was grateful to find on the bus someone who had purchased these tickets the day prior; for only $18, I was able to enter the stadium and sit in the first row (only to watch the action on the Jumbotron). Actually, there was no sitting; almost every fan stayed on his/her feet throughout the entire game, overtime, and shootout. It's not clear if they stayed upright because of sheer excitement or because the seats were wet with snow and they forgot to bring a cushion to sit on, like me. Probably both. When Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh's 20-year old star, took to the ice, we promptly booed his presence. By the time he scored the winning goal in the shootout, over three hours later, it hardly mattered that the Sabres had lost. Sure, it would have been perfect if the Sabres had won, but the whole day had been exhilarating regardless, and the tied game that led to overtime and finally a shootout simply added to the thrill of being there. I agree with those who argue that outdoor NHL games should not become an annual occurence; however, at least for this year, it provided thousands of hockey fans the only good reason to wake up before noon on New Year's Day.