An attempt to provide a sense of the atmosphere I encountered in and about Verizon Center beginning late Saturday afternoon:
4:45 p.m.: We do not have anything approaching hockey weather. In fact, walking down 6th St. under a blazing sun, I’m uncomfortable in merely bluejeans and a business shirt. But I’m better off than six fans I pass who are outfitted in new red Reebok Caps’ sweaters; they are collapsed and passed out against Verizon Center walls, sweat pouring off their temples. District Police revive them by removing the new sweaters and replacing them with old CCMs. Almost instantly the fans recover.
Seriously, I saw a fair number of fans in these rib-huggers out in the heat, and none of them seemed to be moving 9 percent faster than me.
The Caps have a number of young, attractive staffers scurrying about 6th and F Streets on Segways distributing pocket schedules.
5:05: The former Modell’s Caps’ and Wizards’ gear store, which nobody seems to know is named what now, easily has 60 or 70 shoppers in it two hours before the game. It’s actually quite difficult to move around in, it’s so congested. There is rack after rack of new color and logo caps, and they are disappearing fast. The lines at the two registers are consistently six or seven people deep. The team’s new look has been manufactured in a massive array of fashion in this shop, and it’s clearly popular with fans on opening night at home.
Back outside en route to the press entrance, I seize upon an amazing sight: a band of about 25 or 30 men and women — mostly men — congregated on 7th St. wearing hot red wigs, red dresses, and red athletic shoes. This is no ordinary opening night of hockey at home, I think.
5:20: Predictably, it’s novelty-night crowded in the press lounge. Comcast among other broadcast outlets is doing a remote outside the rink, drawing a lot of media personnel who’d otherwise be in the lounge. I arrive in the lounge with a mission to survey various media for their respective slottings of the Caps in the East this season. Here’s what I achieve:
Mike Vogel: 3rd (obviously, he has the Caps winning the Southeast)
Ron Weber: 10th (ouch!)
Eric McErlain: 7th
Corey Masisak: 7th
Dmitry Chesnokov: 6th
6:00: In the press box I’m seated between Eric McErlain and Dmitry Chesnokov. Meaning, my hockey education will be advanced tonight, and I’ll also have the immediate company of good friends. To the right of Eric is a Voice of America reporter originally from the Czech Republic. A couple of reporters in our row mention that the Caps have preserved a press box working space — all season long — for the departed Dave Fay. I mention to the VOA guy that my recollection was that Mr. Leonsis established that policy within a day or two Dave’s leaving us. Incidentally, the bottom of page 1 of the Caps’ 2007 Media Guide carries a dedication to Fay.
6:15: I’m in the refreshment area of the press box, which is partially glassed in, and seeking quiet there because Tim Lemke of the Washington Times is interviewing me about blogging and its impact on the Caps. He emailed me a week or so ago and informed me that he’d already spoken with Eric McErlain (good idea, that) and Jon Press.
The interview lasts longer than I thought it would simply because Tim and I have a real interesting and easy exchange, and he asks good questions. Also, because I love talking about this topic. Lemke mentions his impression that the four of us put a lot of work into OFB. I don’t quite know how to respond; objectively you could posit that we devote a healthy number of hours each week to the site, but even when I’m writing at 2:00 or 3:00 in the morning, knowing I’ll be dragging in the office the next day by early afternoon, I never view the endeavor as labor.
Full disclosure (sort of): three times I ask Lemke to turn off his recorder so that we can chat off the record. I want to provide him as full a sense as possible of what has happened to us over the past year, and various members of the hockey community have shared with me, with a good deal of candor, what they perceive the state of things media in D.C. to be. Mike Vogel once told me that 80 percent of what he hears in his hockey travels necessarily has to end up on the cutting room floor. “It’s a good way to preserve friendships,” he told me.
Lemke tells me that he’s already interviewed Ted Leonsis for his story, and that he’s now going to ask me the same question his did the owner: what would happen if the press box got so crowded with traditional press that bloggers were shouldered out? I told him that we’d already considered that possibility, that our enthusiasm for covering the team and the sport is in no way contingent on being credentialed. Come to think of it, it’s so crowded up here tonight that I feel quite privileged to be included. Lemke tells me that Leonsis told him, “I’ll find room for the bloggers [in Verizon], even if I have to put them in my box.”
The Times has three†reporters here — Corey, Thom Loverro, and Lemke — as well one photographer up in the press box (presumably another at ice level). For a paper of its staffing, that’s a damn serious allocation of personnel resources for a hockey game. Necessarily I compare it to WaPost. Tarik of course is here, but no other writer from 15th St. as far as I can tell. Loverro’s presence especially pleases me, because in the middle of last season, before the Caps were ravaged by illness and injury and were generating some buzz by virtue of their competitiveness, I opined a vinegary lament about the city-wide absence of columnist commentary on the team.
That media contingent of eight from Sweden that was mentioned in Friday night’s Comcast broadcast from Atlanta is in the Verizon Center press box tonight. So accounting for a Post photog, too . . . the nation of Sweden dispatched four times the coverage team for tonight that WaPost did. The blonds had a longer commute, too.
7:05: It’s not a sellout, but it’s darned full, and it’s darned red.
This perpetual nakedness to the Verizon Center club level is really wearing me down. How can Abe Pollin look at 10 years of emptiness in it and not rethink his policy on it? It’s far more than an annoyance; on the few national television broadcasts we get of Caps’ games, this ring of emptiness ever permeates the top quarter of the broadcast screen. It really makes our city look bad. Priced reasonably and made open to fans, it would be largely filled every weekend, I wager. I sat there once, and the view is spectactular — it’s distinctly possible that it’d sell out before the lower bowl would, that’s how good the seats are.
7:29: Gustafsson sends me a text message — he’s seated in the stands tonight — that reads “A lot of press on the other side, summer of change.”
8:45: I walk the main and upper level concourses between the second and third periods, curious to see if the souvenir stands inside the arena are as brisk with business as was the main outlet in the afternoon. Every single station is teeming with shoppers. Some have just one worker behind the counter, clearly overwhelmed with the workload. These are the same souvenir stands that collected cobwebs the past two seasons, and whose workers could be found making progress through James Michener novels during games. I want to purchase a new lid for my father, but in these three- and four-deep enclaves around the counters that’s an impossible task if I want to catch the opening half of the third period.
I make my way back to the press elevator through a maze of red and new-uniform-themed attire. It’s everywhere. I can’t remember seeing a Caps’ home crowd so ubiquitously fashioned in the colors of the team. I understand the newness and novelty with the new threads, but still I’m stunned by the pervasiveness. I make a mental note to send Nate Ewell an email requesting some merchandise sales data, as I’m genuinely curious to know if any other NHL club can be moving its gear in the volume the Caps appear to be this autumn.
9:10: That Washington Times photographer up in the press box is now snapping a number of pictures of me . . . and, I’m afraid, at close range. I dressed for radio rather than print appearance tonight. It’s a very odd feeling, being partly the subject of some traditional media file, but if it helps further coverage of the Caps and hockey, I’ll offer up my middle-aged mug.
9:39: To post-game interview or not to post-game interview downstairs (amid a zoo of reporters), that is the question I confront. The file I want to publish about tonight doesn’t seem to require player input, but more importantly, what was preseason buzz has been replaced by stunning, real results out on the ice, and I have friends seated throughout the arena who want to raise a few victory beers to the first-place, well rebuilt club. I badly want the company of my hockey-mad friends on a holiday weekend Saturday night, in downtown D.C., where pro hockey is ignited in a deep red glow.