Mark vs Cancer

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Blowing the Lid Off The Can

Twelve hours later and my nerves are still buzzing. Last night, I lucked into some sweet tickets to the Nuggets' playoff game against the Hornets. The hospital CEO, confusing me with somebody important, invited me to the game, along with the Vice-Prez of the hospital, and five prominent Denver surgeons. (Which one of these things doesn't belong?) The CEO bribed our way past the forty-five minute wait at the restaurant when he slipped the greeter a wad of bills. I feasted on a New York Strip steak, sipped my Mormon lemonade while most everyone else drank beer, and talked some shop with the surgeons.

Then we were walking into the Pepsi Center, or "The Can," as it's known. Electricity crackled through the crowd as we jostled into the entrance and were given our white rally towels. The player introductions were ridiculously extravagant and five minutes long, complete with thumping music, flamethrowers, and Rocky the Mascot riding a motorcycle. The arena was whited out with waving towels.
The game was tight for two and a half quarters before the Nuggets blew it open with a barrage of three pointers and then galloped to a twenty point win. There were high fives all around us, including to the drunk stranger sitting in front of me. As electric as the crowd had been before the game, it doubled in intensity at the end. MVP chants for Chauncey Billups reverberated through the arena, as did "bird calls" for the Birdman, Chris Anderson, the shot blocking, tatoo-covered, mohawked microwave off the bench. The crowd chanted in unison, We Want Dallas! Confetti fell from the ceiling (which seemed a bit much, as this was only the first round). It was so loud, I couldn't hear myself screaming. I'm still hoarse this morning.

Even after the game, spontaneous chants erupted from the concourses and spilled into the parking lot. Some dude began spontaneously cleaning my windshield with his Nuggets sweatshirt in an illogical act of alcohol-induced, fan-frenzied fraternalism.

A couple of thoughts: first, the Nuggets are not just a good team, they are a great team, and (dare I say it?) a championship caliber team. And I mean team in the best sense of the word. They have top-level talent and scoring in Carmelo Anthony and JR Swish. They have ahtletic big guys in Nene and Kenyon Martin. They have hard-nosed defenders in Dahntay Jones and Chris Andersen. They have a energizing bench. And most of all, they have a level-headed, tough-as-nails, hometown hero and leader in Chauncey Billups. Before Chauncey was traded to them early in the season, they were a fragmented collection of underacheiving talent. But he has molded the team in his image, and they have synergized to a new level. Their role players accept their roles gladly. The team plays cohesively and with joie de vivre, feeding off the crowd. Chauncey's impact on the team cannot be overstated, and somewhere in there is a lesson on true leadership. Corporate world, book him now.

Second: what is it about big games that are so thrilling? In my life, I've only been to a handful of events with last night's electrical charge: two World Series games (Arizona 2001, Colorado 2007); some of the Chatfield-Columbine basketball classics; a thrilling BYU Men's Volleyball game at the Smith Fieldhouse; a handful of BYU basketball and football games. I remember distinctly the soul-shrieking electricity of my own state tournament basketball games, chest bumping in the bowels of McNichols Arena, the Pepsi Center's fated predecessor. But honestly, last night may have topped them all.

What about last night was so special? For starters, the Nugget's playoff drought has been fifteen years long, ever since Chauncey was still playing at George Washington High. And the city of Denver has been in desperate need for something to cheer about for a while, after the Bronco's epically collapsed last fall, then lost their idiot-boy QB in a national controversy. The Avs and Rockies have been losers as of late, and the college sports programs are all in disarray. So Denver has been in a sports drought, and last night a thunderstorm broke in the Can.

But it was more than just a sports drought. Colorado, like the rest of the world, has been battered by the recession and the relentless negative news as of late. Throw in the Columbine anniversary, the recession, the gloomy spring weather, and the swine flu, and you have a city that is itching for something to cheer about. Last night, they got it.

The truth must be that we live vicariously though our sports heroes, and that in our fractured political and social world, we seek for a common identity, a bond that unites us. When our local heroes--our soldiers, our gladiators, our valiant young men-- taste glory, we taste it with them. If they are winners, then so are we. When else can 19,000 strangers make fools of themselves in front of each other and chant their way into euphoria? Now that one of our own, Chauncey, is the team leader, it makes that connection all the more tangible.
It was a perfect storm of desperate thirst, athletic excellence, and local familiarity that exploded inside the Pepsi Center last night. I feel lucky that I could trick the big-wigs into thinking I was important enough to be there and be a part of that vibrant communal energy.
Go Nuggies!


Kristen said...

I have gotten more into the games, since Drew is a big Nugg's fan.I can now name like 4 players! They do have some thugs though.

Goose said...

GO Nugs!!!! Today I realized some terrible news: game 1 starts at 1:30 and church starts at 1 for us. That means that I am going to miss most if not all of game 1. Unless I skip out on church. The Nugs are looking good, but the Hornets were a weak team. Lets see if the Nugs can handle another surging team like the Mavs.

Matthew said...

Go Nuggets!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

BTW, please read my latest post, if you have time.

Em said...

Yes, there's definitely something raw and animalistic in cheering at a sporting event with a large and boisterous crowd.

I am so jealous you got to go to a AZ World Series game in '01. I was in the MTC at the I guess I shouldn't really be jealous. My teacher gave us play-by-plays after every game, and we placed spiritual bets the day he came in to tell us about the final. Pretty exciting, even though I didn't get to see it.

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