…with your indulgence, I hope. I had all good intentions of coming home after the last Rangers’ regular season home game (we made the playoffs! Yippee!) to dig into Saturday’s Carter, a race first run in 1895 and offering all kinds of tempting possibilities for exploration, not limited to that famous triple dead heat in 1944, the only such occurrence in New York stakes racing.
And then Friday night happened.
Between the first and second periods, a Rangers’ rep approached me to ask whether I’d be willing to participate in the annual “Blueshirts Off Their Back” ceremony following the game. Selected fans are invited to the ice and are given, literally, the smelly, game-worn jerseys of Rangers players. I have no idea how the fan participants are chosen, but I do have to give credit to occasional commenter Tom D, who I know nominated me for this year’s ceremony.
At the end of the second period, I was asked to leave my seat and go down to ice level; unfortunately, I missed the whole third period, overtime, and the shootout (or maybe not so unfortunately, given the result). Big shout out to my friend Rob, who also missed a lot of the game so that he could hang on the visitors’ bench after the game and take pictures.
Gathered in the Garden’s bowels, near the Zambonis, I was placed near the end of the line, which gave me hope that I’d get one of the significant jerseys. In my wildest dreams, Shanahan. Lundqvist, maybe? Valiquette? One of the young guys? Feeling much like an Academy Awards presenter, I opened my envelope to see that I’d be receiving the jersey of…Christian Backman. Recently acquired in a trade, Backman has done a great job of getting himself into the penalty box and playing costly hockey for the Rangers. He rather redeemed himself recently with a nice goal after giving away the puck in an earlier play, but still, I can’t say that I wasn’t disappointed.
And then I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me. In her mid-twenties, I’d say, she spoke of her nineteen-month-old daughter, tears filling her eyes. And then she told me that her husband, a Rangers’ season ticket holder, was one of the six workers killed when a crane on the Upper East Side of Manhattan crashed into a building just a few weeks ago. She was the one who had Brendan Shanahan’s name. And the two small children behind her, unrelated to her, had the names of Martin Straka and Jaromir Jagr. (To be honest, I think that only kids should be chosen to participate in this ceremony, but hey, nobody asked me.)
As we waited, the ubiquitous Rangers good guy, Adam Graves, walked down the line, meeting and greeting. He shook most people’s hands, but gave me a hug–we’ve met before, though I can’t imagine that he remembered me. He spent a long time in conversation with the woman behind me–his ease in discussing this raw and painful subject with her confirmed everything we’ve always heard about him. He asked her a lot of questions, and he really listened to her answers. He made this woman’s night.
Walking onto the Garden ice, looking up into the stands, hearing our names announced. Watching as Christian Backman skated up, literally took off his sweater in front of me, signed it, and handed it to me. Standing within arm’s length of Shanahan, and watching Jagr stop to pose for photos with the kids on the ice.
At the end of the evening, it was really OK that I had Christian Backman’s jersey in my arms. Even after going out for a drink and taking the subway home, it was dank with sweat and I think my fellow subway travelers wrinkled their nose at the odor. A number of friends texted and called to say that they’d seen me on TV, and though I’m not much of an attention-seeker, it was a pretty amazing experience. Clearly, this has been my fifteen minutes of fame.
I apologize for not talking about racing, but I promise I’ll get back to it later this weekend. A friend on the phone last night said that I sounded “giddy,” and that’s how I felt. I didn’t think that I’d care so much about being a part of this annual Rangers’ event, but it was pretty cool, and even cooler that a bunch of the folks in my section took me out for drinks afterward. Now, on to the playoffs…
Let’s go, Rangers!