What an amazing day to be a hockey fan.
Nearly 47,000 people packed themselves into Citizens Bank Park to take in the 2012 NHL Winter Classic between Atlantic Division Rivals, the visiting New York Rangers and the hosting Philadelphia Flyers.
Although the home team dropped the game 3-2 after having a 2-0 lead, it would have been hard to find a disappointed fan in the house as the event, with its intensity on the ice and perfect hockey atmosphere (not to mention a few flurries), lived up to the hype which has been building steadily since the summer. The hype reached its peak with HBO's 24/7 coverage of the two teams leading up to the outdoor game.
2012 marked the fifth annual NHL Winter Classic, and Citizens Bank Park proved itself to be the standard for all future Winter Classics. Read on for the five reasons Citizens Bank Park was the greatest Winter Classic venue to date.
The Philadelphia-New York rivalry extends to all sports. Therefore, all the fans are in the neighboring cities.
Every New York fan despises at least one Philly team and any self-respecting Philadelphian feels nothing but disdain for their Empire State counterparts, which is just as it should be.
Building the NHL's single biggest game around the rivalry between America's top two sports cities makes for an even more compelling story than the Winter Classic already is because the intensity on the ice, in the stands and between the cities is not a just product of hype but also a product of decades of meetings between Philly and New York in every sport.
The reality of the rivalry was played out in a hard-fought three periods between two teams looking to establish themselves as the standout of the Atlantic Division, creating an unforgettable atmosphere and experience at the Phillies' ballpark.
Baseball stadiums, even the newer ones, just exude a greater sense of their sport's history more than football stadiums.
Watch the video from the 2009 Winter Classic. For some reason, the outdoor hockey game (which pays homage to the sport's roots) fits better in baseball stadiums, as baseball is a game chalk full of history.
Having attended both the 2010 Classic at Fenway Park and this year at Citizens Bank Park (CBP), I can tell you the sight-lines are not ideal and the diamond shape of the playing surface does not lend itself to a great viewing experience, but the aura of the stadium and its allusions to champions of recent and distant past lend itself to a celebration of hockey history, despite the Flyers never having played in the Phillies' stadium before.
It's really tough to put into words, but there is a surreal aspect to the Winter Classic being played in the home of the city's summer pastime. It's almost like it is all a pick-up game that must disperse before David Montgomery and Co. return to their summer office.
Another reason why baseball stadiums as Winter Classic venues trump football stadiums is size.
The two previous baseball stadiums that have hosted Classics (2009 at Wrigley Field and 2010 at Fenway Park) were only able to average a little under 39,500 fans due to limited capacity.
But Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park played host to 46,967 fans and honestly could have packed in a lot more standing room had they chosen to do so.
Being one of the larger MLB stadiums, the Bank's incredible attendance capacity allowed the electricity generated by the hype of the game and enormity of the rivalry to play out in full as a whole lot of Philadelphians and more New Yorkers than you might have expected came out to support their teams.
The South Philly Sports Complex is the greatest arrangement of professional sports stadiums there is, period.
This setup, having all the major franchises' stadiums within a few city blocks of one another, creates an unimaginable atmosphere for fans preparing to enter the games.
The tailgate scene for all Philadelphia sports is a festive one, and I have been to few better than the tailgates for the Winter Classic.
Whether it was the Jetro Lot and 7th Street parties talking hockey and drinking a beer with Brian Propp (shameless name drop) at the Wells Fargo Center or all of the festivities on Citizens Bank Way, the tailgate scene was unbelievable, all thanks to the abundant availability of parking created by the three stadium (plus XFINITY Live, coming soon) layout.
Plus, the familiarity of the surroundings made the event much more Philly. Although the Flyers were not in their home arena, they were right across the street in a building most of their fans are just as comfortable in, if not more so.
I've said it before and I'll continue to say it: Flyers fans are the most dedicated and passionate hockey fans in the United States.
Sure, almost 47,000 showed up for the NHL's biggest regular season event of the year, but such can be expected for an event of that magnitude.
However, the impressive number was the 46,967 fans who showed up on New Year's Eve to watch the Winter Classic Alumni Game.
Philly's proud fanbase packed the house to watch what was basically a collection of senior citizens, plus Eric Lindros, skate one more time.
It's the Winter Classic because it is not only a game, but also a celebration of the sport's history. No team or their fans celebrates its history more than the Flyers do (and why not? It's all we have). The dedication to the roots of hockey were on full display with a packed house eager to watch a slow exhibition game just hours before the biggest party night of the year.
These are the facts, as I see them, and I challenge every city hosting an NHL Winter Classic to play as great a host to the game of hockey as Philadelphia and Citizens Bank Park.