March 14, 2009.
I remember it like it was yesterday.
There I was, wide-eyed and giddy like a little kid on Christmas morning, sitting on a bus pulling up to Mellon Arena. I was wearing my Tyler Kennedy Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins jersey and was with my best friend, who was wearing her light blue Sidney Crosby jersey.
Finally, after seven years of being a Penguins fan, I was going to walk into “The Igloo.” Since the Penguins were already well into a historic sellout streak, I felt privileged to be at this matchup between the Pens and the Ottawa Senators.
I couldn’t even tell you the score now, but I do remember the Pens lost in a shootout and I was sitting in section B31, not far up from the famous “Dan the Jersey Man,” who wears multiple jerseys to a game and switches between periods and at various parts of the game.
On March 15, 2009, I went back again. This time, I was there for the 100th straight sellout. We got a book commemorating the occasion as we came in, and there was also a pregame ceremony for Eddie Johnston, who was retiring from the organization. The game was against the Boston Bruins, and this time, I witnessed a win while sporting an Evgeni Malkin 2008 NHL All-Star jersey.
I returned twice more, on March 26 and 27, 2010. On the 26th, I finally got to see a Penguins game against the Philadelphia Flyers in Pittsburgh. I had been to Philadelphia a couple months prior, but I was excited to finally see the Flyers in the Igloo.
My seats? B31 once again.
My jersey? A John Curry WBS Penguins jersey. That game, I got yelled at on the concourse by a guy who needed to get through. “Excuse me, No. 36!” he called as he passed me by.
March 27, 2010 was my last journey inside the Igloo, and it was bittersweet. I had a long ride home ahead of me, as after the game, our bus wouldn’t pull back into my hometown until around 2 a.m—but I didn’t want it to end.
Luckily, I kind of got my wish. The game against the Toronto Maple Leafs went to a shootout, and the Penguins won. As a bonus, I met Jeff Jimmerson, the Penguins’ famed anthem singer. He was a very nice guy and told me to get home safe.
So you’ve probably sat here wondering: What exactly is the point of this story?
As the first phase of demolition on Mellon Arena began in Pittsburgh yesterday, I couldn’t believe that the memories of the games I saw and the times I had with friends in that building were going to the ground. Sure, I could always store them in my mind and bring them up later, but as fans of teams who have moved to new stadiums or arenas know, nothing replaces the first venue where they saw their first ever game.
I feel like the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox fans (as a Yankees fan, this will probably be the only time I relate to a Red Sox fan) who get almost outraged when someone suggests replacing their beloved Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, or even so much as making renovations. They don’t want to lose their beloved stadiums, and I do not want to let go of the Igloo.
Sure, it was showing its age. The concourses seemed poorly lit and were definitely narrow. They weren’t practical for fighting a crowd of over 17,000 people. The team store had too little room and the ladies rooms were in no way big enough to handle so many fans.
As far as the seats, most of them had a great view, but they were uncomfortable. The orange color with the wooden handles that were built small weren’t exactly appealing to today’s fans. There was not enough room to put your cup and bag of souvenirs because you were always worried about knocking something over. You were practically sitting on top of your neighbor, so let’s just say you had to like getting to know people.
But you know what? I loved it.
I loved the unique shape, the character of being in such an old arena and the simplicity of its interior. Maybe I just appreciated it more because I got there so few times compared to other Penguins fans, but it’s sad to see it go, even if the time is right.
By the way, I was at Consol Energy Center last year. It was a very nice building with modern amenities, more food choices and a shiny exterior. I did enjoy my trip there and I’m looking forward to going back this season. I just want to assure you that I was not against the CEC going up and can appreciate that arena for what it is.
However, there will never be another Mellon Arena. Arenas today are built to cater to the premium seat holder, the people obsessed with technology and those who require plush seats, cup holders and other such aesthetics to be satisfied with their trip.
I think that in it of itself is a reason to be sad that the historic Igloo that almost took you back in time will soon be gone.
This article also appears on Bottom Line Hockey.