We had Saturday night hockey date nights, with bar food and chips and dip. She had the hockey package so no matter where the Wings played, we got to watch. Her big screen HDTV made it even better.
Then the best thing ever happened. My employer assigned me to live in Michigan for eight months.
A Red Wings fan being assigned to Michigan? It was like ChrisamaHanuKwanzikah every day!
At our first training meeting, someone asked me what I wanted to achieve out of my stay in Michigan. It was simple: learn, teach, see new things, and go to “The Joe” to see the Red Wings at least once.
The Michigan residents laughed at me, saying the home game tickets are sold out months in advance and I would have to drive to Chicago to watch the Wings play the Blackhawks. No way. I would not live in Michigan and not go to the Joe Louis Arena.
On a rainy day, I was at work with nothing to do so I pulled up the Red Wings website. I knew playoffs were coming but thought I'd check it out. And there it was, in big bold letters: TICKETS AVAILABLE.
I immediately sent out a mass e-mail to my co-workers to see who wanted to go. We had 72 hours notice and the tickets were $75 a piece. It was Game One of the 2008 Western Conference Finals. Red Wings versus the Dallas Stars.
At The Joe.
Holy hockey, Batman!
The day of the game I couldn't concentrate on anything. I left work early to drive from Kalamazoo to Lansing with a co-worker to pick up another co-worker. The three of us then went to Jackson to pick up someone else then drove to Detroit. If you know Michigan, you know this route makes no sense. And took nearly four hours.
I didn't care. I was silent nearly the entire drive, until we pulled off the highway and I got my first glimpse of the letters on the building.
I still have the grainy cell phone picture stored on my computer. It says “oe Louis Aren.” I was shaking too much to get the whole thing in.
We walked towards the ticket office, surrounded by intense Red Wings fans.
There was the resident fan painted in white holding an aluminum foil Stanley Cup.
Rally Al's everywhere!
A sea of red and white. It was amazing.
We got our free Red Wings pom-poms and free t-shirt that said “Make Them See Stars!”
I had strict orders from my best friend to buy a Rally Al and got one for myself as well. We took our seats, 3rd from last row but behind the goal, shortly before the game started.
But right in time to see an octopus get thrown on the ice. Ah, it was beauty.
Each goal was better than the last. Flames shot out of the scoreboard! Four times.
I learned why Chris Osgood is so amazing. He only let the Stars score once.
I also learned why the entire arena was booing the Stars' goalie, Marty Turco. He had gone to the University of Michigan and although he was playing on his home turf it was for the wrong team. They didn't like that.
And with one minute left, just as I had seen on television, “Don't Stop Believin'” began to blare throughout the arena.
As cheesy as it is, when the words “born and raised in South Detroit” were being yelled by all the fans in the arena, tears welled up in my eyes. It's kind of like hearing “New York New York” at a Yankees game.
Michiganders (the proper term for Michigan residents) love their teams and love where they live. Their pride runs deep.
It was the only Red Wings game I ever went to but whenever I watch on television, I look for the section I sat in, 227B.
And whenever I hear “Don't Stop Believin',” I don't think of Journey or Glee .
I think of the Red Wings and being at The Joe.
And of living in Michigan.