Last week my buddy Jake and I happened upon some tickets for the Sharks/Canucks game from our mutual friend Joe. We both live in downtown San Jose within walking distance of the arena, so we decided to hoof it over to the game. It’s a great deal to live within walking distance of a professional sports arena, but the walk did shine a pretty bright light upon one of the major problems the Sharks have.
We headed out a couple hours before the game to hit a pub. The particular pub we visited is only about four blocks from the H.P.V.illion and is quite awesome: great beer on tap, darts and huge televisions. There were several people there with their Sharks sweaters on and yet it was strangely quiet. No one was talking to each other, no one seemed fired up about the upcoming game, it seemed like the Sharks had just lost, not that it was less than two hours from the puck dropping.
So Jake and I played chess. Yes that’s right, chess. In the middle of a bar within a stone’s throw of the Tank, we played the sport of kings. Wait, that’s horse racing; we played the game with the kings. After getting my ass handed to me, we stepped outside onto the patio.
That is when it happened.
Thumping down the street on what must have been 24-inch rims was the most incredible mid-nineties Buick Regal that these eyes have ever seen. Not only was this machine on ridiculously huge wheels, but it was painted Denver Broncos blue and orange crush.
Mmm hmm, just drink that in.
Even the rims were coordinated, the front left in blue and the back left in orange. Wow. Jake appropriately christened it “Mile High.”
Sufficiently buoyed by this sight, we trotted on to our next locale, only a few Kronenbergs worse for wear. It was a hamburger joint even closer than the bar to the H.P.V. Once again, people were wearing their Sharks colors and hats, but no noise, no excitement anywhere. We were on a patio facing a parking garage and there were lots of people coming out on their way to the game, but I never even saw so much as a high five. I heard a woman admonishing her child in hushed tones from across the patio. Weird. We did have a pretty good burger and fries though.
Then we were on our way to the Tank. The streets are pretty crowded on game nights and this one was no exception. Only there was no talking, no yelling of “let’s go Sharkers!” or anything. Most times when I have gone to a professional sporting event, there is at least trash being talked to opposing fans or general carousing by people excited to go to the game. Not here. I think the best word to describe the fans walking around me would be sullen.
At nearly every Bay Area sporting event, Niners, Giants, A’s and especially the Warriors, there is a feeling, a camaraderie between the fans that makes you want to shout at a another fan and have him give you some back. The most you could get from this march to battle was a look like “why are you walking where I’m walking? I’m trying to take this overly blond, jeans-and-Uggs wearing girl to the game.”
Once inside, the H.P.V. is a really nice arena, probably second in the region behind SBC. All apologies to Larry Ellison’s Oracle, but not only is that facility old, you should not exit 880 for three exits in either direction, and that to me is a minus. At the Tank, everything is shiny and stainless steel, clean and new. It’s like a bad-ass condominium for sports.
Then again there are the fans. It is odd being inside an arena and being able to clearly hear conversations while the action is happening. The two guys sitting next to me spent the entire game talking about their stock options or some crap. It was the first time I can honestly say I would rather have had Negative Nancy sitting next to me.
(The BASG and I had season tickets to the 49ers for one year, one glorious year with eight home victories – what a run. Seated next to us was a man we called Negative Nancy. No matter what happened he was never satisfied. The Niners would bust out for a 30-plus yard run around left tackle and Nancy would say something like, “Scott Gragg didn’t pull fast enough around the end” or “Who didn’t block that cornerback?” He was a real gem.)
Anyway, those two guys were merely the tip of the iceberg. It was like the fans weren’t really sure what was going on out there. There was no roar when the Sharks won the opening face off; there was really no sound until the Sharks scored to go ahead in the first period. I was up and out of my seat and looking around – mild clapping, but that was it.
I was further perplexed when the Sharks went on power play. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but that gives you a man advantage and a better chance to score. This crowd received this with tepid arm-chomping from maybe one-tenth of the crowd. In case you were wondering, when a power play occurs during a Sharks home game, the “Jaws” theme comes on and you chomp your arms up and down, mimicking a shark’s jaws. The first time I saw the Sharks, it was at the Cow Palace and when the power play came, the whole place was arm-chomping like crazy. Maybe they are just tired from all that chomping, I don’t know, but it does show the major problem with these fans.
That is, they are purely reactive. There was no point during the game that the crowd was pumping the team up. When something happened on the ice, a steal or a shot on goal, the crowd got pretty loud. When the Canucks had the puck in the Sharks’ zone, there was nothing but a weak “get it out of there” from the lady sitting in front of us. She was without a doubt the best fan in our section and that was her best shot. Something is wrong when a non-hockey guy like me gets more excited than the season ticket holders in my section.
Then, in the second period, Jeremy Roenick scored a put back goal and screamed out “I’m fifty!” like Molly Shannon and the place went nuts. Great reaction to the moment, but that’s easy to do. What is hard to do and what these fans need to do is to get into the game, regardless of the action. Spur your guys on instead of waiting for them to pump you up. Start a chant or something, at least get off your hands.
Until this happens, the Sharks will win nothing of import. They will continue to be nothing more than a South Bay oddity and a running joke on KNBR.
My only real wish is that each and every one of you will have the chance to see “Mile High.” Man, that ride is amazing.