30 Years of Sports Travel: Part II
In Part I, I went over the American Football and Baseball games I've attended over the years. Now let's turn our attention to basketball, hockey, and soccer...
OK, this section is going to be very short. I've been to two NBA games in my life, both Boston Celtics losses in 1997 (Atlanta Hawks) and 2001 (Utah Jazz). I did get to see Stockton and Malone play in the latter, which was pretty awesome even if they were in the twilight of their careers. The Jazz used to be my favorite team, and I can't remember whether it was before or because of this game.
College Basketball: every D-1 college game I've attended has been either Boston College (1994, 96, 2013, 16, 17), U. of Cincinnati (1997), or Xavier U. (1999, 01, 02). Going to a game at Alyse's graduate alma mater of Iona, in New Rochelle, NY, is on my list, especially since Rick Pitino (of Louisville and NBA fame) is now coaching there!
I have seen the Harlem Globetrotters play twice- sadly, I don't have the ticket stub from the first, but I'm guessing it was late 90s-early 2000s, the prime of my spectator sports career if you will. The more recent experience was very recent indeed, a month ago here in Manchester, NH. After all these years, they still know how to put on a show. My favorite part was the fact that Julia could get autographs on the court after the game!
I've been to 6 NHL games in my life. Weirdly, 5 of them were within a 3-year period. More weirdly, I've never been to a Boston Bruins game, an hour down the road from home. Confused yet?
Alyse has a cousin who worked for the NY Rangers organization, conveniently during the years we lived together in the area. She was able to procure us excellent seats to all five games, a gift for which I'll be forever thankful. I visited sold-out Madison Square Garden for the first time in March 2009 as we watched a nationally-televised contest against the hated Flyers. New York won, 4-1, and I recorded the game off TV for posterity.
The other games were exciting as well, but the era of attending them came to an abrupt close in February 2012, after which point I moved back to New Hampshire and haven't returned to MSG since.
So I haven't been to a game in Boston, but I have been to a game in Anaheim, California, the farthest sports event from home I've ever attended. During a family trip to Disneyland in 2019 I had noticed that the Ducks would be in town while we were there. Since Disney was a bigger draw to Alyse and Julia, I set off on a local bus to the arena, all by myself, just to say that I had done it. To this day, it's the only pro game (and one of the only games period) that I've ever attended alone.
The occasion was made a bit less lonely, however, by the fact my hockey-crazed best childhood friend was up very late watching the game on the east coast. Toward the end we were texting each other back and forth, which, I have to admit, was a pretty cool experience! It was quite amazing emerging from a hockey game to walk beneath palm trees on a mild February evening.
I've also been to several D-I college hockey games, all but one of them at Boston College. The most recent was a mere few weeks ago, where unfortunately Dad's alma mater was defeated in the last minute by a pesky UConn team.
Finally, the hometown Manchester Monarchs were a great source of fun for 15 years or so, until the franchise folded after the 2018-19 season.
My soccer travels haven't brought me too far from home, but they have been perhaps the farthest I've been culturally. My pro soccer game was in 1999, as we drove down to Foxboro Stadium to witness the New England Revolution play the Columbus Crew in the fourth year of Major League Soccer's existence.
My next MLS game would be 10 years later in the old Giants Stadium: New York Red Bulls vs. San Jose Earthquakes. Interestingly enough, the Stadium was demolished the following year. (I'm noticing a pattern here of stadiums that were destroyed after I attended a game in them - guess I'm just getting that old!).
Alyse accompanied me to another Red Bulls game two short years later, but in their sleek new Red Bull Arena in Harrison, NJ. The game was great, as we got to see the legendary French player Thierry Henry in action. However, the postgame experience was less favorable, as we walked through some sketchy neighborhoods to then wait an hour at a standstill to get out of the parking garage. The things we remember...
My favorite soccer experiences, however, were in 2015 when Dad and Evan accompanied me to a Gold Cup (tournament of North/Central American & Caribbean nations) game at Gillette Stadium. It was a bucket list item of mine to see the US team compete in... well, anything. Game one was a matchup between Honduras and Panama. The passion of these fans was absolutely fascinating to witness, as this was an extremely rare opportunity to see their homelands play in the northeastern US.
Then, the main event: the United States vs. Haiti. Now, would I have chosen to see the US play the hapless Haitians? No. In general I'm a huge fan of underdogs and it pained me a bit to cheer for my goliath home country against the poorest one in the western hemisphere. It was actually a decently close game, ending 2-1 to the US. Just seeing the (nationally recognizable) players line up for the anthems was a highlight of the evening.
Just last summer, Julia and I attended a US Women's National Team game, which was another special experience. This time the venue was Rentschler Field in East Hartford, CT - the first time I had attended a game of any kind in Connecticut. Despite it only being a friendly (exhibition match) against Mexico, the atmosphere was absolutely electric. Seeing Julia and thousands of young girls in awe of their female heroes and role models (Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, and of course Alex Morgan, among others) was extremely memorable.
In the early 2000s (my photographic "lost years" in between my old-fashioned film camera and a reliable digital one) I visited Louisville, which included a stop at legendary Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby. While I wasn't (and still am not) into horse racing, the gravitas of being in such a significant venue wasn't lost on me.
Perhaps my most notable "other" sporting experience was driving up to Lake Placid in January 2016 to witness an international bobsled race. I talked about this in my January Travels blog post from a year ago so I won't rehash the whole thing here. Suffice it to say that I was on cloud 9 at the opportunity to see a live bobsled race after having watched them on TV for nearly 30 years... a true thrill!
Not only did we witness the race, we also visited Herb Brooks Arena, site of the 1980 Miracle on Ice, the Olympic Ski Jump, and Olympic Museum. I'd highly recommend it for anyone with an interest in sports history, or picturesque Adirondack towns.
Finally, in August 2019 I ventured north of the border to Montréal, host of the 1976 Summer Olympics. Visiting Stade Olympique and reading about how poorly prepared the city was, and how construction of some facilities was finishing up just days before the Games was truly mind-blowing. The Olympic Pool was also very, very impressive to see.
So there you have it - I'm sure there's something I've forgotten, but it's a brief summary of my sports experiences. There are many other events on my bucket list, including seeing my favorite European club Liverpool FC play at Anfield. For now though, I'm just thankful for the many, many opportunities I've had to attend games - with Dad, Evan, friends, and even by myself. My career as a spectator is far from over...