Fans, Games Made The Jungle, Not The Building
“And These Are The Memories That Make Me A Wealthy Soul”
This is supposed to be one of those sentimental opines. In a perfect world, I wax poetic about some steel beams, some bricks and some mortar and bid farewell to a building like it was an old friend.
But just like Michael Keaton said to Kim Bassinger in the 1989 Batman movie, it’s not a perfect world.
Hey, I’m trying to get nostalgic about Amway Arena. The place has been very, very good to me. I saw Springsteen here for the first time. Same with Van Halen. Career-wise? I filed my first NBA gamer in 1990. The best college gamer of my life was here in 1991 when I cover Michigan and the Fab Five versus BYU for the Deseret News, which is about as get as it can get for a Mormon freelancer. And since this is arena fan, the Predator memory lane is a couple of scrolls down. Be patient.
Great stuff has happened here. But the building itself? Feh. Good sightlines. Decent parking. Catering really good when the team is spending. Wireless connection is strong. But the building itself has always lacked what I call a spirit of greatness.
I worked Texas Stadium games and that place may have been past its prime, but you got goose bumps when you walked on the midfield Star and looked up at the Ring of Honor or the hole in the roof. Ditto for Churchill Downs. Turner Field and the old Fulton County Stadium, the old and decrepit Orange Bowl. Some places -- the Ballpark at Arlington, American Airlines Arena and even Energy Solutions Arena simply don’t have it for some reason.
At Amway, I’ve seen Scott Skiles set the NBA record for assists. I’ve seen Bird. Magic. Isaiah. Dominique. Ewing. Shaq. Vince. Dwight. Drexler. Stockton to Malone (Memo to the Utah secret society of sportswriters -- I met quota by mentioning Stockton to Malone once this month) and the rise and fall of the Magic. There was the 1992 NBA All-Star Game that morphed into a Magic Johnson tribute, the time where Michael Jordan actually got called for traveling and LeBron James’ summer league professional debut where he got dunked on harshly by a white guy.
Yet the most significant NBA memory came in the parking lot after that 1992 All-Star Game. After a three-day hoop orgy, I filed 700 words and stepped into an empty lot with nothing but a SWAG bag and memories. Tomorrow I’d be at a softball game or paying my light bill. It was the loneliest moment of my life. Talk about perspective.
Okay, time to switch over because as our esteemed leader Kauff-Kauff once reminded me, this ain’t nbamemoriesfan.com. (That’s an inside joke I might start up again.)
Yeah, I was here for the first Preds game in 1991. They beat Major Harris and the Columbus Thunderbolts. Earth-shattering, eh. Along the way, I saw a lot of Bennett. Walls. Roquemore. Gruden. On the other side, there was Marcum. Thomas, LaFrance. And would it be AFL nostalgia without mentioning Warner at least once.
I filed stories about teams with names like Forest Dragons and Fighting Pike getting their butts kicked because Barry Wagner scored four or five touchdowns. All the Storm-Preds games that were like Red Sox-Yankees. The ArenaBowls.
But what made this place rock were those fans back in the day. Sheesh. Nine times the beer consumption of Magic fans, now down to maybe four of five. Even the sportswriters were getting inebriated. Inflatable dolls being volleyed. Strippers handing out vouchers in the third quarter. The upper deck fights. The well-endowed babes flashing the jumbotron … dang, how could girls at a football game be that hot. Now, I’m getty misty-eyed .. Cue the Green Day, yeah I know… we’ve grown up since.
Put it this way. I could be in the middle of the Wasatch Front or watching the Utah Blaze give up 75 and if someone plays “Welcome To The Jungle” or “Sweet Home Alabama,” thoughts of “The Jungle” enter my mind. Powerful stuff.
The top memories.
1) Standing under the nets at Nashville-Orlando ArenaBowl. David Cool kicks a field goal at the buzzer. Orlando wins 41-38. Everyone who had been around the Preds for a while stares and goes “For arena football, that was f---- anticlimactic.”
2) One night, the AFL PR people were here because Orlando was considering an R-rated stunt. Well, some fan decides to launch a ten-foot … you know. The PR guy confiscates it and takes it down to the service level. Another writer and I follow and this was the description I was going to send to ArenaFan: “The guy from the PR office had his limp, deflated penis on the floor for everyone to see, next time in dealing with Orlando, the league shouldn’t go off half-cocked." It would have been a great write that probably never would be seen.
3) Two weeks after one of my World Indoor Football League players, Javan Camon, died during a game, the Predators had a moment of silence for him at halftime. The coach and a couple of Camon’s team mates were there and were moved along with me. The classiest gesture of all time.
4) NBC would hire locals for $100 a game to track secondary stats like QB hurries, times QB hit, etc. Dallas is playing Orlando one day and Clint Dolezel is torching the Preds’ secondary. I’m spitting out the records and five seconds later they’re on the graphics track and the talent. It was like that scene in “Broadcast News” where Albert Brooks said “I say it here and it comes out there.” Perhaps the greatest adrenaline rush of my career.
And that’s the whole point of the previous 950 words. It wasn’t this building, it was what we did in the building. There’s a new one down the street, and in a few months, we’ll reminiscent primarily about the events of Amway Arena and not the place itself. Don’t bother me with some collectible. I’m good.