Wednesday, January 11, 2012
Game 10: Madison Square Garden
Knicks 85, Sixers 79
NEW YORK — In 12 years of serious sports writing, I had never been to Madison Square Garden for work. Oh sure, I’d been there plenty of times if you count the basement of the building where Penn Station is located. But as far as working as an accredited member of the sporting press, I had never been to The Garden.
That’s weird because it’s called, “the world’s most famous arena.” It’s quite an ironic title, too, that actually might be a bit of an understatement. See, New Yorkers really like the things they have and often go so far as to tell folks in other cities how much better their stuff is than everyone else’s. Sometimes that idea is correct, but like anything else, consider the source.
Still, I like to rate an stadium or a building on how excited the performers get when they go there. For instance, with baseball players the reviews are mixed on old shrines like Wrigley Field and Fenway Park. Though they are fun places to play a game, the amenities are substandard and ancient by anyone’s standards. The underbelly of Wrigley Field makes even the rattiest high school gym look like the Taj Mahal.
But Madison Square Garden is universally viewed as the place to go. No, I’m not going to list all the famous events that went down at The Garden, but just know that most athletes and performers feel as if they have made it when they get to play MSG.
In my first working role at The Garden—or newest new Garden since it is being torn apart and remodeled—I took home no souvenirs. Sure, I lingered on the hardwood and tried to soak up the views, the shimmering lights and the theatrical darkness that shrouds the seating area, while searching out celebrities and for me that was enough.
After all, I already had a souvenir from Madison Square Garden in the form of a scar on my right knee.
In 1991, my friend John and his pals from college decided to drive to NYC from Vermont to see a Grateful Dead show at The Garden. Though not the biggest of Dead fans out there, I usually was up for any type of adventure so when John asked if I wanted to meet him at The Garden, he didn’t have to ask twice.
Truth be told, it was a pretty good show. Branford Marsalis played a few numbers with the band and Bruce Hornsby played the piano for the entire gig that opened with the well-known, “Touch of Grey.” It was pretty cool even though I watched from the right side of the stage with blood streaming down my leg.
What happened was I walked into a utility pole on 34th Street. Actually, it wasn’t too far from the spot where the photo from the media room was snapped. See, while we were waiting for the doors of the arena to open up, John, his friends and I walked around The Garden just checking out the pre-gig festival. We had bought big bottles of water, bananas and sandwiches from a nearby bodega and were just doing our best to have a fun time.
But while eating a sandwich and walking all while imitating Chevy Chase in the movie Vacation when he flirts with Christie Brinkley, my knee banged into a utility pole that I never saw. Worse, it was a utility pole that looked as if it had been severed with a chain saw or a bus accident, leaving behind a gnarled mess of steel with jagged edges.
Even worse than that, the pole was severed at knee level for a 6-foot-1, 20-year-old dude goofing around with a sandwich before a Grateful Dead gig at The Garden.
There was nothing sold at the concessions that could ever last as long as the souvenir I got more than 20 years ago.