When I was a boy growing up in Commack, N.Y., on Long Island, Nassau Coliseum was a huge deal.
It was “our” arena, where we went to see the circus, or the major concert you really wanted to see (I took in Paula Abdul, New Kids on the Block, and Billy Joel, among others, there), or the indoor soccer game, or basically, any big event.
It was an “event” to go to the Coliseum; you’d be excited all day, and it seemed huge to me, driving up Hempstead Turnpike and seeing this giant spaceship-looking structure that looked so out of place amid the strip-malls and banks and hardware stores.
You walked in, and you felt something special was going to happen. Never more special than when I went to a Rangers-Islanders hockey game. My Dad took me sometimes, friends took me other times, but it was always fantastic.
The fact that I rooted for the visiting team made it even better; most of the crowd rooted for the Isles back then; in the 1980s they were the biggest sports thing going in New York.
I’d cheer my heart out for the Rangers, endure the horrendous “1940” chants (the last time the Blueshirts had won the Cup, as we were always reminded), and have the time of my life, as the roar of the crowd rang in my ears for days.
Then … I grew up. I started to go to lots of other pro sports venues, including hundreds as a sportswriter. And I realized … the Coliseum was a dump. The hallways are incredibly cramped, the building is dark and dirty, it’s really hard to get to, transportation-wise, and it’s antiseptic-feeling.
Just about every other arena I went to seemed better than the Coliseum, and millions of others agreed. For more than a decade the Islanders owner, Charles Wang, tried to get a new Coliseum built, but for reasons way too complicated to get into here, he failed.
So finally, Wang made a deal to move the Islanders to the beautiful new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, which is great for the team (free agents often cited the crappy Coliseum as a reason not to sign), great for people like me who live in NYC and love hockey, but not as great for LI fans who’ve stuck with the team for decades.
So even as I felt myself being glad the old barn was going to the graveyard, I watched a few Rangers-Isles games on TV this season and felt nostalgic. The crowds are back, they’re loud, and for all its faults, the Coliseum has some of the best sightlines of any hockey arena, anywhere.
I decided I needed to say goodbye to the old place, where so many childhood memories were forged. Monday night one of my oldest friends and the biggest Islander fan I know went with me to the penultimate Rangers-Islanders game at the Coliseum.
It was, in a word … un-freaking-believable. The game was nuts, a 6-5 thriller won by the Rangers. The crowd was as loud as any I’ve heard live, the dueling “Let’s Go Islanders,” and “Let’s Go Rangers” chants still echoing in my head 24 hours later.
We had great seats right behind the net, we saw two great comebacks, lots of highlight-reel goals, and it was a night I didn’t want to end.
The Coliseum is rocking on its way to the grave, and it makes me very happy, even though I hate the damn Islanders.
As my sneakers stuck to the floor on the way out, I smiled and looked around.
I really am going to miss the old barn.
**Next up, the whole East Coast has been struggling through a pretty awful winter, with snow and freezing temperatures.
Well, sometimes the only thing to help you deal with winter is to make a cool video set to a classic song.
That’s what some people in Winnipeg did last year (and believe me, those people know from winter).
My awesome mother-in-law sent me this and it cracked me up; hope it gives you some relief before you put your mittens on and go shovel some more. It’s called “The Grounds for Violence,” a play on “The Sounds of Silence.”
And if you’re reading this in a warm-weather climate… have some empathy for us, will ya?
**Finally today, it’s Duke-Carolina day, which is always cause for celebration in my life. It seems like it’s super-late this year, as they haven’t played yet and it’s February 18, but that just means the anticipation has built up even more than usual.
I say it every year in this space and I’ll go to my grave believing it: It’s the greatest rivalry in sports. You can have Yankees-Red Sox, Ohio State-Michigan, USC-UCLA, Packers-Bears, and Bruins-Canadiens. Give me Jeff Capel with a half-court heave to force double-OT, Jamison and Carter dunking all over my Blue Devils, Laettner and Montross going at it … it’s just the best. And yes, the above video gave me chills watching it, as it does every year.
Tonight should be extra-special as it’s first Duke-Carolina game since Dean died; I’m sure there’ll be a wonderful pre-game tribute to a man who helped make the rivalry so special.
Duke’s the better team on paper this year, but that never matters in this rivalry.
Duke. Carolina. Nothing better.