It was 1989, and it was the first time the Penguins made the playoffs during the Mario Lemieux era. The appearance broke a 6-year, postseason drought. The Pens faced the New York Rangers in the first round, and my Dad scored two tickets for Game 1 of the series.
As a 14-year old, I had been to several games, but never had I heard the arena sound so loud. My Dad and I went to our seats, which happened to be in the very last row underneath the luxury boxes. Pure peanut heaven, but it didn't matter: we were in the building. When we got to our seats, we quickly joined the raucous crowd, and I pumped my fist in the air wildly, swept away in the frenzy of the crowd.
However, I got too carried away.
I didn’t realize how low the ceiling was around our seats and cracked my left hand off an I-beam right above us. My index and middle fingers, as well as my knuckles, swelled up instantly.
"Oh, sh*t," my young, adolescent brain thought, "I just broke my hand, and they haven't even sung the national anthem yet."
My Dad asked me what my problem was. I told him the story and showed him my hand. "Well, we're not leaving," he told me. And I knew we couldn't leave. How could we? It was the FIRST PLAYOFF GAME of the Mario Lemieux Era!
So, I found a solution: Sprite.
Aramark vendors always seem to load up their drinks with too much ice, which leads to using less pop, and there, in turn, leads to a bigger profit. Without completely understanding the economics of soft-drink/ice-distribution management, I saw the Sprite that we bought before the game sitting at my feet, and it was, of course, loaded with ice. I plunged my fingers and knuckles as far into the drink as I could and spilled the sugary beverage on the already sticky Civic (Mellon) Arena floor. Thirst be damned. I had to freeze the sucker and be ready for the game to start.
That's when I first learned to play through pain, and I sat there for the first period with my fingers in a damn cup of pop. Sure, I looked ridiculous, and it's amazing how much liquid spills out when you have your hand immersed in a cup and are yelling at full volume.
I got through the game. The Penguins won 3-1 in Game 1, and Paul Coffey, who scored two goals, was number one star. I would have hated myself for missing that game for being a dumb ass, and in the end, I learned that Coca-Cola makes a good, lemon/lime beverage that can also serve as a makeshift first-aid ice pack.