December 3, 2002
Postcard: The Return of the Fan

It started innocently enough, as these things usually do. My sister, a recent transfer to Northeastern, called and invited me to join her for a Huskies game at Matthews Arena. How could I turn her down? Hockey is a passion of mine and it has been for almost two decades.

As I hopped on Boston’s famed “T” to start my trek to the Northeastern campus, I wondered about the last time I had actually watched a game as a fan. That’s because for the last 12 years I’ve spent my hockey nights sitting in a press box.

College press boxes, AHL press boxes, NHL ones … you name it. I’ve been in boxes cold enough to house slabs of meat. Others have been so small that this 6-foot-2 writer couldn’t stand up straight and was so squished next to the visiting radio announcers that I was sure the audience could hear me flip the pages on my note pad. Still others have been so high above ice level that I was sure it would take weeks for my pen to hit the ice if I knocked it over the edge.

So, there I sat, rolling into the tunnels of Boston, reaching back into the memory bank. The last time I was in Matthews it was as a member of the media, so that didn’t count. As best I could recall, my last game as a fan was in 1997. It was a Clarkson-UNH game in New Hampshire and when Todd White was done undressing Wildcat defensemen, the Golden Knights had beaten UNH, 5-2.

It was an exciting game, especially since the team I was cheering for that evening actually won. But, that was it, my first game as a fan since 1993 (another one-shot deal) and my last one until earlier this month.

Finally reaching Matthews – and my sister – I insisted that we sit in the student section. After all, that’s where the noise originates in the college ranks and it’s always more fun. Of course, this meant I needed a crash course in all of the chants. I’ve heard a ton over the years, but I needed to fit in; I needed to become part of the Northeastern faithful.

My sister, after only a few games, had them down. She knew when to yell, “Sieve!” and the timing that’s involved in not being that one loser who keeps chanting when all others have stopped. My fear, of course, was that on this night, I’d be that loser.

As the first period rolled along, I started to pick things up, but I also began to notice the stares. Yup, I was getting “looks” from students. They didn’t have to say anything, but I knew what they were thinking: “Who’s the old guy? What’s he doing in this section?”

Now, I’m not really old at all, mind you. I’m only approaching my third decade of life, but to these 19-, 20-, 21-year olds, I was definitely not a student and, therefore, old. Not even a graduate student – just plain old. After a while, I even started to believe it.

Everything was going well; I had most of the chants down midway through the first period. Northeastern was winning and we were having a blast. It was fun being able to scream and cheer again, even if for only one night. I didn’t really have a rooting interest, but because of my sister, I had to cheer for Northeastern.

In a week, I could easily find myself interviewing these guys, but on this night, I was just another fan. Although, I must admit, I was writing the game story in my head as the contest evolved. Old habits really are hard to break.

Then it happened. Huskies fans have their own way of clapping along to what’s commonly known as the “Hey!” song. (That’s what Gary Glitter gets for calling it “Rock’n’Roll Pt. 1” … boy, I AM old!) The problem was that no one bothered to clue me in on the trademark applause twist. So, I applauded in the traditional way and, sure enough, was completely off. My sister laughed, as I’m sure others around me did, and all I could do was turn and say, “It’s been a while. I’m rusty.”

She didn’t buy it. Big bro was playing the dork this evening and it felt like the entire campus knew it. Was it really this difficult being a fan again? I always thought it was like riding a bike. Ah, a dose of humility. Gotta love it.

I finally caught on to the applause game, but it was too late. The damage had been done. Northeastern won, my sister was happy and I took mental notes on all of the chants and clapping routines. I vowed, next time, to not embarrass myself.

Yeah, right, who am I kidding? Maybe I should just stick to keyboards and tape recorders. Or maybe, just maybe, I’ll let the fan out of the house again. Sometime around 2007 sounds right.

– Juan Martinez

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