As the Oakland Raiders prepared to meet the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII, a friend of mine called to tell me the New York Rangers had rented the Georgetown restaurant/bar he managed to watch the game. They were in D.C. after playing an afternoon game with the Capitals and because he knew I was a huge hockey fan, he invited me to watch the game also.
The entire two floor club was empty except for the players, a few girls, and a handful of random people (like me). The Rangers were easy to spot, even if you didn’t know hockey from hop-scotch, because they were very, very large, and fairly well-dressed. They sat around on the bar’s black leather couches, like hulking wise-guys, and watched Tampa’s defense dismantle Rich Gannon with a record five interceptions, three for second half touchdowns.
The final treat for the evening, aside from the exciting game and famous athletes, was the open bar which everyone abused in copious amounts (I suppose this means that I drank courtesy of the Rangers organization…thanks guys!).
The alcohol and sports mixed well to create an exciting energy; it filled the club as the Rangers took shot after shot and cheered at the jumbo television screen. It was hard to tell this team had taken consecutive beatings and was in desperate need of a playoff push.
Former MVP Eric Lindros stood quietly next to me for the duration of the third quarter. At the time, I was trying hard not to be an annoying fan, but I regret not chatting him up a little bit about his days in Philadelphia. His career was winding down because of concussions, and as he stood by himself at the bar, he seemed like the quiet type anyhow.
However, I could not resist talking to notorious instigator Matthew Barnaby about a fight he had that afternoon. I will never forget it because, as he was getting pounded in the face, he stopped fighting, looked over to the Rangers bench, and laughed like the devil’s own son (above). Barnaby was in the middle of all the action at the bar; that guy’s loose screws make him very entertaining.
The real shock of the evening was witnessing how much these hockey players liked to gamble. Many of them had thick knots of bills and yelled out strange and drunken wagers. For example, I watched one player bet a grand that a catch under review would be ruled a touchdown.
This proclivity toward financial risk is shared by many NHL players. One time MVP Jaromir Jagr lost several hundred thousand betting college football during his short tenure with the Capitals. Rick Tocchet lost his job as Phoenix’s assistant coach when his book-making operation got busted. Gretzky's "wife" was one of his clients. Of course, the NHL forgives and forgets, and Tocchet was promoted to Tampa Bay’s head coaching job this year.
Gambling with money must be a frivolous thrill when placed next to the potential for extreme bodily harm these players skate with every day. I wonder if there is any correlation between the two...