People are swigging beer, waiting in line for hot dogs and pizza, partying as if they didn’t have work tomorrow. In search of healthy food, we follow the big foam finger pointing upstairs as a Japanese man calls out, “Bento Box, Sushi Here!” The cashier recognizes my husband. She knows a lot of the season ticket holders, as does the foam finger man. Regulars nod to familiar faces, a community drawn together by fervor for hockey. Or is it something else?
The San Jose Sharks vs. the Colorado Avalanche. Number twenty-eight out of forty home games. Hockey has three periods, each lasting twenty minutes. Between each period is a seventeen-minute intermission. If teams tie in regulation, they go into five-minute “sudden death,” where the first team to score wins. If no one scores, they go to shootouts, three shots per team. The whole thing takes about two and a half hours. Not that I’m counting. I’m married to a man who enjoys spectator sports, especially baseball and hockey. Well, maybe basketball and a little football. He loves sports, and I love him. You get the picture.
The temperature drops as we descend towards our seats. Having learned that my jeans aren’t warm enough, I dress as for skiing. Except in black and teal, of course. One sees more black and teal in the Shark Tank than out in real life — adults wearing hats like shark heads, fuzzy teal scarves and jerseys everywhere, emblazoned with names of players past and present. The gal in front of me still has the tags on a Sharks tee she’s wearing. Does she plan to return it if we lose? Then there’s the size of the fan base: not only is HP Pavilion always sold out, but REAL hockey fans come in three sizes only: Large, XL and XXL. Despite the wide seats, there are spillovers everywhere. A woman to my left texts faster than I type, but from the look of her, she exercises only fingers and thumbs. Guys without necks chum with their seat mates, and in most cases, letting someone slip past you means getting up and stepping out of their way.
Sharkie lowers himself from the ceiling on a rope, revs up the crowd for the players, who enter through a big plastic shark head, clouded in fake fog. Intermissions ramp up the fun, with people inside huge beach balls skidding around inflatable bowling pins, a shark that chases a taco, or the Burrito Blimp dropping coupons. And don’t miss the faces on the JumboTron: the Kiss Cam, Celebrity Look-alikes, the Chicken Dance, your three seconds of fame. People cut loose here: they clap to the music, chomp their arms in shark jaws, high-five strangers to celebrate goals, bang on the glass separating them from the players.
Oh yes, the players. Isn’t that why we’re here? Incredible athletes, young men who’ve played hockey for as long as they know, graceful and fast. They earn big salaries, but skate for those elusive moments of glory. Here in the Tank, though, they’re just part of the show. So real, so unreal.