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Mark's Madness: Penguins and on-site reality TV a bad match

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

By Mark Madden

I've finally figured out why people leave Penguins games early: To escape the camera.

There's no privacy at a hockey game. Somebody somewhere once ascertained that sticking the drooling mugs of mindlessly waving fans on the scoreboard video screen during every single stoppage of play was entertaining, or at least easy to do. It's like on-site reality TV.

Fans can attract a camera's attention in any number of ways, but nothing quite works as well as that tried-and-true approach, a clever homemade sign. (Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)

So, if you go to a Penguins game, there's a good chance you'll be outed on the Jumbotron as someone who spent an inordinate amount of money to see an inordinately bad team. Thankfully, your folly will be witnessed only by those doing exactly the same thing. It's like being seen coming out of a peep show by someone else coming out of a peep show. There's no ridicule. Just shared, silent shame.

Seriously, there's no escaping the camera at a Penguins game. It really is intrusive. One guy flipped the double bird on the big screen earlier this season, and it was a long time coming.

Buying a ticket to a sporting event does not obligate you to be part of the evening's entertainment. What if the camera catches you with a woman who isn't your wife? What if the camera catches you picking your nose? What if the camera catches you wearing a Jamie Pushor jersey? Worst of all, what if the camera catches you actually watching the game?

Kiss Cam is rock bottom. Two people presumed to be "with" each other are pictured on camera and expected to kiss for the crowd. How the cameramen ascertain which people are couples is the product of extensive pre-Kiss Cam surveys or, lacking that, some pretty shoddy guesswork.

I'm disappointed that no man and woman have yet used their Kiss Cam opportunity to treat the viewing public to some torrid tongue action accompanied by heavy petting, or at least flip the quadruple bird.

There has, however, been behind-the-scenes Kiss Cam controversy. Male fans wearing the jersey of the visiting team used to be shown together on Kiss Cam, all the better for some homophobic hootin' and hollerin'. But gay rights groups voiced their displeasure to the Penguins, and the practice was stopped. Sadly, the only same-sex Kiss Cam moments featured two dumbfounded guys, never two girls with an experimental streak.

The only thing more predictable at Penguins games than the omnipresent camera is what comes out of the PA. Well, that and Wayne Primeau being minus-3.

There must be a law that says every time the visiting team scores a goal, the PA at a hockey game has to blare that Tom Petty song about the losers getting lucky sometimes, or Twisted Sister's "We're Not Gonna Take It." Believe me, as long as Hans Jonsson suits up on defense for the Penguins, you are most definitely going to take it.

When a foe commits a penalty, we hear David Lee Roth sing "Happy Trails," or Eric Carmen croon "All by Myself." Geez, Reg, that reminds me. Back when I was coaching in Omaha, Eddie Shore sent me this one guy who would take penalties just so he could get in the box all by himself ...

Then there's Mellon Arena organist Vince Lascheid and his collection of fossilized keyboard classics. Nothing gets the joint rocking like the theme from the old Peanuts cartoons, especially when it breaks up a rare spontaneous cheer by the fans. I spent many evenings as a youth trying to chant "Let's Go Pens" while Vince's nimble fingers rammed "Lady of Spain" down our collective throats.

I've just about given up on hockey becoming more entertaining. Or more popular. Maybe they could take a page from NASCAR and have players skate aimlessly in circles real fast, but there's only so much Rico Fata to go around.

Maybe Kiss Cam has shown us the way. They should try Mario Cam, where a camera mounted on Mario Lemieux's helmet gives fans the thrill of what it's like to play the world's fastest game while dragging around an English-Canadian pig or two. "Dad, why does Mario Cam make Mario look so slow?" "It's not his fault. Adam Foote's got to weigh around 220."

Might I suggest Idiot Cam, which chronicles the misadventures of some dope who waits in line at a Penguins game for so long that he forgets whether he wants nachos or needs to go to the bathroom.

I haven't quite finalized the concept of Cam Cam. It's either going to show viewers what it's like to be crippled by Ulf Samuelsson, or what it's like to outbid yourself for Derek Bell.

Maybe they could stick a clock in the corner of the Jumbotron that counts down increments of 60 seconds for no discernible reason. This would be another tribute to (read: ripoff of) ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption," a very good show which features noted sports writers Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon braying irreverently about various subjects within the constraints of predetermined time limits. When a "serious journalist" betrays his professional roots by doing an electronic minstrel show for big cash and the fame that only TV brings, it offends the old-school ink-stained sensibilities of everyone who hasn't yet figured out that you can't use a Pulitzer as a down payment for an SUV. I like that.

I nearly forgot to mention the almost inhuman Jumbotron ritual that sees local DJs ask local pinheads to follow either the bouncing puck or answer a trivia question with huge prizes at stake. DJ: "We've got Mort from Bethel Park with us, and Mort, you can win this beautiful No. 38 Jan Hrdina jersey by answering this simple question: What number does Jan Hrdina wear?" Mort: "Uh ... 18?"

I do like when they use a huge slingshot to fire a fan into the end boards between periods. Take the padding away from the end boards, take the helmet off the fan, triple the elasticity of the slingshot and you've got something there. Turn Yourself Into a Bobblehead Night.

And make no mistake, it's all about the bobbleheads. Last night was Aleksey Morozov Bobblehead Night. Morozov hasn't played since December. Tomorrow night is Alexei Kovalev Bobblehead Night. Isn't he with the New York Rangers now? No matter. The fans don't forget. They don't forget to put that thing up for sale on eBay before the game that night is over, that is.

Soon, however, the bells and whistles won't be needed, because hockey is in the process of identifying its problems, solving them and turning itself into a self-contained entertainment extravaganza. It turns out that diving is what turns off the fans. That's right, diving.

Not hooking, holding, clutching, grabbing, slashing or trapping, but diving. Not lack of scoring, overexpansion, goalie equipment big enough to cause a solar eclipse or all those ties, but diving. Just ask Commissioner Gary Bettman, his ref stooge, Andy vanHellemond, or any of their mouthpieces in the Canadian media. The fans don't buy tickets and don't watch games on TV because those dastardly goal-scorers allow themselves to be tackled too easily in hope of drawing a penalty.

If a midget like Paul Kariya can't carry some no-talent hack on his back for a few strides, what's he doing in a man's game, anyway? Sure, the so-called "stars" score a lot. But even the losers get lucky sometimes. Good, hard work is what the fans want. Put the Louvre and a construction site right next to each other, and more people are going to crowd around the construction site. Leonardo who? No, not DiCaprio.


Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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