By Thomas Pollari
Last week, while sitting in Madison Square Garden watching the Rangers lose a very winnable game to a Ducks team that had embarrassed them earlier in the season, I found myself in awe of the iconic arena. It wasn't all the renovations (really not that impressive) that caught my attention it was the silence. I'm not here to mock or call out the other Garden Faithful but to point out the decline of what made Ranger games so much fun.
My first game at the Garden so many years ago was like an overload of the senses. It was a back and forth affair. The type of game that gave you an exciting sense of nausea that the winning goal could come from a lucky bounce at any second. The Rangers prevailed over the Ducks (irony) 3-2, but, besides the game, it was Section 409 that got me hooked on being a Rangers fan. Whether or not you believe alcohol fueled rants and borderline offensive chants are a fun part of the game is up to you, to me it showed the loyalty and community that was built in the 400's over the years. They had the ability to take a blowout against the home team and turn it into a few laughs. I'm not saying they were perfect fans (the 300 sections were on par but 100's and 200's were a little too fancy for my taste) because sometimes lines were crossed. But seeing a Devils or Islanders fan think twice about cheering in your section was a pretty awesome sight.
I witnessed plenty of seasons in the early 2000s when the cheers and boos (mostly boos) fell on deaf ears with the players. Then something happened in the Jagr era. The Garden crowd was again helping give the team momentum, which was something they lacked during those dark years. This wasn't just one section helping the team but the whole arena giving them the push they needed.
Flash forward to last season when all of the top sections were disbanded and moved throughout arena. Some 400 sections survived and were cramped under the new over hanging 300s like they were meant to be hidden from the view of the rest of the Garden. Other loyal fans were scattered in the back rows of the upper bowl or the aquariumesque hanging seats (awesome view but a bit claustrophobic up there). The season finally started after another Bettman lockout and the Garden seemed hyped to watch what many people believed to be a Stanley Cup contending team. Of course as we know the Rangers never quite clicked as hope but the crowd never really did either. Yeah they were loud when we scored a goal but it faded away as quickly as they started. There were also long stretches of sickening silence when you could hear Broduer's walker scraping the floor on the way to the bench before the period.
I initially chalked it up to people still getting used to their new sections or maybe even poor acoustics due to construction. However, when this season finally brought us an overdue home game, it was a carbon copy of last year. I even had to listen to a Canadiens fan ( yeah wasn't happy about sitting next to one of those) yapping that a Rangers home opener should be infinitely louder. Hoping for a slight improvement after a few wins, I was again disappointed that night against the Ducks, where besides Del Zotto's goal ( bad news when he's your only scorer for the evening on a rookie goalie) the crowd never got into it.
To me, the real reason for the lack of energy inside the Garden is the renovations. It drove ticket prices through the roof and spread out legions of loyal fans who had bonded in their sections for years. Your inner conspiracy theorist might even say this was done in order to make the arena more family friendly and inviting for visiting fans to invade our house. What I do know is that the prices aren't coming down anytime soon and the seating isn't any better. It's just another money making endeavor for James Dolan. All we can do now is go along for the ride and try as best as we can to return MSG to glory.
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