I have always enjoyed attending sporting events live. There’s something magical about witnessing a game live knowing that you may see something special, soaking in the arena’s atmosphere, and sharing the company of fellow fans.
Even this disappointing Rangers’ season has had its share of unique (albeit not always enjoyable) moments. This week, I found myself reminiscing about the Rangers’ 2005-2006 season – the first season after the lockout. Players like Jaromir Jagr, Petr Prucha, Marty Straka, and Michael Nylander glided over the ice demonstrating a scoring touch, skating skill and power play proficiency that had been missing for several seasons. Henrik Lundqvist took over goalie duties with an energy and skill not seen since Mike Richter. And the 7 year playoff drought ended.
The team surprised the NHL with its success – garnering 100 points for the season and nearly grabbing the Atlantic Division title. The Rangers became relevant in the New York winter sports landscape for the first time in years. I don’t have to say how things have changed since then.
Before that season, I convinced some friends to purchase a mini-plan for the Rangers – we were in no position financially to spring for a full season package. My “partners” left it up to me to choose among the 3 plans.
I fortunately chose the plan that included, among other games, the pinnacle event of the Rangers’ season – Mark Messier retirement night on January 12, 2006. We all remember that night, whether we saw it live or on television.
One of the more touching moments was Dana Reeve's singing “Now and Forever” to Mark Messier during the ceremony. Everyone knew how much Messier had meant to the Reeve family. A few months earlier, she had announced that she was suffering from lung cancer. As we would sadly learn, this night would be her last public appearance as she died on March 6, 2006 – and it is that date that passed this week that started me thinking about writing this post.
The Rangers had left NYC for a road trip the day she died and did not return until the following Sunday, nearly a week later. Our mini-plan had that game. So when I got to the Garden early, I wondered if the Rangers would acknowledge Dana’s passing or if too much time had passed.
The Rangers surprised me and everyone in attendance that evening with a low-key but powerful tribute – replaying Reeve’s rendition of the National Anthem from Messier's retirement night on the scoreboard.
There she was – singing against a darkened background, filling the Garden with her voice like she had just a short 6 weeks earlier. MSG was eerily quiet as Ranger fans stood silently. The usual “Let’s Go Ranger” cheers during the anthem were absent.
As the song ended, Dana Reeve walked down the carpet and off the ice silently one last time, into the darkness, forever. Sniffles could be heard around the arena. Then the applause came. That final walk is etched into my memory like it just happened.
Even now, 4 years later, it is one of those moments that has stayed with me. I consider myself lucky to have been at MSG that night.
It was a moment that made me proud of the Rangers for its classy, unpretentious tribute to a member of the Ranger family and proud of the connection I felt to my fellow fans as we all mourned Dana’s passing together.
These days, the news is filled with stories about personalities who denigrate the respect, affection and loyalty that are part and parcel of marriage and other human relationships. Those who struggle everyday to keep their love alive and keep the romance burning, are often overshadowed by the sensationalistic scandalous behavior of the few.
After being injured in his horse riding accident, Christopher Reeve suggested "Maybe we should let me go." Dana would have none of that: "I'll be with you for the long haul, no matter what. You're still you and I love you."
True heroes generally toil in silence outside the limelight and go unappreciated. We learn early on that fairy tale endings rarely, if ever, happen but that realization does not stop most of us from trying to create our own.
It’s been 4 years since that Sunday night game. The opponent on March 12, 2006 was the Atlanta Thrashers -- the same as tonight.
---The Graying Mantis
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