I think it was just after the firecracker hit me and just before
I was teargassed last Saturday night that I knew this was a very
bad column idea. Still, here it is.
8:30 p.m. (MDT)--Sitting in a nice cozy press box at Pepsi Center
in downtown Denver during Game 7 of the Stanley Cup finals, I'm
thinking, After the Colorado Avalanche wins this game there will
be a riot, because these days there is almost always a riot after
a team wins a championship. But wouldn't it be interesting to be
inside a sports fans' riot for once? See how one gets started?
Besides, it's either that or try to get a column out of Mrs. Ray
8:47--I walk about 10 blocks from Pepsi Center, to 16th and
Wynkoop, where 60 Denver police officers are donning riot gear,
nearly the exact same equipment that Patrick Roy is wearing:
helmet with visor, and chest, shoulder, shin and arm pads. Plus
two cans of fogger mace, a nightstick, a gas mask, plastic
flex-cuffs, metal handcuffs, a .45 SIG Sauer pistol and bullets.
The cops know the riot is coming. The Army-Navy stores in town
had nearly sold out of gas masks the day before. It's clear: When
the game is over, the game will begin.
9:15--On a huge outdoor TV screen at 19th and Blake, Ray Bourque
triumphantly hoists the Cup. A man on a Harley, watching, revs
his engine menacingly. The crowd of 18,000 starts emptying out of
Pepsi Center. Let the stupidity begin.
9:22--One block away, at Coors Field, the Colorado Rockies- St.
Louis Cardinals game ends, sending 47,000 fans, many of them
plastered, onto Blake Street. Uh-oh.
9:31--At 15th and Larimer, maybe 1,000 happy people are sardined
into one rollicking intersection, doing the usual all-American
things: passing humans above their heads and chanting for women
to remove their tops.
10:02--Three energetic youths start a little fire out of a
newspaper, a T-shirt and a skateboard. Everybody starts jumping
as if they were on pogo sticks. Somebody tosses in a pack of
Black Cat firecrackers. Somebody jumps through the flames. Then
many jump through them. Now a man stands in the middle of them,
and his pants catch on fire. Now we're having fun.
10:07--There seem to be a lot of energetic youths in gas masks
around. I don't remember seeing them at the game. Many cops are
around too, some on horseback. Five or six energetic youths get
too close to the cops and get maced. Two get cuffed. Somebody is
shooting bottle rockets, and one hits me in the butt. As we say
in sports, we are all taking it to another level.
10:14--The cops march in, force back the crowd, stamp out the fire
and box off the intersection. I notice many of the fans take off
their Avalanche jerseys and cover their faces. I do not have an
Avalanche jersey. I finger my tie nervously.
10:24--A cop on a bullhorn says, calmly, "This is your third
warning to clear the streets." I did not hear the first two, but
I notice nobody is clearing the streets. Many energetic youths
are chanting, "F--- the police!" very sincerely. Suddenly a cop
lobs a silver, smoking tear gas canister 10 feet from me. I flee,
sprinting like an energetic youth myself. Another canister
whistles by my ear and lands 20 feet to the right. I zig in a new
direction and nearly get trampled. I zag. A canister lands smack
in front of me and before I can rezig, I have run through the
cloud. Have you ever stuck an entire serving of wasabi up your
nose? Then stuck a spoonful of horseradish in each eye? Then
gargled with chili peppers? Me neither, but it can't be as bad as
tear gas. I cover my mouth and nose with my tie, but it's much,
much too late.
10:26--Retching and running, I make it into a 7-Eleven, lurch for
the beverage coolers, yank out a bottle of water and pour it in
my eyes, down my throat and, sideways, in my nose. Then a second
bottle. A third. When I can finally see, I notice my reflection
in the cooler door. I am a mucusy, snarling, coughing, spitting,
panting, soaking maniac standing in a puddle of water. In other
words, not much different from many other 7-Eleven customers.
In the end 700 cops will be called in, 60 people will be arrested
and seven police vehicles will be damaged, but the TV reports
will label the soiree "tame." And I will have learned three
things about sports riots: 1) They have nothing to do with
sports; 2) they should be scheduled, like the games themselves,
because the yahoos who start them want to start them; and 3) they
are not fun to be inside.
I should've interviewed Mrs. Ray Bourque. There still would've
been crying, just much less of it by me.
on gas masks the day before.