Thursday, April 21, 2005

Opening Day: 25,287

It all happened so fast I didn't even fully appreciate it when it was over. Reflecting along the 90 mile drive home I knew that I had been apart of something special, even historic. It was a day that will never be forgotten.

We (my wife and I) pulled into the west parking lot at Rice-Eccles Stadium just before 10:00 am. Surprisingly we were not the first Loyalists there. Jim was parker under the shade of a tree taking a morning snooze while waiting for the rest of us. The time between arrival and going into the stadium to rehearse our pregame ceremony was spent mingling with other supporters as they arrived. I mention this because it's the last period of calmness until my drive home. It was also during this time of peace that I went to grab my media credential.

This would be a good time to explain my situation. When I started this blog I had the intentions of writing through out the season as a fan from the stands. But since then I have picked up a position as a beat writer for a soccer news service. After much thought I have decided to continue with the blog writing from the perspective of a fan who became a soccer writer in his first professional writing position. We'll see if these worlds collide but so far everything has worked out. Back to the day...

The credential came in handy throughout the morning helping with getting Loyalists banners and flags in for the game. Also for the ceremony rehearsal I was used to vouch for tardy Loyalists who wanted to get past security and help with the presentation. Our part in pregame involved walking out a giant 60-foot RSL uniform to mid-pitch and then over to our corner.

While traveling back out to the parking lot for a tailgate I noticed our club president holding our new club banners. Having been the designer I was very interested to see how the banners turned out. They looked gorgeous. We returned to the pitch to hang the banners in front of our section in the north east corner. During our travels for this assignment we ran into Eric Wynalda. We told him about the Loyalists and discussed various things like Clint's mohawk and his ESPN broadcast position.

The events that transpired between then and game time all run together. I remember lots of running between the tailgate and the stadium; placing everyone's flags in the section to mark our seats; and getting roped into a juggling contest on the center stage at Carnival Real, which I lost miserably. While on stage I noticed the other Loyalists in the crowd beckoning me to follow them. It was time.

We gathered at the edge of the pitch, unfolded the giant shirt, and after a greeting from team owner Dave Checketts and league commissioner Don Garber we walked out to midfield. The few thousand spectators already in their seats enjoyed the site. Each of us on the field were on cloud nine. It was truly a great moment for all of us. Arriving at our corner I continued with the running, sprinting up the stairs, through the gate, down the concourse stretching the length of the stadium, through the madness of Carnival, across the parking lot to my car, and then finally all the way back across the parking lot to the media elevator. I had essentially ran around the entire complex of Rice-Eccles Stadium on a sunny 75-degree day, in pants. The sweat was dripping off me as I stepped into the elevator for the press box.

Walking into the press box I was in awe of the view. We were situated directly on the midway line six stories above the field. The stadium sprawled out beneath us with the playing surface cradled between the rising stands. I situated myself in my second row space with my name placed in front of it. Sweating like a large farm animal I knew that I was not making friends with my aroma. Thank goodness for ice water.

The match itself was electric. From my position I felt that Colorado held the majority of the better play, and RSL capitalized on a chance with heroic goal from Bryan Dunseth. But we've all seen what happened on the field so I don't need to explain it.

When the game ended I headed off to the Rapids locker room. My first post game interview ever as a writer was former Sheffield Wednesday winger Terry Cooke. It was his first game in MLS. I tried to get cohesive questions out of my mouth, but I felt like I was sputtering random sentence fragments. Even though I was visibly nervous Cooke was a great sport.

Next came Rapids head coach Fernando Clavijo. I remembered him as a player and it was an honor to be talking to him. He was very patient with me through my first day nerves. Walking away I felt I had all I needed until I saw Hunter Freeman with his nose all bandaged up. Talking to him felt more like a conversion that I happened to record. This is how I want to try interviews in the future. They should be comfortable for all involved, right? I have a lot of room for improvement, but it should be a fun experience.

The rest of the afternoon consisted of trying to write my first story, and watching the reserves play. It was a great day. A fantastic day for soccer, and a day never to be forgotten for the 25,287 assembled.


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