Murphy, an airline pilot originally from North Carolina, is better known as vanmurph on the Panthers message boards and he, along with his wife Vanessa are two of the most vociferous fans at the BankAtlantic Center.
The view from the cockpit of an airliner is sometimes so beautiful that it can’t be adequately described using just words. Occasionally, you need a gesture or a sound to aid in the narration.
Similarly, the view from our seats in section 118 during last Monday’s 6-0 clubbing of the New York Islanders left me at a loss for words. At the conclusion of a 6-month hiatus from the sport we love, there we were in the arena, watching our guys playing an up-tempo game with a BRICK WALL GOALIE behind an IRON CURTAIN DEFENSE! As the sights and sounds of the game began to sink in, I thought to myself, “HOCKEY IS FINALLY BACK!”
Vanessa and I made the 10-mile trek out to the Bank Atlantic Center a couple of hours before the puck dropped. As was the case in the last third of the 2007-2008 season, a group of members from the Florida Panthers Message Board* had planned to gather in the northeast parking lot to tailgate prior to the game. We arrived to see a bevy of our friends already partaking in pre-game festivities! As more of the tailgate regulars began to make their way to the party, it took on a feeling eerily similar to the tailgates we held during last year’s 7-game win streak.There were a couple of dozen jersey-clad fans ringing cowbells, sharing laughs, and generally enjoying the atmosphere we’d all missed so much over the last 180 days. The tailgate revelry this season has the potential to take on a new level of success as more and more Panthers fans begin to stop by on their way into the arena. I welcome all of you to join us this Saturday afternoon at 5:00. It’ll be worth your while just to see the newly christened “Panthermobile”, a 2003 Panthered-out Ford Expedition belonging to my good friend Jerry Cattelane (Also known as DrScruf, the guy in the yellow jersey in Section 107). You may not know any of us when you get there, but by the time you leave, I can almost guarantee that you will have made some new friends.
The game itself was so unbelievably terrific that all I could think to say to Vanessa (DOZENS of times, I might add) was “Can you believe this Defense?” and “This is definitely not last year’s Panthers”. I was watching our guys aggressively go after pucks, forechecking (yes Panthers fans, I said FORECHECKING), attacking the net, and skating with a sense of passion and determination! I watched as we scored SIX GOALS against DiPietro with SIX DIFFERENT scorers! I saw Richard Zednik skating like a 20 year-old, and I saw T-Vo practically getting to take the night off because the defense assembled in front of him was nearly flawless (though he did make some INCREDIBLE saves during the course of the evening). The other thing I saw was some hitting! (Yes Panthers fans, I said HITTING!) Keith Ballard is the type of guy who hits people so hard that it instantly brings the crowd to life. I was on my feet several times during the night applauding his checks.
Look, I know it was only pre-season, but that was an NHL-caliber team out there STOMPING another NHL-caliber team! The Panthers never let up. If the way they took control of the game on both sides of the puck is any indication of things to come, we are in for an exhilarating season! It appears that Coach DeBoer’s style of play is suited to the team that GM Jacques Martin has assembled. As this team learns the system and begins to gel, I think it’s only going to get better and better to be a Panthers fan!
Earlier, I mentioned the ringing of cowbells. Well, now is as good a time as any to explain the origins of the Cowbell Movement, and the ever-growing Cowbell Club.
The introduction of the cowbell into the Bank Atlantic Center was actually born of my utter exasperation with watching the team I love play HOME games with the look and feel of a road game due to the opposing team’s fans running amok in OUR HOUSE. There were times that I literally felt sick to my stomach, as we were out-numbered in the stands by a 2-1 margin, and the opposing team scored a goal. Listening to thousands of people cheer for the other team while our guys were crestfallen made me angry. My goal became doing something that would let the Panthers know there were true Panther die-hards in the stands who cared about them, and appreciated when they did things well. But what could TWO fans do that would be able to accomplish that goal?
In December of last year, Vanessa and I were in Chicago and we planned to attend a Chicago Wolves game*. The night we went into the All-State Arena, a snowstorm was approaching and the crowd filing in looked like it was going to be a sparse one. It became immediately clear, however, that no matter how small of a crowd it was going to be, it was most-certainly not going to be a quiet one. We saw hundreds of people with noisemakers of various types. The most innovative of which was a metal, taped-closed, child’s lunchbox containing 94 pennies (’94 was the year the Wolves were founded). But my favorite of the noisemakers was the cowbell. There was something so charming and yet so incredibly spirited about it, that I decided right then and there to go out and procure two of them for Vanessa and me as soon as we returned to South Florida.
The following day, we landed in Miami and proceeded directly to Grif’s Western Store in Davie, FL to see if they had any cowbells. Boy did they… There were multiple sizes, so we purchased two medium bells and brought them back to the house to decorate with some Panthers stickers I’d purchased on eBay. Then we attached them to hockey-themed lanyards we’d been given by our friend, Kathy Higgins. We also told our friends John and Betsy, who sit right next to us in the arena, about our plans. They too purchased a couple of cowbells. At the next Panthers home game we stuffed them with paper towels (to prevent them from clanging while we walked), hid them under our jerseys, and walked into the arena and sat in our seats. We didn’t waste any time initiating them either. As soon as the player introductions began, we started ringing to our hearts content! My wife, bless her soul, stood right there with me withstanding the looks of the other team’s fans seated directly in front of and behind us. And we proceeded to ring the bells during exciting plays, goals, penalty kills, T-Vo miracle-saves, and any other deserving moments!
After that game, another good friend, Vinny Galan (and his son, Anthony) told me they’d heard our cowbells all the way up in the middle of the 400’s and asked me where they could get some… The Cowbell Movement was born. As more and more of my friends began to buy cowbells, their friends began to purchase them too. And before you knew it there were dozens of them in the arena. At this point, everyone in the tailgating group had purchased one, so we started referring to ourselves as the Cowbell Club. Soon after, the crew from Game Presentation noticed what was happening and decided to get involved. One night they sent Stanley and Mini-Stanley down to Vanessa’s and my seats to perform with us as the Christopher Walken “More Cowbell” skit was being played up on the Diamond Vision Screen. That’s when the Panthers management got behind it, and the movement took off in earnest. Soon thereafter, I got a call from someone in the organization requesting photos of my cowbells. A couple of nights after sending the requested photos, similar-looking cowbells were being sold in Pantherland. Not long after that, T-shirts featuring my cowbell and the words “More Cowbell” were being sold in the arena.
By the season’s end, I’d estimate that there were 4000-6000 cowbells being rung in the Bank Atlantic Center. But don’t be fooled into believing that I started something that wouldn’t have eventually started itself. Two and a half months after Vanessa and I brought the first cowbells to a Panthers game, something really exciting happened. Coinciding with the formation of the Cowbell Club and the general shift in the mood of the arena was that BEAUTIFUL seven-game winning streak! It was also during the streak that members of the Cowbell Club began to meet in front of Pantherland to chant and cheer after victories. That, my friends, is a ton of fun! Giving your fellow Panthers fans one last hurrah before they walk out the door is quite satisfying. And there was nothing more sublime than jubilantly shouting “Let’s Go Panthers” as thousands of
dejected New York Rangers fans filed past us on their way home after the Rags received an old-fashioned beat-down at the hands of the Panthers!
The title “Cowbell Club” became only symbolic in nature that night. We realized that instead of just being comprised of the people who nurtured this movement from it’s humble beginnings, the Cowbell Club was now comprised of ALL PANTHERS FANS who bring a cowbell to a game and ring it out of a love for our team. So if you’ve brought a cowbell to a Panthers game, thank you, and welcome to the club! If you haven’t, there’s an application waiting for you at the door on Opening Night. You see, if you don’t have a cowbell yet, the Florida Panthers are going to remedy that by giving one away to the first 15,000 fans entering the arena on opening night! That’s this Saturday, October 11th at 7:00 vs. the Atlanta Thrashers at the Bank Atlantic Center!
Some advice: Bring a pair of earplugs!
Well, that about sums it up.
In my next entry I’m going to discuss the Florida Panthers Foundation Luncheon that was held on 10/7/08 at the Woodfield Country Club in Boca Raton, FL.
Thanks for stopping by!
(Below I’ve pasted some links that correspond to the two asterisks located in the blog)
*The Florida Panthers Message Board can be found by clicking on this link
It is a place where you can come to discuss any-and-all Panthers-related topics. You’ll find many of the team’s most-loyal fans, and you’ll be able to keep up to date with all of the latest tailgate and Cowbell Club information. Stop by, create an account, and begin posting! We look forward to having you aboard.
*Here is the Arena Summary
(complete with photos) of the Chicago Wolves game that inspired me to buy a cowbell. I posted it on the Florida Panthers Message Board back in December: