Look at the picture above, and now picture an NHL rink right about where the baseball diamond sits. Oh, and light snowfall. Wouldn't that be a beautiful thing? The 2012 NHL Winter Classic, starring the Broad Street Bullies just off of Broad Street, at Citizens Bank Park.
They've played outdoor hockey on New Year's Day for four years now, and it's becoming increasingly clear what works and what doesn't. The inaugural Winter Classic in 2008, which was held in Buffalo and, in a highly predictable development, a snowstorm, was a special event, a rare case when something with the overhyped moniker of "Classic" actually was.
For the next two years, the NHL skated in two of the premier sporting venues in America -- Chicago's Wrigley Field and Boston's Fenway Park, framed by ivy covered walls and green monsters, enough to help fans forget that the weather was kind of boring. Then came Saturday's Winter Classic at Heinz Field....
The weather didn't cooperate at all -- so warm and rainy that the game was moved from early afternoon to the nighttime. And while Heinz Field -- which does open up onto Pittsburgh's three rivers on one end -- has have a tad more atmosphere than most of the NFL's new pleasure palaces, at the end of the day its still a symmetrical, boring pro football venue.
Clearly, NBC felt that pairing (and relentless hyping) hockey's two biggest stars in Washington's Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh's (sigh) Sidney Crosby was worth a lot, but Jan. 1 is the one day when the ambiance needs to surpass the players out on the ice. And it's clear that an outdoor game without either winter weather or a scenic backdrop is pretty much just another hockey game.
And so now come the inevitable rumors that the 2012 Classic is headed for Lincoln Financial Field. If it comes to Philadelphia, I'll be thrilled, and the first person on line for tickets. But why the Linc? Don't get me from, I think the new stadium has been a great deal for the Eagles and their fans -- more comfortable, encouraging noise and boisterous Philly fandom but not the "broken windows" unvarnished rowdyism of the Vet's notorious 700 Level.
It just doesn't strike me as a special place to stage a hockey game.
Citizens Bank Park would be different. The love affair between Philadelphia and its baseball stadium (and, sure, winning has helped) has been truly special since the doors swung open in 2004. The feeling is more intimate, from home plate to Ashburn Alley, and the ballpark has a sturdy red-brick character that far surpasses the Linc. Yes, the NHL would sell more tickets in the football venue, but the Winter Classic's main success has been boosting hockey on television, which benefits the sport not just in Philadelphia on one day, but from coast-to-coast. And a game at the Linc could be a bit of a dud, especially if the weather in 2012 is similar to the 50-degree temps we posted this New Year's Day.
So let's bring outdoor hockey to Philly, but let's take it to Bank!
And let's hope the NHL didn't hear anything about this.