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 Bourque.
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 ail-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.