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Gonzo: First-period frenzy

CHICAGO - There were rumors that President Obama was supposed to attend Saturday's Stanley Cup opener. He's from Chicago. Maybe you've heard.

Brian Boucher makes a save in the 3rd period. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)
Brian Boucher makes a save in the 3rd period. (David Maialetti / Staff Photographer)Read more

CHICAGO - There were rumors that President Obama was supposed to attend Saturday's Stanley Cup opener. He's from Chicago. Maybe you've heard.

Unless the commander-in-chief ditched his security detail and slipped into the United Center while the Secret Service was distracted, I don't think he made it last night. There weren't any dogs or men in dark suits wearing shades indoors - not that I saw. No snipers, either. That was a shame. There were a lot of guys in the crowd rockin' obnoxious feather headdresses. That particular herd could have used some thinning.

Obama will regret it. Skipping the game was a mistake. Long after the national anthem was played and the press-box buzz died down after Roy Halladay's perfect game, I looked up and started paying attention.

At first I thought there was a scoreboard malfunction or maybe that the guy operating it had helped himself to the postgame booze stash before matters on the ice had been settled.

Not even the hardest of hard-core puck heads could have predicted the frenzied pace set by the Flyers and Blackhawks. The first period alone had the most combined goals in a Stanley Cup Finals game in 28 years. Chicago hasn't seen that much scoring since Hugh Hefner opened the first Playboy Mansion here in 1959.

The Blackhawks went on to win the first game, 6-5, and it was the kind of contest that surely riveted everyone from the most dedicated hockey fan to the last person who squeezed his way onto the Flyers' bandwagon. The only thing missing was Russell Crowe standing on the ice screaming, "Are you not entertained?"

If the opening tilt was any indication, this is going to be a wild series. Before the puck dropped, I was outside the United Center when I saw a middle-aged man wearing a white Flyers jersey. I went over and introduced myself. He said his name was Rui Fidalgo and that he grew up in the Northeast and went to Olney High School.

I asked Fidalgo what he thought about the series and whether his trip to Chicago would still be worthwhile even if the Flyers lost the first game.

"For sure," Fidalgo said. "It's just one game. Besides, it's Memorial Day [weekend]. We're going to remember this for a long time."

Smart man.

Some sports traditions are meaningful and interesting. This isn't one of them.

For whatever reason, once two teams make the finals in a given sport, people from the respective cities inevitably wager goods and services with each other in a fit of civic pride. It might be entertaining if the stakes weren't always so predictable and lame.

Generally, unimaginative politicians looking for attention bet with each other so they have an excuse to call a news conference or issue another news release. For the Flyers-Blackhawks series, two stations in Philly and Chicago decided to get in on the (lack of) action.

"Comcast SportsNets make Stanley Cup wager" blared the bold-faced subject line on the e-mail that recently landed in my inbox. I didn't even have to open it. I already knew what the bet would be.

If you guessed deep dish pizza vs. cheesesteaks, perhaps you too have a future in the derivative world of cable sports. Shy of sending out a blank document, they couldn't have put less effort into the concept.

Here's my favorite quote from the e-mail:

"As much as we're sure our friends in Philly would love a free lunch on us, we are definitely looking forward to a Taste of Philadelphia in our offices come next month," quipped James J. Corno, president of Comcast SportsNet Chicago."

Someone actually wrote "quipped" in the news release - as though Corno was doing some really gut-busting material. I'm sure Chicago's Second City Improv group will scoop him up any day now.

Alert the Chicago Police Department. Outside the United Center, some criminal defiled the Michael Jordan statue. The figure honoring a man who was arguably basketball's best player now features a white hockey helmet and a red Jonathan Toews Blackhawks jersey and skates with white blades adorned with the Hawks logo.

The Blackhawks seem to be complicit in the caper. The organization and United Center security personnel remained idle Saturday while Chicago fans posed for pictures with the bust.

When I asked one Blackhawks supporter who might do such a thing and what he thought of the bastardized statue, he blinked at me for a second before offering a few terse words.

"It's great," the man said. "It shows support for the Cup."

Before I learned his name, he sneered and walked away.

Can't wait till the circus comes to Chicago. Jordan is going to look fantastic wearing clown makeup and a bulbous red nose.