With two minutes left in Game 5, the huge, chanting crowd jammed into in JT Schmid's across the street from the Honda Center can hardly wait for the Anaheim Ducks' Stanley Cup win to become official.
With one minute remaining on the game clock, men light up cigars and vigorously shake hands. Hairy forearms bristle. Gold watches glint.
STAN-LEY CUP! STAN-LEY CUP! STAN-LEY CUP!
Boobs are flashed in the direction of a man with a large video camera at 45 seconds; rice starts to fly through the air at about 30.
U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
The Ducks fans spot an Ottawa Senators fan and boo him hard; when he accepts their scorn with grace, they quickly relent with a pat on the back. The Ottawan offers up congratulatory handshakes. They can be a difficult people to hate, those Canadians.
The din of the Ducks faithful swells as the clock reaches 10 seconds, when everyone, in unison, begins the countdown to the very first California Stanley Cup victory.
And then it happens: OC's very own plucky, pucky Ducks storm the ice for a championship pile, the culmination of their 6-2 win over the Senators.
At JT Schmid's, it's congratulations all around as the throng finishes their beers and boils out onto the sidewalk, where they find the one true hallmark of any good time in Orange County: cops. Lots of them.
* * *
About 90 minutes earlier, I was driving east on Katella Avenue toward the Honda Center, thinking of Game 6 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals. That game was played in Cleveland; on television, the broadcasters periodically cut to the exterior of Quicken Loans Arena, where hundreds of Cavaliers fans were gathered, clad in Cavs gear, waving Cavs flags, holding Cavs signs, Cavs, Cavs, Cavs. You get the point.
The Cavs organization was kind enough to broadcast the game on large screens outside for those not fortunate enough to be in the arena. It was the first Cleveland appearance ever in the conference finals, and it was obviously a big deal to those in attendance, especially considering the storied history of sporting futility in the Mistake by the Lake.
Now, seeing as how the Ducks were about to win California's very first Stanley Cup, I kind of expected the same. I pulled up alongside the Honda Center to find a ghost town. Just parking attendants. And cops.
I parked across the street and crossed Katella to wait outside the arena, hoping to find someone who wasn't holding a gun or waving an orange cone. I was cordially greeted by one of Anaheim's finest. "You can't be here without a ticket," he said.
"Can we just hang out and wait for the crowd?" I asked.
"You can wait across the street." Baton. Riot helmet. Oakleys. Yeah, I'll wait across the street.
So I made my way into JT Schmid's, where the celebration was boxed-in and climate-controlled. Ah, Orange County.
* * *
A solid rank of mounted police looms along Katella. As the mob approaches, the horses get testy, despite their equine face shields.
The "STAN-LEY CUP" chants resume as the first wave of ticket holders crosses the street, and suddenly there's a party in the middle of Katella Avenue. No one's been beaten or shot yet, but it is only 8:04 p.m.
People are starting to pour off the sidewalk and into the street when three blacked-out Ford Excursions pull up, complete with running boards holding four officers on each side. There are a few more officers inside the trucks. They are clad in camouflage—in order to blend in with the lush Honda Center, I guess.
Boots hit the blacktop, and the unmistakable sound of shotguns racking rings out. "Get back to the curb!" an officer yells at me, the butt of a 12-gauge braced firmly against his shoulder, its muzzle pointed downward—for now. A mounted officer snaps my picture and laughs. In an instant, the cavalry closes ranks into a stirrup-to-stirrup skirmish line, backed up by four lines of cops in riot gear: a multi-agency task force fully equipped to run a Flying V through the crowd. (Remember, ducks fly together. Thanks, Emilio.) I just hope the shotguns are loaded with beanbags.
A few moments later, it's bright out, and the ultimate OC signature has arrived: the helicopter, complete with bazillion-candlepower spotlight. I believe the time has come to . . . what's that word again? Oh, yes: disperse.
Now, considering the prolific rioting of, say, the 1992 Bulls fans, or the world-class hooliganry of the British (so much so that several hundred known British hooligans had their passports revoked by the U.K. government for the duration of last summer's World Cup in Germany), it's hard to fault the city for preparing for a little crowd control. But still, shotguns?
A lone man in Senators togs crosses the street; a drunken Ducks fan quacks at him, "Go back to Canada!"
He glances up at the cops on horseback with a dejected look on his face as if to say, "Gladly."
See our image gallery for a slideshow of images from outside the Honda Center.