Boxing: It's a Fan's Life

Kelly PavlikBy Old Yank Schneider: It will take close to 4 hours to travel more than 220 miles only because we did not run into traffic along the route. But who cared? At the end of the line were four tickets at the front of Section 205 in Boardwalk Hall to see the undefeated Jermain Taylor defend his middleweight title against the slight underdog Kelly Pavlik. Our trip will be a blink of the eye compared to the Pavlik fans making the trip from Youngstown, Ohio. But we are fans and be it 4 hours, 8 hours or more, this is what a fans life is all about.

My 18 year old son Max hopped into the front seat of my classic Mercedes at 7:30 in the morning and we were on our way. We picked up my son-in-law Sean and his backpack at the Park and Ride at the thruway entrance and off we went. It took a little over an hour until we met his brother Keith in north Jersey off of Route 17 at another Park and Ride, one that does not charge for overnight parking on the weekends. We tossed Keith's overnight bag in the trunk and hit the first diner we could find for coffee to go. A couple of cups of coffee and a long drive won't agree with an old man?s prostate, but these are the sacrifices made when a night of boxing in Atlantic City is on the line.

Atlantic City. What can one say? Within the space of half a block one can go from the lap of luxury to a combat zone. On my prior trip a minor emergency landed me and a friend in the emergency room of Atlantic City Medical Center at 4:00 in the morning. This downtown hospital serves both the inner city and casino area. While in the waiting room an ambulance arrived carrying a woman who had attempted suicide while in her penthouse accommodations at an upscale casino, the man with her looked very worried. A few moments later two gunshot victims of a drug deal gone bad arrived needing attention, no one showed up to look worried for them.? This is Atlantic City, from the seedy streets to luxury penthouse suites, it has it all.

We pulled into the parking lot of the Chelsea Pub near the Tropicana, just off Atlantic Avenue around lunch time. This spot has everything a boxing fan needs. It is a 24/7 sports bar with rooms upstairs. It serves greasy food 24/7 and has bar tenders that are the greatest folks on the planet.

Upon checking in to our two rooms we met a group of Kelly Pavlik?s high school friends trying to figure out their parking arrangements. They had two cars but were cramming 7 people into one room. We had two rooms and only one car. The parking policy was one parking permit per room. So I grabbed our extra parking permit and handed it to one of Pavlik's friends. You'd have thought I'd just given him one of my kidneys! Salt of the earth! This was one gracious young man and by the time we'd tossed our backpacks into the room, we were greeted in the hallway with four cold brews. The two Taylor fans in my group kept their mouths shut as we all wished Kelly well. We raised our bottles to the bout and celebrated our arrival with our instant new friends.

We ordered up a pizza at the bar and then headed to the boardwalk to check out the action.? It was September 29 but not even a nip of fall was in the air. It was a beautiful afternoon and we easily wiled it away at a boardwalk pub in short-sleeved shirts without a worry.

We were immediately struck with the number of white and red "Team Pavlik" t-shirts strolling past. It was obvious that the Hall would be filled with a partisan Pavlik crowd in a few hours. It was a boxing fans afternoon. This had not been unusual for Atlantic City when Arturo Gatti was in town for a bout. He would always draw a great base and it was always easy to find a willing fan to have a conversation with. But this was the relatively unknown and relatively unproven Kelly Pavlik, something was in the air and everyone could feel it.

Several fans stopped by for a chat about boxing. A couple of guys on vacation from North Carolina grabbed an outside table next to us and heard all the boxing talk. They were only casual fans and did not know the bout was in town. We encouraged them to get tickets. Later they would thank us for the advice. They scored $50 tickets and wandered to ringside and took up a couple of seats that had remained empty at the start of the final preliminary bout and lucked out, no one came to claim the seats, ringside for $50 bucks! That's what I call good luck, all stemming from a fans chat on the boardwalk over a few beers.

After returning to our rooms to crash for about an hour or so, we headed off to Girasole's for dinner. This might be the best Italian restaurant in Atlantic City. Start off with carpaccio de vitello. Follow it up with risotto allo scolgio. The ossobuco is to die for; especially when accompanied with glass of Phelps Napa Cabernet Sauvignon to wash it down with. Oh, and their original recipe tiramisu chassed with a double espresso and sambuca is a must. And the look on the face of the old guy (me) that got stuck with the bill?? Priceless!

By the time we strolled up the boardwalk to the Hall, we'd already missed the first three bouts on the card and were a rounds into the Chazz Witherspoon bout against Ron Guerrero.

One of the tricks in getting great seats at Boardwalk Hall without having to take out a second mortgage is to order early. If you order early you can end up with $100 seats that are literally one row back from the $200 seats (a walkway separating the seats) and looking directly down on the ring. There are actually three sections on each side of the hall in the $100 seats that have great views.

Our suspicions are confirmed the very first time the large overhead screens flash to the Taylor locker room. The Hall breaks out with the roar of boos. Moments later the cameras are in Pavlik's locker room and the noise becomes deafening; we now know for certain that we are firmly embedded in Pavlik?s adopted town.

This is Atlantic City. This is a town that truly feels like a boxing fans home like no other town on the planet. From the hotels to the boardwalk to the bars to Boardwalk Hall, when a fight is in town you can't help but inhale and exhale the sport at every turn.

We got to see Ronald Hearns, Carlos Quintana, Omar Sheika and Andre Berto all win their bouts before the main event.

By the time the main event was ready to begin, we'd met no fewer than 50 people in our section that all knew Kelly Pavlik personally, nearly all of them were going to the after-party at Pavlik's hotel and we were graciously extended an invitation to join them.

There has been enough written about the bout so I will not dwell on it. Needless to say, when Pavlik was knocked down in the second round nearly my entire section stopped breathing and more than a few hearts stopped beating. My son and Keith could not keep it a secret any longer; they were rooting Taylor on like a couple of screaming high school cheerleaders. For a fleeting moment I feared for their lives. But when the third round began the chants went up; KELLY, KELLY, KELLY! We could palpably see him feeding off the crowd. He turned in a great third round and many of us knew that it was now only a matter of time. And the time came in the 7th and the rest is history.

My section was no different than any other. Total strangers were hugging each other. Grown men who could barely manage a smile and a handshake when introduced earlier in the night were hugging! It was an amazing spectacle to behold.

While we were exiting the Hall we bumped into the two guys from North Carolina that we had met on the boardwalk earlier in the afternoon and got their incredible story of scoring $50 seats that lead them to ringside for the main event. They were so excited and grateful that we'd recommended the bout to them that you?d have thought we'd given them an all-expenses paid vacation to Hawaii!

We did not make it to the Pavlik after-party. Instead we returned to the Chelsea. This place comes alive at 3:00 AM. From the skanky street walkers of Atlantic City to European runway models, the place fills up with a sea of humanity like few places on earth ever experience. From 18 to 85 and every ethnic background imaginable, the place jumps with a pulse that reminds you that like-minded people can get along, no matter who they are. Every night from 3:00 AM till sunrise, the Chelsea Sports Bar looks like the bar scene from the original Star Wars movie. So we made our own party with other sports-minded patrons and capped off the night (ahem, morning) with enough greasy food and beer to give an army ulcers for a year, and loved every minute of it.

Come October 18th, I will be doing it all over again. This time watching Kelly Pavlik beat the legendary Bernard Hopkins.

Ah, this is the fan? life!

Article posted on 11.09.2008

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