JARED: The center skates in a flash into the offensive zone. He rapidly accelerates, dashing to the right around a defender. The net is in sight, the goalie staring the threat down. The crowd draws their collective breath as the center quickly flicks his wrist, the defenseman reaching to poke at the center’s stick. The puck hurtles off the end of the blade, sneaks past the goalie’s outstretched glove and into the back of the net.
The crowd roars, the goal horn sounds off and the rats come raining down from the stands.
If you somehow find yourself on the NHL’s Florida Panthers scoring a playoff goal on home ice, expect to be showered with hundreds of plastic rats in a phenomena called a “rat trick.” Odd tradition, right? As with every tradition, there’s a story behind it.
It’s Oct. 8, 1995, the home opener of the Panthers’ season at the Miami Arena. At the end of the first period, Florida captain Scott Mellanby found a rat scurrying across the floor of the locker room. He then hit the rat with his stick, killing the intruder. Mellanby went on to score two goals with the same stick he used to dispatch the rodent. Word of the feat got out, and for every Panthers goal scored at home during their 1996 playoff run, fans would toss plastic rats onto the ice by the thousands.
The rats would delay the resumption of the game for minutes as crews (dressed in Orkin rodent control outfits) would run onto the ice and feverishly pick them up. Opposing goalies would often hide in their nets to avoid the plastic onslaught.
While rats have been thrown during playoff games at the Panthers’ current home in Sunrise, it now results in a delay of game penalty for Florida, meaning that arena staff implores the crowd not to throw rats. Despite this, a rat or two may make it onto the ice after a home win, perpetuating the quarter-century old tradition.
EMILY: My favorite sports tradition started when I was in sixth grade. My younger brother Colin was spending the week in Cooperstown, NY with his baseball team. My parents, sister and I drove an hour and a half to the town to watch a few of his games. It was that trip where I fell in love with it.
The four of us stayed in a hotel near All-Star Village, where Colin was playing. The morning of his first game, we stood on top of a giant hill. I was in awe of all the games happening below us. We walked to his field to watch, and at the end of that game we got lunch at the top of the hill. I remember eating my sandwich feeling total happiness as the summer breeze went through my hair.
Cooperstown is also the home of the Baseball Hall of Fame, which I got to check out. I loved how it drew tourists to the area, people who enjoyed baseball as much as I did. I also loved how rich with history it was.
The next year I got to watch Colin play again. As much as it was fun supporting him and his team, I also found it entertaining to see all the teams from different areas and states competing.
After those two years, Colin did not play in Cooperstown again, but my family still made it a tradition to drive up and catch a few games at the top of that hill. If we knew someone playing, we made a point to go that week, but even if we didn’t know anyone we made the trip once a summer.
Watching baseball in Cooperstown is not only my favorite sports tradition, but also one of my favorite traditions in general. It’s an amazing day of the year that makes me so happy.