Seeing red with Elmo

July, 7, 2009

Let me start off by stating that I will no longer be commenting on the Red Bulls games until we win. There are only so many times that I can say "we lost again but have great players and are unlucky," and that time passed awhile ago.

However, one comment that I will make about our most recent misadventure in Dallas is that I have a new reason in life to be as good spiritually as possible. You see, when I woke up on game day in my nice air-conditioned hotel room and decided to take a stroll around Frisco, Texas, at noon, the 106-degree firewall I was greeted with put me as close to hell as I ever want to be. Couple that with the 95-degree temperature at game time, and that was enough to make me a choir boy for the rest of my days.

Mike Petke is burning in another way as well. I mean burning. Jim Rome has nothing on me right now. Stand us side by side and he would need a scarf, some mittens and a wool hat with a pompom on top. It all started three weeks ago in Toronto and came to a head today when I almost strangled Elmo. Yeah, that Elmo. The cute Red la-la-la-la one (more on Elmo in a bit).

Over the past couple of weeks, I have been asked by many people why I received a three-game suspension for my altercation in Toronto. So here is the complete and true story. (Disclaimer: I am a notorious hotheaded passionate person, but in no way endorse making any comments to referees.)

After the loss in Toronto, I walked past the ref on my way into the locker room. I figured that since we were going to be held accountable for our performance by our coach, then he should be held accountable for his. I said to him in a calm voice, "That s--- wasn't good enough tonight." (Disclaimer: You should never make any comments to a referee.)

Obviously, I hurt his feelings because he then produced a yellow card, which was my second, and then the accompanying red. I couldn't believe it. I didn't go up to him and scream obscenities at him; I made a statement that I felt was true. But the fact of the matter is that you can't look at a referee nowadays without the possibility of a card.

So, after seeing the red card, I saw red and spent the next seven seconds telling him what I thought of his decision. After my teammates grabbed me and told me that I had made my point, I walked to the locker room. I wasn't ready to go in yet because I wanted to cool down first. That's when the referee walked by and I had a second brief go at him.

Listen, I am not condoning my actions in the least bit. I have been in this league for 12 years and know from past experiences not to yell at a ref, but when I was informed of a three-game suspension, I was floored. That is the same punishment, and in many situations far more, than players have received who have thrown elbows and broken bones with reckless tackles. I guess verbally abusing a referee is viewed harsher than physically abusing a player. The coup de grace was my appeal process, which goes directly back to the same office that issued the suspension. Oh, it's a different person who hears the appeal, but does anyone reading this think the appeal ruling will go against a colleague?

So there you have it; three games and almost $1,500 in fines for yelling at a referee. That's the equivalent of an MLB player getting 16 games for getting tossed out of a game for arguing with an ump. When Roberto Alomar spit in the face of an umpire a few years ago, he got a six-game suspension. Mike Richter of the New York Rangers slammed a referee into the boards during a playoff game against the Devils in '94 and wasn't even penalized on the ice. Now, in no way am I condoning those actions. All I am saying is that I got suspended for 10 percent of my season for screaming at a referee!!! Think about that.

Now, on to my altercation with Elmo. First of all, let's get something straight. I love Elmo. I love him as much as any 33-year-old, somewhat sane man possibly can. If he were my neighbor, I would probably BBQ with him and his furry family. And after I put my kids to bed and he put his kids wherever the heck an overly happy hairy monster's kids sleep, I'm sure we would be knocking some drinks back and getting into all sorts of shenanigans. I guarantee that after a day of singing the la-la-la-la Elmo's World song, he probably gets blinded on Whiskey and whip-its. Now having said that, over the weekend my wife decided that we should take the kids to Sesame Place, which is an amusement park in Langhorne, Pa. I said, why not -- I'm off, it's going to be a beautiful day, and as I've already explained, I love Elmo!

So we set off in the morning bright and early. Now let me explain something to you. I am not what you would call a tolerant driver. I honestly believe that 90 percent of drivers got their license online. What I realized today, but more importantly what set me on the path to almost strangling Elmo, is that the closer you get to an amusement park the worse the driving gets. I'm talking 10 mph under the speed limit, refusals to turn on red, and don't even get me started on people's inability to merge. So as I'm honking and passing people, they are all smiling and giving the old thumbs-up with their Elmo and Big Bird shirts on, singing "Sunny Day, Sweeping the Clouds Away."

We finally get there, pay our $15 to park, get in line, look at the admission prices, and I tell the family "OK, that was a fun day! Let's get going and beat the traffic." After my wife calmed me down, we paid just over $150 to get into Sesame Place. That's when I had my first encounter with Elmo. After I paid, I turned around and was face-to-face with the red man. I said, "Great prices, Elmo. Do I get a back rub with that?" His response was to sing to me. I knew our paths would cross again. This took place a half hour later.

My 5-year-old son kept asking to go on this one water slide, but the line was way too long. I tried to delay until the line thinned out, but he wouldn't wait. Of course, I gave in. We get to the gate to check the height requirement, which was 46 inches. No problem, he is 48 inches, but I checked anyway and he just cleared it. We stood in line for 30 minutes and were just about to go down when a 16-year-old worker steps up and pulls out a stick to check my son's height.

Well, the stick shot above his head by 2 inches and he said, "Sorry, he can't go on." I told him, "I don't know how big that stick is, but he is over 46 inches and cleared the stick downstairs" -- but he wouldn't hear it. Now I started to see red as my son began to cry. As I turned around and walked back down the stairs, I locked eyes with Elmo as we hit the bottom step. He was just standing there smiling, waving and singing 6 inches in front of my face. That's when a voice in my head said, "put your hands in your pocket." And it was that voice that saved Elmo's life.



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