Win or lose, Cowtown parties hard

JIM BENDER -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 3:20 PM ET


 CALGARY -- The short, svelte young woman in the low-cut halter top stood at the intersection and screamed at the girl across from her:

 "Flames in six, show us your t---! C'mon! It's easy!"

 To demonstrate, she lowered her top.

 "OK now, return the favour!" she urged and, to encourage her, she flashed again. The other girl declined. "You suck!" the flasher cried.

 That's when I knew I was at the right place at the right time. In the interests of our far-flung sports journalism, we ventured onto the Red Mile on Saturday night to uncover the flesh of this Flames fever that has engulfed Cowtown. And it was quite a sight.

 Six blocks later, a trio of young babes performed a synchronized unveiling of their upper body fatty tissue in the middle of the street that had been closed off to accommodate revelers. "This is awesome!" exclaimed a teenage male.

 This reporter then risked the wrath of gawkers when he asked yet another flasher why she would bare herself to thousands of strangers. She looked quizzical, then shouted: "Go Flames Go!"

 OK, that about sums it up.

 Somehow, it seemed OK for people so caught up in such passionate fervour to let their hair -- or shirts -- down. There was nothing raunchy about it. Rather it was a feel-good thing just like their Flames' rags-to-Cup-final story.

 About 55,000 Flames-clad fans hit the street and partied until beyond the wee hours yesterday morning just to celebrate the phenomenon their NHL team has become. People spilt into the streets from the many bars along the strip, watering holes which saw patrons start lining up at 8 a.m. -- two hours before opening -- just to get into the most popular spot. And if you didn't get there early enough, you had to watch the match from the street on one of the many TV sets made accessible.

 Yet, the crowd was very well-behaved, thanks to the omnipresent police, who confiscated open liquor on the street but neither fined nor arrested most guilty parties. And even the cops stopped to check on Game 6 between the Flames and Tampa Bay.

 However, for some, it was almost as if the hockey had become incidental to this Cowtown party. They would stroll the Red Mile, bearing flags, banging drums, shouting, "Go Iggy!" and of course, urging young women to doff their tops. "Take your shirts off for Kiprusoff!" Many did not even watch one of the most exciting games of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

 And it wasn't all booze, bluster and boobs. People of all ages, from young kids to senior citizens, roamed what has become Calgary's answer to the Mardi Gras. There were outdoor bands, clowns, street artists and hot dog vendors. The only thing missing was the parade. But the Stanley Cup parade would have to wait as Martin St. Louis proved to be the party-spoiler in double overtime.

 "They ignite this whole city, then they let them down," spat a guy named Jason, who suggested an NHL conspiracy. "This better not be another reality TV show.

 "And look at this Red Mile. These people are disappointed because they can't party, not because the team lost."

 After a very brief period of mourning -- when they were trying to figure out what rhymes with seven -- the red wall of humanity got its second wind. Joined by those who were at the Saddledome, the celebrations began anew.

 "Flames in seven! Take off your shirts!"

 OK, it didn't have the same ring but it was just as effective. In fact, one woman walking alongside her boyfriend pulled down her top to greet each clump of males that approached as if to say hi.

 And no, we don't know if the Jets will ever be back.


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