LOS ANGELES – Taking a pie to the face is one of life’s singular experiences.
The way the cream splashes against your skin, suffocating every orifice for a moment until you clear breathing passages with a swipe of your hand – your ear canals, alas, remain filled like a cannoli. The way the tin pan sometimes sticks to your head like a face hugger from "Alien" before slowly sliding off in a snail’s race of humiliation.
I had never taken a pie to the face before Saturday night at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Nor had I taken a pie to the face from a man dressed as a lion, nor a geek icon/actor, nor a professional hockey announcer. Nor had I ever been the focus of the between-periods entertainment spectacle at a Stanley Cup Playoff game, or any hockey game for that matter.
But then again, I had never lost a bet with such high stakes, for such a good cause.
Before the Los Angeles Kings’ playoff series against the San Jose Sharks in the first round, I made a wager on Twitter with Bailey, the Los Angeles mascot, on his request. I had selected the Sharks to win the series and the Stanley Cup, which was a special kind of delusional – San Jose had earned its reputation as a franchise that found new and exciting ways to disappoint and underwhelm in the playoffs.
Little did I know how they’d build upon that reputation.
The loser of the series – I had picked the Sharks, he had picked the Kings, of course – would take a pie to the face and wear the colors of the losing team in shame.
The Sharks opened the series with three straight wins, sending me into an incessant bit of trolling Bailey, sending him photos of pies and the number PI and scenes from “American Pie,” gloating before the mission was complete.
Then the Kings won a game. Then another. Then another, and another. They became only the fourth team in NHL history to rally from an 0-3 deficit to win a series.
I became the first hockey writer to lose a wager to a mascot with pastry to the face on the line.
Bailey decided losing the wager wasn’t enough, suggesting that the final punishment should include goal differential. The Sharks were outscored by four goals; the sum total would be five pies to the face.
I agreed, and assumed they would be administered by a proxy of Bailey’s choosing, what with me being located on the East Coast and all. That was until he suggested I fly out to Los Angeles and take five pies to the face at center ice at the Kings’ fourth playoff game against the Anaheim Ducks.
For charity, of course.
The Kings auctioned off two tickets and the chance to throw a pie in my face. To my dismay but also to my honor, there were a lot of people out there who wanted to see me pay for my hubris.
The first night of the auction saw the bids quickly jump from around $350 to $1,000 to $5,000 to $10,000.
And then a million.
And then three billion.
And then we figured there might be a glitch in the auction software.
It was fixed, and the winning bid, and the matching of funds, brought the total raised for the Kings Care Foundation to over $3,000. I flew to LA – Yahoo paid the freight – to accept my just desserts.
The winning bidder was a guy named Patrick who lives in Washington State. He couldn’t make the game so he requested some stand-ins to throw the pies: Legendary Kings announcers Bob Miller and Jim Fox.
Joining them was Wil Wheaton, a huge Kings fan who’s famous for his childhood roles in “Stand By Me” and “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and now for appearances on “The Big Bang Theory” and an upcoming SyFy Channel project. As if it wasn’t surreal enough that I was taking five pies to the face at center ice of a playoff game … now, I was going to get crushed by Wesley Crusher.
Game 4 was a dual role for me. I was in the press box for the first 30 minutes, blogging stories and watching Anaheim Ducks rookie goalie John Gibson leading his team it an eventual 2-0 victory over the Kings. But at the 10-minute mark of the second period, I was whisked away to the bowels of the arena to prepare to receive my whipped topping fate.
The Kings gave me disposable coveralls to wear over my clothes and a teal San Jose Sharks shirt to put over them. They offered goggles. I refused. What's a little pie to the face, right?
I stood near the Zamboni exit as the seconds clicked down, looking over my shoulder to see the Kings Ice Crew girls standing a few feet away.
In their hands: Five pies.
“We can’t stop eating them,” said one of crew, taking a dollop of cream on her finger. “But they’re pretty heavy. You’re getting these in your face?”
“Ha … good luck,” she said.
I waddled out onto the ice with Bailey, in his lion regalia. I remember blowing kisses to the crowd. I remember comedian Jay Flats, the in-arena host, introducing me and the segment. The next thing I remember was a pie wrapping around my face from Bailey, and then the top of my head.
From that moment on, it was like inhabiting someone else’s body, “Being John Malkovich” style. Seeing Jim Fox enthusiastically slam a pie in my face. Seeing the legendary Bob Miller do the same, after I clasped my hands and bowed to him. Seeing Wil Wheaton take his shot, and then rub the mess into my ears. And then another from Bailey.
There was some talk that I wouldn’t be allowed to walk off the ice if I had cream dripping from my face, as the NHL didn’t want any foreign substances to taint the ice. That went by the wayside when I blew a kiss and sent the cream pie filling flying in 17 directions.
So I slid my pie covered shoes from center ice to the exit, where they provided towels for me. I wiped my face, and noticed some red mixed with the white. Seeing as how they didn’t have any cherry pies, I wondered where that came from.
Turns out Bailey, with this first shot, cut my nose and my forehead with the pie tin.
Hey, it’s the Stanley Cup Playoffs. You’re expected to bleed.
I then did a walk of shame to Bailey’s dressing room to hose off in his shower, cursing the existence of the San Jose Sharks with every step.
Minutes later, I was back in the press box, covering the rest of Game 4, before leaving for the winning locker room where I interviewed Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf with white crème stains on my tie. It was like I was PIE MAN, changed back into my secret identity.
I’ve been going to hockey games since I was a little kid sitting in the cheap seats at the Meadowlands with my father. Like every young hockey fan, I had dreams of being at center ice, the crowd rapt in attention during a playoff battle and the spotlight on me.
Some people achieve that dream through years of training, dedication and commitment to athletic excellence.
Others lose a bet to a mascot and take a pie to the face from Wil Wheaton.
Either way … hockey’s pretty much the greatest.