No, we’re not talking about Paul the Octopus, may he rest in peace.
Since 1952, it’s been a tradition to throw an octopus or a piece of an octopus onto the ice during Red Wings home playoff games after a goal is scored. As the legend says, at the time only eight wins were required to win the cup, and an octopus as eight arms. Pete and Jerry Cusimano–two store owners in Detroit’s Eastern Market–were the first to throw one of the gooey mollusks onto the ice.
Now 59 years later, one of the most unique traditions in sports may be in its final days.
A fan at Detroit’s series-opening game against Phoenix Wednesday night was arrested by the local authorities, ejected, and fined $500. As James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail points out, the league has always had a rule prohibiting the throwing of objects onto the ice.
But any rule can and should be bent in the name of tradition, which has often been the common practice amongst security guards at the Joe Louis Arena every spring. Some have been fined in the past, but Wednesday’s octopus thrower told Deadspin that he was egged on by the security personnel.
I walked into the arena with it in a bag. They asked me what in the bag when I walk in. I showed it. They said have fun. After the first Wings goal, [and] after 5 octopus have been tossed, I threw mine. In my hand, asinine, walking from the upper deck to the lower, every guard and security person let me down and said “go.”
Security may enjoy the tradition, but the police don’t, and that’s because they were reportedly given orders by NHL commissioner Gary Bettman. Matt Saler over at On The Wings talked to the police and was told that enforcement of the municipal law prohibiting the throwing of objects is at the discretion of the NHL, and that at some point either before or during the game Bettman dialed up Detroit on his bat phone.
Officer Bullock informed me that the enforcement of Municipal Code 38-5-4 is at the request of the NHL. Evidently, police supervisors were informed Wednesday night, either before or during the game, by League representatives that they don’t want anything thrown on the ice. An officer has to witness the throw and nab the thrower on the spot, but it’s something they can and will enforce. Apparently, distance from players is not an issue: any octopus on the ice is grounds for ejection and a fine. I asked if it applied to hats thrown down for a hat trick and Officer Bullock pointed out it’d be much harder to enforce on hundreds/thousands of hats versus a few octopi.
The interesting part is that the Wings are not the ones asking for it. According to Officer Bullock, they’re fine with the tradition, and even like it. And I gather the police aren’t big fans of enforcing it either. It’s up to the officer’s discretion, so it’s possible fans may still get away with it at times. But with NHL officials pushing for it, it’s less safe to throw than it ever has been. Previously, it may have been a bit of an empty threat. Now it has teeth.
First it was Al Sobotka being told by Colin Campbell that he can’t swing the discarded sea creatures because the “matter flies off the octopus and gets on the ice,” and now this.
Friends, we may be witnessing the slow extinction of the octopus in the NHL. This is still developing, and Mirtle is on the case doing his best Woodward and Bernstein impression.
Even if Bettman has indeed outlawed the octopi, there will still no doubt be throwers ready to challenge the league’s stance. For those who worship the octopus no matter what the fun police say, please remember that throwing after a Red Wings loss is blasphemous.