The most anticipated hockey game of this (and quite possibly any) season will be played Wednesday night in Pittsburgh, as the Nashville Predators will attempt to even their Stanley Cup final series against the Penguins at one game apiece. The Penguins are the defending champs who repeatedly find ways to win even when it feels like they’re massively outplayed, while the Predators have become the team every neutral fan has rallied behind because, well, they aren’t the Penguins. Sidney Crosby, P.K. Subban, Carrie Underwood’s husband, that fat dude on Pittsburgh everyone loves because he eats hot dogs or whatever, and some other guys who aren’t as important will beat the hell out of each other for a few hours in a game that will likely be decided by a goal the losing team’s fans describe as “total bullshit.”
All of that is fine and well, and under ordinary circumstances I would spend Wednesday morning questioning who’ll win. But there’s a far more pressing concern entering Game 2 — whether a catfish will be thrown onto the ice.
If you have no idea to what I’m referring, allow me to get you up to speed. But fair warning, what you’re about to read is one of the dumbest/funniest/greatest/most absurd sports controversies I can remember. Here’s the abbreviated version: A Predators fan threw a catfish onto the ice during Monday’s Game 1. That’s it. That’s the entire story. Some 26-year-old guy from Tennessee bought a catfish, smuggled it into PPG Paints Arena in his compression shorts, and chucked that sumbitch onto the ice early in the second period of the Penguins’ 5–3 victory.
I’m going to pause here and mention that I started following hockey this season with the intention of being as ignorant a fan as possible. I know the basic rules of the sport, I was able to name 29 of the 30 NHL teams on the Sporcle quiz I just took (sorry, Winnipeg), and I know that Crosby is the absolute worst (even though the exact opposite is true). Outside of that, however, I know next to nothing about hockey strategy, traditions, history, and whatever else makes its fans so passionate. That’s important to note because this is the part where I must point out that I’ve purposely avoided trying to understand the “why” to this whole catfish thing. I’m sure there’s a semiplausible explanation, like some fable about how Merle Haggard was once invited to a hockey game but said he would rather eat a raw Tennessee catfish than go to a sporting event, so now the people of Nashville honor a country music god by tossing seafood onto the ice. The real reason doesn’t matter. It’s honestly better to not know.
Anyway, back to what happened during Game 1. You might be wondering why a Predators fan hurling a catfish onto the ice so noteworthy. After all, things that don’t belong on sports-playing surfaces find their way onto them all the time, from beer bottles to chairs to baseballs to dildos to Purdue’s football team. What makes this instance different? Well, there are a couple of things about this story that I do know, and I feel obligated to share them.
1. The city of Pittsburgh has no tolerance for catfish shenanigans.
In a normal situation like this, the home fans would boo the guy who tossed something onto the ice, security would escort him out of the building, and everyone would have a quick laugh about the ordeal and move on. But Penguins fans, who are basically the St. Louis Cardinals fans of hockey, have way too much respect for the history of the game to just let some dipshit with a fish tarnish hockey’s unblemished legacy that was built on things like ending opponents’ careers with cheap shots. And so, given that Nashville apparently has an affinity for catfish, a local fish market proudly declared before Game 1 that it would not sell any catfish to people from Tennessee, while security staffers at PPG Paints Arena were instructed to keep their eyes (and presumably noses) out for smuggled catfish. (In retrospect, these weren’t so much precautions as they were dares to Predators fans.) Now that the deed has been done, Pittsburgh has gone even further in reminding the rest of the hockey world how seriously it takes itself, originally charging the perpetrator with three misdemeanors (which have since been dropped): disorderly conduct, disrupting a meeting, and possession of an instrument of crime. On top of that, PETA chimed in with its take and at least one column was written that essentially claimed this incident may be the start of a slippery slope that could eventually lead to much more sinister acts. (To be fair, the mayor of Pittsburgh showed a good sense of humor.)
All of this because some guy orchestrated a crime that’s as victimless as it is hysterical: stuffing a catfish into his pants and then tossing it over a piece of plexiglass. I’m not saying this type of thing should be encouraged, since if everyone went about stuffing catfish into their pants, society as we know it would crumble. It’s just that people treating this as seriously as a goddamn assassination attempt is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. I cannot get enough of this story.
2. The perpetrator went to great lengths to see this through, and he is extremely proud of what he did.
The other aspect that has given this story more legs than it probably should have is the fact that Jake Waddell, the man who pulled off the catfish caper, has happily provided his account of how it went down. And hoo boy, the details are something else. You see, Waddell apparently bought the catfish in Tennessee and drove it all the way to Pittsburgh before running over it with his pickup truck, vacuum-sealing it, stuffing it near his crotch, and spraying it with Old Spice to mask the smell. He then snuck past security, pulled the flattened catfish out from his behind his nutsack, and wrapped it in a promotional giveaway T-shirt before walking down toward the ice and chucking the slimy, whiskered instrument of crime over the glass.
Look, I’m not here to tell you that what Waddell did is funny in and of itself. Either you think a guy transporting a catfish nearly 600 miles, running it over with his truck, dousing it in Old Spice, and stuffing it into his pants is funny or you don’t. Humor is subjective and explaining this to someone who doesn’t get it would be like explaining quantum physics to a kindergartner.
What I’m more interested in is the aftermath of the incident, because the way that everyone is talking about Catfishgate is objectively the funniest damn thing on the planet. Some people want Waddell prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, while others (including Underwood) are calling him a hero, a notion that doesn’t sit well with those who would like to point out that calling a catfish chucker a “hero” on Memorial Day is about as disrespectful as it gets. It truthfully doesn’t matter where you stand on this issue. All that matters is that the most iconic trophy in sports is about a week away from being awarded, and the only thing anyone wants to talk about is a fucking catfish. People on all sides are treating this like it’s the world’s greatest heist, yet the stakes could not possibly be lower.
And that’s why I can’t wait to watch Game 2. The entire city of Pittsburgh is taking this as a personal challenge, as though letting another catfish on its home ice would be tantamount to having its civilization pillaged by Vikings. Meanwhile, it will be equally fascinating to see how Predators fans handle Game 2. On the one hand, security will be at an all-time high and it would be a virtual suicide mission to try to pull off another catfish toss under such conditions, so maybe the smart play is to let this go and then make it rain catfish back in Nashville for Game 3. But then again, maybe these are the conditions in which executing a catfish toss would be most meaningful, not to mention that it would destroy the Penguins’ psyche if Predators fans could pull off back-to-back catfish throws on Pittsburgh’s sacred ice.
When I decided to give hockey a try this season, I never imagined it would lead me to a place where I’m waiting with bated breath to see if a man will drop his pants on the sport’s biggest stage to reveal a vacuum-sealed catfish that he shoved next to his crotch. But here we are. I very much enjoy the sport and have been told by those who know more than I do that this will be one hell of a series. But I also must admit that the primary reason I will be glued to my TV for every second of Game 2 is to see the next chapter of the catfish saga. No matter what happens, I just hope that everyone continues to overreact and treat this like it’s the most serious thing in the world. After all, you can give a man a fish and feed him for a day. But if you throw a catfish onto the ice during the Stanley Cup final, you can feed that same man with internet content that will last a lifetime.
This post has been updated to reflect news that the charges against the catfish thrower have been dropped.