Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
'If you want to get the opinion of the real fans,'' Harvey Kaufman of Queens was saying as the Rangers warmed up for their home opener, "you come up to the blue seats.''
That has been true for decades at Madison Square Garden, and so it was again Sunday night as the denizens of the (relatively) cheap seats led loud pregame cheers, then let the Rangers have it during a dismal performance, leading the booing as they lost, 6-3, to the Penguins.
Oh, well. It's a long season. Actually, come to think of it, no it's not. So the Rangers' slow start -- complete with Henrik Lundqvist being yanked in the second period of Game 2 -- bears watching.
But on this night, there was something else about which to seek those "real'' fans' opinions: the seats themselves.
After an absence of more than two decades, there was something new, something borrowed (from the days before the early 1990s renovation) and something (light) blue on the west end of the arena. Yup, the notorious, glorious blue seats were back, 1,000 or so of the least expensive, but many would argue best, seats in the house.
This was Rangers fans' first opportunity to check out the second phase of MSG's renovation, part of which was restoring the blue seats, with pains taken to match the exact hue of the sections that ringed the upper level through the 1970s and '80s.
Many fans in those seats Sunday night were too young to recall that era. Many others most certainly were not.
Sal Miro of Westbury and Bob Schuler of Merrick have been sitting in the upper reaches since 1970, "a lifetime,'' as Schuler said. They never considered moving when the upper bowl was gutted. "We're just glad we stayed here,'' Schuler said. "We don't want to sit anywhere else.''
Miro said the redone seats "look good'' and added true fans know the sport is best viewed from high and behind the goal, unobstructed.
"I like it,'' said Angela Sarro of Brooklyn, whose late husband Tom originally bought his season ticket at the old Garden in 1957, and who was sitting next to her husband's friend James Hands, a season subscriber since 1956.
"We were always the blue crowd, who really I think embodied the fans,'' Sarro said. "And I have to tell you, it was getting very boring watching TV without hockey. It's great to be back.''
That summed up the vibe among veteran fans: The seat color was a nice touch; actually sitting in them was nicer.
Kaufman, a season-ticket holder for 35 years, said: "It's great that they look like the old seats, but it would have been nicer if I could have sat in it in October instead of having to wait 3 1/2 months to start the season.''
There were some dislocations in the translation to a new seating plan, something Mark DeSimone, a regular since '68, said was upsetting. He liked the light blue hue but could not vouch for whether it was exactly right. "My memory of the color of the seats has faded a little bit,'' he said.
Leo Strauss of the Bronx, a season subscriber since '68, insisted the old seats were a tad lighter, but he appreciated the gesture.
Paul Goffen, who grew up in Queens and now lives in Manhattan, spoke for most fans when he said nothing about the seats themselves "matters as much as what happens down on the ice.''
Before it all went wrong far below, Goffen fondly recalled a vintage blue seats chant aimed at the swells in the more expensive red seats. It predated a similar and more famous chant targeting the Islanders' Denis Potvin.
"Hard-working, hard-living section,'' he said, smiling. "That's what we're here for.''