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As fans bring the noise, an everlasting memory is made

The noise, which sounded like children at a carnival and adults hitting the lottery, is audible to this day.

Before we get to that sweet symphony, let's go back a week. A few things happened that caused people to hold their breath. It's why the exhale at the original Winter Classic was so amazing to hear.

I had a rare shift covering the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 23, 2007. As I wrote about the New York Giants' defense repeatedly picking off Trent Edwards, the NHL went to work installing an ice rink on the Bills' field.

Well, it tried to go to work.

The snow was swirling. The wind was blowing. There was the occasional whiteout. As I watched from the Bills' press box, I had an overriding thought:

This outdoor hockey game could be a disaster.

I wasn't alone, especially after Dan Craig, the NHL's ice-making guru, said all the spare emergency time his crew had built in for the week was gone in one day. It seemed possible they wouldn't finish.

As the rink came together, other problems popped up. The wind could be a factor, so the NHL decided it would have the goaltenders switch ends at the midpoint of the third period and overtime. But what if there was a breakaway with 10:01 to go? Would the referees just blow the whistle before the player shot?

There were so many unknowns with this new venture that dread accompanied the excitement.

Once New Year's Day arrived, the fans took over. The party in the parking lot was in full swing by 10 a.m., but there were noticeable differences from a Bills game. Blue and gold were the colors of choice rather than blue and red. More kids were present, and they were shooting hockey balls into PVC nets instead of running go routes.

It was clear this would be a fun day. Even the game notes were lighthearted. Kevin Snow, who worked for the Sabres' media relations staff, unleashed this playful "Did You Know?":

"The Sabres and Penguins both enter today's game with an all-time record of 0-0 when playing outdoors on a Tuesday afternoon in January."

As pregame warm-ups neared, the party moved from the parking lots to the stadium. People ran down to the first row to check out the view. They walked to the last row for comparison's sake. A rink at the 50-yard line was a novelty, and fans wanted to take it in from every angle.

The pregame show was a spectacle befitting a nationally televised event. Fire burst skyward from canisters in the end zone. Kids skated on small auxiliary rinks. Guitars wailed. Canadian hockey legend Don Cherry held court.

Knowing there would be a military flyover, I left the press box and stood outside in an aisle. As four black hawk helicopters flew overhead, the crowd hollered in appreciation.

I retreated to the press box and took a seat. I noticed no one in the stadium had. The fans who stood for the national anthems were still standing. The game started, and they remained on their feet. As the first period ended and the second started, the seats were still unused.

The glass-enclosed press box provided heat and a good view, but its sterile comfort didn't seem to fit. You could see people having a blast, but you couldn't hear it. So during the second period, I grabbed my pen, notebook and jacket and headed outside.

That's when the noise hit me. Out in the falling snow, it was as if each excited yell bounced from flake to flake to flake and never disappeared. It was a full-on rock show.

To be honest, the game itself is nowhere in the memory bank. It has joined the long list of Sabres losses that feature only one goal.

The sound, however, remains. It was the sound of an unforgettable time, one that started a week earlier with uncertainty and ended with the steadfast belief that this was a special day.

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