The history of the Cell Block: Laying the foundation…

303 SIGN BEFORE-edit

This is the second in a multi-part series chronicling the history of Cellblock 303.

303 was becoming “the place to be.” The Predators’ front office was getting more requests for individual game seats in 303 than any other section. 303 quickly became full of the most season tickets of any section in the whole building. Even out of town guests specifically asked to be assigned tickets there when they came in to visit.

Head Coach Barry Trotz refers to 303 as "the secret weapon of our home-ice advantage."

To help organize the chants even further, Hollingsworth created a series of Cheer/Taunt sheets that were distributed at every game so people knew what to yell. These began filtering all around the arena. Additionally, a 303 database was created via questionnaires, getting folks organized to assist with Viewing Parties for out-of-town games, Christmas Parties, the annual mid-summer Slap Shot Party (where everyone gathers to watch the infamous movie), Draft Day Parties, Sign-Painting Parties, etc.

“When people have notable birthdays, hundreds of us will sign a card for them and sing Happy Birthday during a break in the action,” says Andress. “When folks were hospitalized due to injury or illness, we would send cards, and set up visitations.”

 At the end of Season Two, Craig Leipold came up to our Section during one of the final games and started giving us the “I am not worthy” bow (made famous in Wayne’s World). During the on-ice ceremonies after the final home game that year, Leipold addressed the crowd saying, “I wasn’t sure what I was going to say to all of you this evening after an even better season of support than our first year. But then I looked up there (pointing to us), and thought it’s great fans like those in Section 303 that have made this whole journey worthwhile!”

Two-time Stanley Cup winner Bill Clement, currently of NBC/Versus, said he had never heard a louder arena in his life. "You guys in 303 are crazy!"

In Season Three we started Section303.com. Initially it was Joe Estep who skated with the puck. Then Chuck Schwartz came alongside as our first real webmaster. The site quickly garnered a reputation, and thousands of visitors were logging-on to find out what zaniness we were coming up with next. Hollingsworth helped compile literally thousands of chants, one-liners, taunts, riddles, nonsequiters, jokes, Top Ten Lists, etc. all based around an irreverent hockey humor theme that were catalogued on the site. One of the most requested sections features “The Hated Opposition” spotlighting the current team the Preds will be hosting next, replete with all kinds of taunts specifically for that team and city.

Others have assisted in the 303 website along the way like Gordon Boulton, John McCloskey, and Win Barker.  The current team of Jeremy K. Gover, Patten Fuqua, and Cody Holland do a stellar job with editorials, interviews, podcasts, photos, promotions, and even organizing road trips to watch the Preds play in other NHL cities. There is even 303 merchandise (shirts, hats, buttons, stickers, etc.) available there. The adjoining Cellblock 303 Facebook page has thousands of fans and is highly trafficked as well.

By the third season, with his marketing/PR background, Hollingsworth began setting up dozens of interviews and features on every local TV station, nearly every main radio outlet in the city, and every daily and weekly newspaper in the region. National media began to take notice as well, with mentions on ESPN, Fox Sports, NPR, ESPN The Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Sporting News, etc. Media would come and sit right in the midst of 303 to capture the whole ambience. The web site was getting hundreds of new visitors each day, with eventually people leaving messages from every state in the union and 22 countries.

The original Cell Block banner that hung high above section 303.

The Preds management approached the group about hanging a huge banner above the wild bunch with some sort of whacky nickname. The core guys kicked a bunch of things around but it was actually Bryan Shaffer, the then-Game Operations Manager for the Preds, who came up with “Cellblock 303.” They liked it, and with their approval, he came up with the design. The franchise paid for and hoists the banner before every home game. “We couldn’t be prouder, or more humbled by the gesture,” says Hollingsworth.

There are lots of characters in the Cellblock like “The Perv,” “The Librarian,” “The Duke of Rebuke,” “Flag Boy,” “A Boy Named Sioux,” “Red Beard,” “School Marm,” “Wild Bill,” “The King of Pop,” and so on. But one of the most famous cellmates had no intention of ever being so. 82 year-old Eudora Hunter faithfully attended every game with her son, Charles.

Eudora Hunter, alongside her son, Charles, displaying one of her vintage signs.

“For the first two seasons, I would notice her sitting there like a statue, with this shy little grin in the midst of all our chaos,” recalls Hollingsworth. “I kept thinking to myself ‘what on earth can we do to get her involved?’  Then it dawned on me that she could become our own Larry “Bud” Melman (an odd little old man that used to make regular appearances on David Letterman). So, I asked Eudora one night if I gave her a silly sign, would she be willing to hold it up? Then I would have Tom, one of the roving in-house TV cameramen, come over and get a shot of her for the jumbotron.

The first sign I gave her was “Mike Watt Is a Hottie” (he was a call-up from Milwaukee who had Tom Cruise-like good looks). When that image was shown on the big screen, the arena erupted into laughter. I knew we had something good going with this. So, every game I would come up with another silly saying for her to hold up stone-faced for the camera. Some of the most hilarious were, “I let the dogs out;” “Fear the Mullet!” “If it wasn’t for hockey, I’d still be married;” “I be getting’ all up in yo grille;” “The more you disapprove, the more fun it is for me;” “Puttin’ on the foil, Coach;” “I like the cut of his jib;” “Chaos, panic, and disorder… my work here is done;” and “He looked a lot better in the chat room.” There were hundreds of ‘em. Her popularity grew with each passing game. Kids would come up to get her autograph… it was great,” recalls Hollingsworth.

Eudora Hunter signing an autograph for a young Predhead in early '03.

Eventually, the Predator management even incorporated her into television spots, having her play the recurring role of a fictional version of Scott Hartnell’s grandma in the “Smashville” campaign in the 2001-02 season. Sadly, Eudora passed away in the fall of 2003. The section honored her empty seat the remainder of the season with flowers and mementos. Many attended her funeral. Even Predators front office staff paid respects at her internment.

Some of the originals in 303 have moved to other cities. A few have moved down to “better” seats (although most 303ites would argue that there’s any place better) when they became available. But it remains the #1 most requested section for season tix and individual game purchases. There are always new members of the 303 family coming into the fold, and it has spilled over into other areas of the upper deck. “The N.B.P. Posse” is now made up of thousands of others in 303’s extended family. “In fact,” says Andress, “we think 303 is really more a state of mind than a location.” This is well evidenced by how the entire arena joins in on many of the chants now throughout each game. “There’s something quite amazing about hearing 17,000 people yell “you suck!” in perfect unison at an opposing goalie,” laughs Swartz.

“What started off as three bozos wanting to have a way to blow off some steam and laugh at a game has evolved into a real part of the Nashville Predators tradition… and we couldn’t be happier or prouder,” concludes Andress.

2 Comments

  1. Win Barker

    May 10, 2011 at 1:25 pm

    Thanks for the shout-out, Mark.

    And thanks to Jeremy, Patten, and Cody for 1) keeping the site going and 2) keeping my old site up as a bit of Nostalgia.

  2. Nathan

    May 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm

    Bought a 10-game package this year, and, I think 8 out of 10 games were seats in the Cellblock. Went to a couple of the playoff games in “better” seats, but kind of missed sitting up high where the Bridgestone’s energy comes from. It was a great season. Thanks, Preds! And, thanks, Cellblock 303.