They packed the back of the Wild Rovers Tours bus in Dublin on an overcast July morning. The trip across Ireland, from the east side to the western tip of the island nation, included a stop at the Barack Obama Plaza and culminated at the Cliffs of Moher. In tow along with their bags, food and cameras was something else -- something 37-year-old Chris Fabry, who hails from suburban Pittsburgh, makes sure his friends take on every vacation: their Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys.
On that windy July day, as the tour guide warned his passengers to not venture too close to the edge of the cliffs because the wind could push them over, thousands of people gathered, Fabry and his friends among them. They had gone to the cliffs to take a picture -- and to continue a tradition. Whenever they go on vacation, they take their Penguins jerseys along. Then, at predetermined spots, they put them on and take at least one photo.
Fans of every franchise have traditions that bind them to the teams they care about -- the ones they grew up loving and spent considerable money following. Teams have linked parents and children, groups of friends and spawned relationships.
The Fabry bunch is no different. In season, they gather at Ed Stimel's house when they don't go to home games. It's there that they watch every Penguins playoff game. Fabry pops a Fireball candy in his mouth when he leaves his house, making it last the entire 10-minute drive to Stimel's. They sit in the same spots -- Stimel on the recliner, Fabry on the couch -- and use the same koozies: Moosehead for Fabry, a 2009 Stanley Cup-shaped one for Stimel. The past two years, they've been on a "strict Southern Tier diet" when it comes to their beer.
Posing for photos in their jerseys around the world was an extension of this, another way to show their devotion. The idea first dawned on Fabry and one of his best friends, Brenton "Kenny" Kennerdell, during a trip to the Grand Canyon in 2009. They were staying in Las Vegas and decided to take a last-minute tour bus trip to the Grand Canyon. Kennerdell took along his Penguins jersey, then put it on as he posed along the South Rim. Fabry preserved the moment for posterity -- and a tradition was born.
"It really all spawned from me seeing my best friend wearing a jersey," Fabry said. "And saying, 'Oh s---, I want to do that the rest of my life.' "
Since then, their Penguins jerseys have been packed for almost every trip. Fabry sends reminder messages to his friends before the leave: "Don't forget to pack your jerseys," his wife, Michelle, and friends say. He's militant about it. The jersey is the first thing to go in the suitcase. Fabry bought Michelle, who is also a Penguins fan, a jersey one year for Christmas when they were dating -- Sidney Crosby's, who else? -- and she's been part of the picture tradition since.
Their journeys have taken Fabry & Co. to the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain and inside the Vatican in Rome; on a beach in Mexico as part of his sister's wedding; in front of Big Ben in London; to a waterfall in Iceland and to two places in Ireland: the Cliffs of Moher and Dublin's Larry Murphy's pub, the latter simply as an homage to the great Penguins defenseman.
"They were wondering why we were all wearing jerseys and they said that Larry Murphy had actually visited the pub when he was in Ireland and gave them a hockey stick," said Fabry. "I don't know if this is true or not, but the bartender told us that they just sold it on eBay. They didn't care at all about hockey."
In all, 11 friends have appeared in at least one picture.
Fabry laments missing an opportunity at the Eiffel Tower because of poor planning. At least two of the pictures, Fabry said, are part of a fan-photo mosaic of Mario Lemieux in Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena -- including the Grand Canyon photo that started the tradition.
Fabry isn't sure of their next destination, but Australia is a possibility -- some group members just got SCUBA-certified -- or they could go back to Europe again. Michelle, who gets to pick the next spot, is thinking Mount Rushmore. No matter what, a Penguins group shot will be on the itinerary.
There might be a new addition to the pack by then. The Stimels are expecting their first child in December. The yet-to-be-born girl will likely receive an early gift: an infant-sized Penguins jersey.
"It'll be," Stimel said, "a long-standing tradition for us."