John Collins will tell you the idea grew from seeing the same picture on several walls in the NHL offices. NBC's Jon Miller, the other man credited with creating the Winter Classic, remembers watching people wrapped like fur trappers in Edmonton way back in 2003 for an outdoor NHL game between the Oilers and Canadiens and thinking, "Yankee Stadium."
But the real heroes in the amazing growth of the Winter Classic reside not in the New York offices of Collins' NHL, or cross town in the offices at 30 Rock, where Miller is a vice president of sports. No, the real heroes are the Einsteins who first invented the concept of the Bowl Championship Series, then moved their most significant games off New Year's Day, or its legal holiday equivalent.
To a league seeking to infiltrate American culture, it was the equivalent of volunteering to serve a game misconduct. Collins, 50, had barely unpacked his boxes when Miller called him with this idea he had been sitting on since he got that glimpse of the 2003 Heritage Classic, played in Edmonton between the Oilers and Canadiens in late November amid temperatures barely over freezing. That's the picture Collins kept seeing on office walls, too, specifically that of NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly.