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Nashville Predators, Catfish

You smell the fishy stench through the TV. You feel the slime on your fingertips. You see the helpless catfish resting on the ice.

But you also hear the 17,000-plus fans going absolutely nuts.

With the Nashville Predators making their first Stanley Cup Final in 18 seasons, the catfish has become the de facto symbol of the series. Before the opening faceoff and after Nashville goals, it is commonplace to see a fish with barbels fly over the boards. When Predators fan Jacob Waddell heaved a catfish onto the ice during Game 1 in Pittsburgh, the practice got even more national visibility.

But catfish attacks have been going on at Bridgestone Arena since the franchise's inaugural season of 1998-99. Credit goes to Bob Wolf, a former Rangers fan from Brooklyn, who played drums for country music singer Johnny Paycheck. Wolf moved to Nashville and eventually established a restaurant called Wolfy's, which became a hot spot for Predators players and fans in the team's early years.

Wolfy's also became an attraction for employees at a nearby General Motors plant, and many happened to be Red Wings fans. Since 1952, Red Wings fans have been throwing octopus onto the ice as a form of superstition. (As legend has it, that season a Red Wings fan chose the aquatic creature because its eight legs represented the eight wins Detroit then needed to win a Stanley Cup. The Red Wings went 8-0 that season to win their fourth title). In 1998-99, the Red Wings -- founded in 1926 -- were the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions and the Predators were their baby brother in the Central Division.

Wolf took it upon himself to give the Predators' their own version of the octopus. He wanted something inexpensive and unique to Nashville, and he chose the catfish, a staple of the Cumberland River. He bought a nine-pound catfish and a ticket for the Jan. 26, 1999 game against the Red Wings. He tucked the fish -- wrapped in newspaper and plastic wrap -- under his Predators jersey, waiting for the first home goal. Detroit took a 2-0 lead in the opening 2:24 with goals by Martin Lapointe and Sergei Fedorov. Finally, with one second left in the first period, Andrew Brunette -- who also scored the first goal in Predators' history earlier that season -- got Nashville on the score sheet. Wolf launched the catfish over the glass and ran up the aisle with friends providing cover.

"I thought it was an octopus," former Predators owner Craig Leipold told The Associated Press. "I was pleasantly surprised when I realized it was a catfish. I figured it had to be one of our fans mocking the Red Wings. I was not disappointed."

Wolf sold his restaurant in 2005 and now lives in St. Paul (ironically Leipold spends most of his time there too now, as owner of the Minnesota Wild). "It wasn't meant to be anything but fun and answer Detroit's call to their octopus," Wolf says. "'Hey, we're the new Southern team on the ice, and we're going to throw a catfish on the ice.' That was kind of the attitude that day."

Wolf's inspiration was popular but after NHL officials actually started giving the Predators delay-of-game penalties, the frequency dropped. But this year's unprecedented run -- the Predators won 12 of their first 16 playoff games this year -- has been revved up the catfish momentum. Even some local celebrities have jumped in. Players from the Tennessee Titans have held up catfish to pump up fans (while chugging beer) and left tackle Taylor Lewan even threw one onto the ice after a Colton Sissons hat trick. Country singer Keith Urban has also been seen in-arena with a catfish.

But it's the 36-year-old Waddell who really pushed the catfish angle even further by taking it on the road. Waddell was set to go to his in-laws' home in Boardman, Ohio, over Memorial Day Weekend. He traveled north from Nashville with a local catfish in hand and purchased two tickets to Game 1 in Pittsburgh. He revealed his plan on Twitter, which earned him some love from the Midday 180 radio show on Nashville's 104.5 The Zone, and he planned to wear a Midday 180 T-shirt in PPG Paints Arena. Waddell created a "catfish-underwear sandwich" to remain inconspicuous in enemy territory. On game day, Waddell drove across the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, got through security and moved the catfish from his underwear to the inside of the Penguins' giveaway T-shirt (free items are a double-edged sword). During a stoppage of play, Waddell waltzed into the lower bowl and let his catfish fly.

Security took Waddell out of the arena, and he didn't protest. However, he did give the city of Pittsburgh some snark. "They're all staring at me, trying to make it real serious," he says of the moment. "I know nothing is gonnna happen here. So the guy's like, 'I hope you're satisfied.' And I said, 'Yeah, I do too.' So that really ticked them off."

Waddell was charged with disorderly conduct, disrupting a meeting and possessing an instrument of crime. Back in Nashville, 104.5 The Zone said they would pay for any fines charged to Waddell. The maximum fine was listed at $12,800, but a maximum jail sentence of six years plus 90 days wasn't in his plans. Waddell called himself "just a dumb redneck with a bad idea." For what it's worth, Waddell threw the catfish with Nashville down 3-0 in the second period, and the Predators came all the way back to tie the game. The Predators lost, but Waddell got a shoutout on Twitter from Carrie Underwood, wife of Predators captain Mike Fisher.

Prosecutors dropped all charges against Waddell by puck drop of Game 2. He returned to "Smashville" a hero and the catfish phenomenon strengthened. Pittsburgh's Wholey's Fish Market denied catfish sales to visiting Predators fans still in town for Game 2. But by Game 3 on Saturday in Nashville, Waddell's local fisheries were supporting the cause. Nashville's Little's Fish Company began offering free catfish to those fans who showed a ticket to Game 3 or 4.

Tennessee State Representative Bryan Terry drew up a proclamation honoring Waddell.

"We are discouraging fans from throwing anything onto the ice other than hats during a hat trick," team spokesman Kevin Wilson said Saturday.

For some unknown, crazy reason, it appears Nashville security is less strict than Pittsburgh security on the catfish issue (sarcasm). Saturday's Game 3, which the Predators won to cut the series deficit to 2-1, featured a multitude of catfish bombardments, apparently with fans strapping the fish to their backs. But the Nashville faithful are rather respectful. The air attacks come at stoppages of play, not during the action.

Although the Predators and the NHL may not officially endorse catfish-throwing, they are going with the flow. In a tweet Saturday, Predators mascot Gnash was given a catfish outside the arena.  Meanwhile, NBC Sports, which owns the TV rights to the Stanley Cup, sent Jeremy Roenick catfish hunting with Lewan.

According to The Tennessean, Bridgestone Arena employees expected to see 20 catfish on the ice in Game 3. Monday's Game 4 should offer a similar atmosphere, and if the series comes back to town for a Game 6, a new bar will be set for the catfish count.

On Monday morning, the Predators released a video with head coach Peter Laviolette asking fans not to throw anything onto the ice, at risk of penalizing the team.

Yeah, we'll see how that goes.

The catfish is becoming synonymous with the state of Tennessee. After all, it is officially an "instrument of crime" in Pennsylvania.

-- Follow Jeff Eisenband on Twitter @JeffEisenband. Like Jeff Eisenband on Facebook.