Band Wagon

All hockey season long, I’ve been trying to recruit fans to NHL hockey. Whenever a friend expresses boredom, or is fed up with the politics in their favorite sport, or fed up with the paucity of winning games among the professional teams in their city (mostly Chicago), I suggest they try watching hockey. For 82 games, since the beginning of October, I’ve been saying “try watching a Blackhawks game! We’ll watch together, and I’ll explain it to you!”

No takers.

Not one.

But tonight, somehow all those people who fawned over the Bears and Cubs (only in April), arguing for their team or their sport despite evidence that they suck, somehow all those people are Blackhawks fans.

Tell ya what, guys.

When you have watched a whole season of the Chicago Blackhawks THEN you can say “we won.” Hell, when you’ve watched even HALF a season (still more than an NFL season, I know, but you can do it!), you can say “we won.”

But now?

Now you’re just bandwagoners.

My family bleeds hockey. My tiny fragile daughter is the loudest hockey fan on her whole campus. She explains the sport to her guy friends. She wears her Blackhawks hat and screams and cheers the anthem and watches every game she can find. No TV? No big. She’ll find a way, a sports bar or streaming on her laptop.

She never played hockey. She’s never played a single sport. She hasn’t even been to a Blackhawks game. She went with us to prospect camp a couple of years ago, but hasn’t even seen a game in person. And yet she manages to understand this sport. And she’s devoted to them.

And maybe that’s what irritates me tonight. All these people I know not just congratulating the Blackhawks, but acting as if they’ve been fans all along. Yeah, but no. They haven’t watched the Playoffs. Some haven’t watched a single tame until tonight.

This is a long and brutal season, with ups and downs and injuries and trades and heart-attack games. It’s not easy to be a hockey fan. It’s a lot of work, much more than being a fan of other sports.

I was raised in a sports household, watching season after season of football, basketball, track and field, and swimming. I was a baseball stats freak for years. Yes, MLB plays more games, but even a three-game home stand isn’t as taxing as a single tight hockey game. Basketball comes close, but nothing beats the pure intensity of hockey.

So on some level, the fans who have been with the team all along have earned the right to say this is “our” team. The fans whose hearts dropped to their stomach when Kaner got injured earlier this year, the ones who watched in dismay as Carcillo was brought back to the fold, who had a little leap of excitement to hear that Versteeg had returned. Those of us who know the players’ kids’ names, and which player’s wife is about to give birth, and which player is likely to be traded in the post season. The ones who carefully observed every game-day good-luck charm, who read all the playoffs previews and kept track of every starting lineup, who argued Corsi scores and +/- long into the night. They’re the ones who get first crack at this, the ones who should get some acknowledgement of their devotion. They’re the ones who have even a slim claim to the phrase “we” won.

So yes, enjoy the fact that Chicago has won another Cup. Applaud the effort the team made to get to this point, because it wasn’t easy. But for crap’s sake, don’t say “WE” won.

No you didn’t.


3 thoughts on “Band Wagon

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  1. Of all of the US sports, hockey is the sport least enjoyed on television — to get true converts, you’ll need to take them to games.

  2. I am new entirely to the sport. I think, especially in Chicago in the last six years, it has been more accessible than previously in my life. My family is from the land where football is a religion. The devotion you described above is exactly how they feel about football. I watched the hockey playoffs, but was a little afraid to ask questions. I feel like the annoying, sort-of girlfriend in the sports bar who doesn’t know what is going on and just pesters everyone. I’m still struggling to follow the puck, but I’m getting better. Maybe we’ll be in the same town for a game and you can explain things to me. Meanwhile, go Hawks!

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