We were weary yesterday, both Todd and I. Like fools, we stayed up through three overtimes and watched those wonderful Penguins pull out a victory, in “Hockeytown, USA” no less.
And the cool thing was that everyone I saw around me the next day was weary too…but smiling. Hopeful. Upbeat. We ran errands, and the checkout guy was tousled with dark circles under his eyes, but happy and excited about the next game. So was the middle-aged woman in front of me. People had a bounce in their steps.
It made me wonder how we can all get so involved in a game. It is a game, after all. It’s a living to those guys on the ice, but to us? Mere diversion. Such a pleasant diversion it is, this game that inspires so many within this geographical circle to skip bedtime and cheer passionately instead. There we sit, night after night, watching intently as young men we don’t know play a game that most of us have never played. Yet, they are our boys, our team. We float with their highs and their successes, we sink when they fail or are treated unfairly. We’ve never even spoken to them, but what they do out there determines what sort of day a lot of us have.
Is it the suffering that unites? In their cases, I’m sure that’s true—the years of practice, the seasons of ups and downs, the injuries, the sheer exhaustion of playing that many consecutive minutes of body-beating hockey… Yes, the team is surely united by shared suffering. But the viewers, the fans? Hardly. Although losing sleep does cause suffering, it’s incomparable to what we’d suffer if we were the ones out there being checked and driven into the boards.
Perhaps it’s the common enemy that brings us together. The other team—they don’t need another cup. We're sick of them. Like that burst of patriotism that followed 9/11, we’re united in our need to defeat someone or something; and in this case, it’s the Wings.
But united we are. The only division I’ve sensed is the split between people on whether or not the Pens can do it. There’s a certain small, blindly dedicated group that will follow the team wherever they go. And there are the fair weather fans, the loyal but often uninformed groupies that cheer based on who’s cute; and there are corporate fans who are concerned enough to be able to cite choice names and stats to the clients they’re entertaining in the company box seats. And then there are the doubters, the critical Thomases--the fans that want every detail merely so they can tear apart the team’s performance, or so it seems. They’re the ones who seem to call every sports talk show after the game.
Regardless of which side you’re on, most of us will freely admit that the multiple overtimes on Monday night showed some chutzpah on the part of the Pens, and won the respect of many people who had thought the figurative coffin was nailed shut. And in truth, regardless of this series’ outcome, both teams have proven they have serious staying power, serious talent…and class. I know there can’t be two winners; that Cup can only go to one city. And don’t get me wrong: I want it in my city. But based on talent? On worthiness? In my mind, at least, it’s a toss-up.
I feel kinship with all the rest of you tired, hopeful fans out there. Even if we share nothing else, we can share this team, this season. We can feel united in our pursuit to beat someone else. Sick? Perhaps. True? Undoubtedly.