This is my favorite time of the year, sports-wise.
It’s the first round of the hockey playoffs, which as far as I am concerned are better than the Super Bowl, the World Series, the World Cup and the season finale of Mythbusters combined. There’s always a game on, since there are three or four games every night across four different time zones, and the games are fast, hard-hitting and generally fun to watch.
I’m not sure why it is that the things I like most are invariably the things that make most other people either yawn or scratch their heads trying to figure out what exactly I’m talking about. Hockey used to be the fourth sport in this country, behind football, baseball and basketball, but now it falls somewhere below NASCAR, UFC fights and competitive eating as well.
And still nobody cares about the World Cup but us contrarians.
I like football, really I do. I like baseball if I can watch it in person, or on television if I’m in a languorous mood.
But basketball is just silly. UFC is nothing more than boxing with the rules taken out. Competitive eating is the single best example of the pitfalls of unlimited cable channels with airtime to fill. And NASCAR? Seriously? Why would anyone want to watch people drive in circles all day? I understand that takes skill and physical conditioning – it’s not like driving in circles in the grocery store parking lot, however much it looks like it from the outside – but there are a lot of things that take skill and physical conditioning to do that really are not meant to be spectator sports.
Welding, for example.
What makes this year’s playoffs even better is that my two favorite teams are meeting head to head.
I grew up as a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers, a team I still regard as my favorite organization in all of sports. I was about Lauren’s age during the years of the Broad Street Bullies, when they won their two Stanley Cups. I remember hanging out with my brother late one night in the bedroom that we shared when all of the sudden it seemed like the world had erupted in horns and shouting, and not knowing until the next day what that had been all about.
I lived in Pittsburgh during their first two Stanley Cups, in the early 1990s. I didn’t own a television for part of that and didn’t get cable even when I bought one, so most of the games I had to see at a local bar, about half a mile from my apartment. It was a long, narrow bar, maybe 12 feet wide and forever long, so sound tended to bunch up and reverberate, and the night they won their first championship I left that bar with my ears ringing and couldn’t hear right for nearly a week.
I’m probably the only person in America who can genuinely call himself a fan of both teams, such has the rivalry between them grown heated.
As a Flyers fan, I’m liking this series. They’re up three games to none in this best-of-seven, and have come from behind in all three to win convincingly – twice on the road. They’ve played with discipline and intelligence, they’ve shown strong defense and scored almost at will (20 goals in three games? That would be a lot of scoring for baseball, let alone hockey). Barring a historic collapse, they will move on.
As a Penguins fan, however, I’m thoroughly annoyed. Not just because they’ve lost three straight games that they led by as many as three goals, but because they’ve turned into thugs and charlatans. Their captain is a petulant little coward who has hung his teammates out to dry, they’ve deliberately tried to hurt opposing players, and even the Pittsburgh media have called them out on it.
It’s kind of conflicted, really.
But soon enough it will all be over. This round ends next week sometime. The next round comes and goes, and eventually some toothless, scruffy guys will be skating around with a big silver bowl over their heads and goofy smiles on their faces, and it will all be put away for next year.