Archive for the ‘The Sports Fan’ Category

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Are you questioning my fanhood?

November 14, 2007

“Does your fanhood need questioning?”

That is the question that a lot of Blue Jacket fans should be asking themselves.  Four games into an eight game division run, the Jackets are (0-3-1) and have shown few signs of life.  It’s not been pretty to watch, but I will continue to tune-in and attend when I’m able.

Why?  Because I have an irrational attachment to this team.  That’s what being a fan is all about.

Over in the comments at Puck Rakers, it seems like there are a few folks alerting the driver that they’d like to get off the bandwagon.  My experience with the team (and by this, I mean my fanhood and do not wish to imply that I have any personal experience with anyone involved with the organization) is exclusively between me and the team, so it doesn’t bother me at all that people are jumping off the wagon.  But I do think it’s funny, and I have to confess I don’t really understand the concept of only cheering for a team when they’re doing well.

There’s so much to say about this issue, and I don’t have time to go through it all right now.  This organization appears to have good people in place in all the right places: ownership, management, and coaching.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will a playoff berth.  I know the response to that statement is this: “We’ve waited since 2000-01 for a playoff berth, and they still suck.”  While that is true, two-thirds of the organizational trio mentioned above have had less than 16 months combined to make a difference.  This team will get better, sooner or later.  Aside from the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (oh, excuse me… they’re just the Rays, now), I can’t think of a pro sports team that has consistently sucked for their entire existence.

The Blue Jackets have only completed six seasons, let’s not add them to the list of the Thunderbolts/Glory/Horizon/Quest just yet.  If those of you who are ready to give up after a four-game losing streak can get past your myopia, you’ll see that this team is getting better and will likely continue to do so.  Growing pains are a part of maturing, and a National Hockey League franchise is no exception.

Stick around, it’s going to be an interesting ride.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

– Drew

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So it’s hockey season, right?

October 30, 2007

Why not write about hockey, then?  I’m guessing you don’t come to the End of the Bench to hear about my personal life, so I’ll skip the reasons why I’ve been absent and get right to today’s topic.

Why it’s been a weird fall for this sports fan

I’ve spoken in the past about the pro and college teams I associate with, and as you may recall it’s mostly a collection of perennial doormats.  The Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Reds are the worst offenders.  Sadly, I’ve almost gotten accustomed to seeing my teams wind up on the short end of the final score.  It sure makes things easier to complain about.

As I’m writing this, the Browns are second in the AFC North with a (4-3) record, and the Blue Jackets are second in the Central with a (6-3-1) record.  Cleveland doesn’t have much of a defense, but they’re mostly beating the teams they should (it would be nice to have that Oakland game to do over).  The Blue Jackets have to be one of the biggest surprises in the NHL after 10 games, sporting the NHL’s top penalty kill (94.1%), the top goaltender in the NHL in terms of GAA and shutouts, and a surprisingly solid defense.

I love cheering for winners, but I have to be truthful and say it’s more than a little odd.  I’m used to railing on and on about how my teams could be better.  And while there is still room for much improvement, winning games is a great salve.

Ten games in

Mrs. EOB and I have attended two of the six home games thus far, and I have to say we’ve been very pleased with the effort we’ve seen on the ice.  We saw the opening night win against Anaheim, and the victory this past Saturday over San Jose.  In both contests we’ve seen a tenacious squad work hard for sixty minutes, remain reasonably disciplined, and succeed in keeping my blood pressure in a healthy range.  From the goal line out, the team is playing remarkably well, enough so that many hockey fans in and out of Columbus are wondering just how long they can keep it up.

In net: Pascal Leclaire is playing like everybody said he could.  If you had told me two months ago that he’d be the top netminder on the team, I would not have believed you.  His quick reflexes and a defense clearing away the second and third opportunities have given Leclaire an October to remember. 

On the blueline: There are plenty of people talking about Kris Russell, so I’ll choose another back liner to appreciate for now: Ron Hainsey.  Two goals, four assists, and a plus-three rating in ten games while averaging 20:32 TOI per game.  Ron is not the best defender on the club, but he plays solidly against the competition he faces and has a booming shot that creates a little space on the man advantage.

Up front: Rick Nash.  Oh, I need to say more?!?  13 points in 10 games, averaging 19:59 TOI per game, playing in all game situations, and the flashiest goal in CBJ history with his little between the legs roof-job against the Blues.  He’s using his size and strength to his advantage, checking solidly, playing sound defense, and just generally making defensemen look a little silly.

Pleasant surprise: Oft maligned winger Nikolai Zherdev.  He’s playing defense, skating hard, checking, and passing!  This is not the Zherdev we’d come to expect, and I think the fan base (and the team itself) is grateful.

Best change:  After ten games, this is an easy one for me.  The many things associated with a complete cultural overhaul in Columbus.  Doug MacLean is gone, and Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock have taken the reins.  The players are in better shape, they’re competing nightly, and based on various quotes published in the Dispatch recently they seem to enjoy that they don’t get yelled at after every game.

I don’t expect the team to maintain it’s current pace of 106 points this season, but I’m sure going to enjoy watching them try.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

– Drew

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End of an era?

July 3, 2006

Sportsnet.ca – After 22 seasons, Detroit Red Wings’ captain Steve Yzerman is calling it a career, Sportsnet has learned.

The Red Wings have called a press conference for 1 pm ET on Monday where the announcement is expected to be made official.

(Via Abel to Yzerman)

I had planned to review the free agency rush of the weekend in this post, but I think that can wait a little while. Despite the fact that he plays for a team I’ve grown to loathe (what with the regional “rivalry” and all), Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman has always been one of my favorite hockey players. Assuming the article is correct, today will be a bittersweet day for hockey fans across the spectrum. While it was uplifting to see Stevie Y return from his knee problems this year, it will be hard to watch one of the great leaders in sports turn his back from the spotlight of playing and walk down the tunnel toward the rest of his life.

With 692 goals and 1,063 assists in 1,514 regular season games, Yzerman will hang up his skates holding the sixth best scoring output in NHL history. But more important than scoring records is his skill as a leader. I have no doubt that Red Wing fans will be able to get more in-depth in describing what their captain meant to the team, the city, and the fans; but it’s not hard for an outsider to see the impact that Yzerman had on the sport as a whole. As a sports fan nearing my 30’s, I’ve grown up seeing sports change from games to businesses. Despite this fact, I’ve always been more interested in players who are leaders than those who are good businessmen or showmen.

In Major League Baseball, I had to look no farther than the Cincinnati Reds to find an example of a great leader in Barry Larkin. In the National Football League, Brett Favre has been a source of inspiration for his team by playing remarkably well through thick and thin. The National Hockey League has Steve Yzerman.

All of these players have had careers in which they outperformed their peers for many years, but it’s safe to assume that none of the players will be remembered best for their statistical accomplishments. Players like this never go out of style, but are always in extremely short supply as there may only be a handful in each sport at any given time. As a fan, I have to be aware of the fact that just because Yzerman (and the other aforementioned greats) is on his way out does mean that someone else will not be there to rise to the challenge. On the other side of that coin, it is tough for anyone when the true sports heroes of their formative years hang up their equipment for the last time. Things are never as good as they were “back in my day”.

Hockey fans, say goodbye to the good old days.

EOB congratulates Steve Yzerman on a fantastic career, and for being an individual worthy of the admiration of man and child alike. Best of luck.

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Title reflections

June 20, 2006

I flipped on the tube to find the clock at 11:00 in the second period, Carolina leading Edmonton by a score of 2-0. I only needed to watch for about one minute to realize that the game was already out of reach. Edmonton was unable to control the puck through the neutral zone as the defensive posture of the Canes worked to near perfection.

Fernando Pisani scored early in the third to close the gap to one, but Cam Ward continued his stellar play en route to the Conn Smythe. The 22-year old rookie has shown his organization and the National Hockey League that he is a ready for prime time player.

As the seconds ticked down late in the third, I calmly sat back in my chair and got ready for the best minutes in sports. My favorite part of the playoffs is the end of the last game of each series and seeing the handshake line. I play adult hockey, and we do this after every game. It doesn’t mean much to most of us, but I feel it’s an important sportsmanship lesson. Seeing guys who get paid to play the game do the same things I’ve done, is the second greatest thing of the evening.

Of course the ultimate thrill for any hockey fan is seeing the team captain, and then each player of the winning team, take the Cup, give it a kiss, and hoist it over his head. Anyone who has strapped on skates has dreamed of this moment from Day One. Children win the Cup in their minds on a daily basis. Which of us has not skated in from the left wing boards, put a wrister over the goalie’s shoulder in OT, and thrown up our stick, gloves, everything else in jubilation at winning the Ultimate Prize? I know I have.

I’ve been lucky enough in my lifetime to see two of my teams win a title (Cincinnati Reds in 1990, and Ohio State football in 2003). I try and remember every game I watch that I may never see this again, but I’ll always live with hope. Fans are always reminded that to say “We won the game” is not technically correct because a fan doesn’t actually play the game. True fans realize that this is both correct and incorrect. As a fan, I did not score the goal, steal the base, or make the tackle. But my loyalty as a fan of both my team and the game are what enables the players that do these things to earn the money and fame they receive. Long-time loyal fans support a team through thick and thin. I’m proud to call myself a Blue Jackets fan from Day One, and I’ll feel like a part of the team should “we” ever be lucky enough to win the Cup.

Despite what I’ve heard from many sources, fans of every team deserve the hope of winning the Stanley Cup. If the only teams that should be allowed to win are either Canadian teams or Original Six teams, why should the “rest of us” even bother playing the game? The reach of a sport grows because of fan popularity. Although the NHL may not have the marketing appeal of the NFL, it has still grown enough as a game to have franchises in 30 cities across Canada and the United States. Fans (new and experienced) put as much of their heart into cheering for a team in Raleigh, Tampa, Nashville, and Atlanta as they do in Detroit, Toronto, Montreal, and Edmonton. There are statistics that some people can (and maybe will) show me that supposedly refute my claim. But I say that you can’t measure heart. Fans of all teams put their heart into their team. On the Edmonton bench after the game last night, you could see the pain in the faces of each player, and practically feel it through the television. Don’t think that their fans were not experiencing the same thing. Detroit fans know how they felt after the Wings lost the Edmonton series. Don’t think for a minute that Nashville fans didn’t feel the same way after losing to San Jose. Being born or living in a “traditional” hockey market does not mean that you (as a fan) deserve to win any more than John Doe in Atlanta who picked up the game two years ago and really enjoys watching hockey. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, entitlement is a sin against true fandom. Be gracious in both victory and defeat, hubris is not a becoming trait.

With this said, I issue my congratulations to both the Carolina Hurricanes and their excellent fans for their first Cup win. I hope you all can enjoy your victory, and that it means as much or more to you as it did the first time you won it on your driveway/backyard pond/neighborhood rink. I’d always rather see my Blue Jackets win, but seeing the pure joy on any grown man’s face (regardless of jersey color) as he raises the Cup over his head is enough to force me to blink back a few tears.

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Flights of ignorance, or hard-wired stubbornness

June 12, 2006

This morning in Pittsburgh, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was involved in an accident while riding his motorcycle (full story here). Roethlisberger, who has publicly stated his reluctance to wear a helmet while riding, was described as alert and conscious on the ride to the hospital.

Personally, I don’t see myself ever riding a motorcycle (personal preference). But if I did, you can bet I’d be wearing a helmet. In general, I’d rather be safe than sorry. If I had a high-profile, well-paying job (like, say, as a Super Bowl winning quarterback) I’d probably be even more careful. Steelers fans have to be wringing their hands at this moment, wondering what the outcome of this accident will be.

As a Cleveland Browns fan, I thought back to Kellen Winslow, Jr. and his motorcycle accident a few years back. Winslow, who at the time either had a learners permit or no license at all (I don’t remember the details), was attempting some dangerous stunts (wheelies, etc.) and had a year-ending accident. In Winslow’s case, he was participating in activities that were dangerous and (presumably) prohibited by his contract. It’s not suggested in any reports I’ve read that Big Ben was participating in any dangerous or prohibited activity (I’m assuming for the moment that riding without a helmet, although stupid, is not prohibited… I could be wrong). He was merely driving his motorcycle and was involved in a traffic accident.

As a fan, it is hard not to have thoughts on things like this gravitate to thoughts of responsibility. Responsibility to yourself, your team, your employers, your fans, etc. It’s easy for any normal fan to feel that Roethlisberger should feel a sense of accountability to me to keep himself safe. Is there some crossed wiring in his brain that causes him to ignore the dangers of life, or at least possess the ability to put off his danger-lust until his career is over?

Fans also cheer athletes like Brett Favre, who have made so many consecutive starts we lose count. Stories of playoff games in all sports outline an athlete playing through an injury or other problem to spur his or her team to victory. This is the proverbial “stuff” of which legends are made. Maybe the part of the brain that should counsel us to be realistic about our perceived invincibility is related to the part that enables some of us to work through obstacles that stand in our way such as injury/illness/etc.

We want our athletic heroes to do whatever it takes to win, but behave as normal citizens off the playing field.

Can we have our cake and eat it, too?