The Pens are down 2-1 in the Stanley Cup final against what, realistically, is a much better prepared team of Detroit Red Wings. You still think Marian Hossa is a gift from the gods (but WHY did we have to trade Army to get him???) and you wish that you lived in Pennsylvania so you could go watch Game 5 (because there has to be at least a Game 5 now that we've won a game) on the big screen outside Mellon.
You wish you had an excuse, someone to crash with, or a friend impulsive enough to go in on a hotel room in downtown Pittsburgh. But you don't.
You know you will sit alone in your dining room, watching the Game 4 broadcast on CBC.ca on your laptop, wishing there was more you could do. You wear your Malkin shirt. The one you bought one morning during the third round; Malkin made something of a heroic comeback that night. You pray you don't have to buy another t-shirt for the Pens to do well.
You go to the only place where people will understand your obsession.
And you wonder if anyone else is feeling the way you are...
You have no clue writing this that, less than a year later, you will be counting down the days to a flight that will take you to see at least two of the people (again) who were a part of this comment-section conversation.
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I never intended to start a blog (let alone more than one). I had a diaryx journal back in 2000 and 2001. (If anyone else remembers this site -other than my lovely C.K.- please let me know!) I had that before it was called blogging. Maybe I was ahead of the trend? Maybe I'm just a big ole' geek and I've liked writing for longer than I'd like to admit to.
I stopped writing in that diaryx thing on June 15th, 2001. It wasn't really a decision, just a result of things that were out of my control. The last post I wrote was sickeningly, frighteningly prophetic, and I think part of me was scared of that. I honestly felt like a modern-day Cassandra, only without the added bonus of knowing what it was we were supposed to be afraid of. I just knew we should be afraid. And we should have been.
Suffice to say, I had other things to deal with than writing a blog at that point.
... seven years pass...
The blog that got me into this whole blogging thing? None other than Jodie's ever-fabulous blog, The Sidney Crosby Show. I came across this lovely corner of the universe while I was doing research for my book. It was probably the most incredible outcome ever of googling Sidney Crosby. (In the long run, it's led to so many more ridiculous and wonderful things than reading his wikipedia page ever did.)
For a month or two, I just read TSCS. Then I started commenting. Then playoffs started, Jodie removed comment-moderation, and the site became something of a mecca for displaced Pens fans who would have otherwise had no one with whom to share their unbridled excitement.
Playoffs do something to us (us being hockey fans/Canadians, because a lot of Canadians are unabashed band-wagonners come the post-season). It's like going to war, only in a completely non-serious manner. It's better than nationalism; less people are likely to die in a hockey game than in a conventional war.
But playoffs do breed the same kind of impassioned call to arms. You pick sides. You choose colours. You raise banners. You don uniforms. You chant battle cries. You have a Captain in whom you hold complete faith; a leader you follow willingly into battle. And you have what, for four to seven games, becomes a near-deadly enemy.
I have issues with war. I have studied it too much not to hate it unequivocally, and hate people for doing stupid, horrible, unforgivable things within the context of it. I know very well that any analogy I make comparing the NHL playoffs to war is facetious and, in some way, trivializes the horrific realities of war. But war has a few, intermittent upsides.
As much as it divides people it also brings people together. As much as it pits two enemies against one another, it creates heroes on both sides, people to believe in, to cheer for, to idolize. And, frankly, it gives us something to be fiercely loyal about, to fight for, a campaign to get behind, a cause to support.
Sports are sort of the same way: they give us something to live for, without the risk of having to die for anything. It's war in the post-heroic age. And, frankly, it's safer (in most cities, with the exception of maybe Glasgow and Porto) to pledge allegiance to a sports team than to a guerilla army.
We used to fight for land. Territory. Natural resources. For trophies and riches and the spoils of war. We don't anymore. Well, not us. Not directly. But a huge portion of the world still does.
Perhaps in the post-heroic age we need porfessional sports, because there is a latent instinct in us to fight for something, to take sides, to chant, to go to into battle and compete for something. Within the world of pro sports, we're still fighting for most of the same things as we've always fought for.
We fight for trophies like the Stanley Cup and the Superbowl. We fight for Olympic gold and IIHF medals and championship rings inlaid with diamonds and rubies and words in foreign languages that mean dedication, and perseverance, and strength. We fight for honour and pride and the right to call ourselves champions.
People can call professional sports 'just another industry', they can claim that athletes are over paid and franchises charge too much for tickets, but at the end of the day I think everyone in North America is happy that the Battle of Pennsylvania, the Battle of Ontario, and the Battle of Alberta refer to rivalries between hockey teams and not real battles over coal, or silver, or oil.
I've always toyed with the notion of writing a treatise (19th-century-style) on the potential impact of professional sports in developing nations, in terms of their ability to decrease the incidence of domestic political turmoil and, possibly, even international involvement in conventional (or unconventional warfare). It brings people in a community together. It helps people find common ground. It becomes something of an identity. And it's healthier than the LRA or the Tamil Tigers. I'm not suggesting that Uganda can support a soccer league like the UK can, and I am well aware that a certain amount of infrastructure is required to support something like the NFL, but you don't need to be a G8 country to support sports teams: NHLers used to have day jobs.
I can't help but wonder if maybe other countries would benefit from the emotional outlet pro-sports provides. And maybe they will, someday, when they're done fighting real inter-state wars.
Tonight, no matter the outcome of Game 6 of the Pens-Flyers series, some small part of me that isn't cheering like a hellcat for Pittsburgh will be quietly thankful that Sidney Crosby, and not Joseph Kony, is the one leading us into battle, that I have the liberty to pledge loyalty to a sports team rather than having to pick sides in a real war.