Champions

June 14, 2008

I don’t even know how to begin this. It’s been a week and a half or so. I’m just finally starting to get a sense of how to package this victory. It’s been, in truth, surreal.

But as I’ve allowed this one to simmer a bit, I’ve come to realize just how much this means to me, now, as a fan of this team.

It’s hard for me to separate my love for this team from my memories of their prior era. When I see the Red Wings logo, the first thing I think of is Joe Louis Arena rocking itself to its core on a warm May night, against the Avs in 1997, with Brendan Shanahan, Steve Yzerman and Sergei Fedorov as the top scoring line. I think of the absolute sheer energy that existed in that building in the mid-to-late-1990’s, when I literally couldn’t sleep the night before going to games because it happened so infrequently.

But time has passed. Steve’s gone. Sergei and Brendan are both shadows of their former selves playing for different teams. The Wings were the only show in town in 1997 and 1998, and even 2002; now they have to compete with the Pistons and Tigers, who generate more buzz, more controversy, and more attention than the Wings ever do. People laugh at the Hockeytown moniker. I go to ten or so games a year now, and buy some of my seats on Ticketmaster. When I’m there, I look at rows of empty seats. Where Joe Louis was once a wonderland, a place to be visited once or twice a year, I now see a rotting, old — but still awesome — rink that never gets as loud as it used to.

I had to sit through a lost season, which alienated a fanbase in Detroit and around the world. I have to try to defend the sport rather than celebrate it. I have to watch the games on Versus. I have to try to shoe-horn in hockey talk when out with people, trying to insert some Wings talk amongst endless Flip Saunders and Jim Leyland conversations.

And then, in 2008 — when the Wings on paper didn’t look as ferocious as any of the previous teams; when the national spotlight was elsewhere; when the city was caught in Tigers frenzy; when I read “What’s with the lack of sellouts at the Joe?” articles ad nauseum — they won the Cup.

And what happened? 1.4 million people showed up downtown, the largest parade the Wings have ever had, and the largest Stanley Cup parade since the New York Rangers’ win in 1994 (and, yeah, that’s NYC). People talked hockey for the last week. People smacked me five on the streets of Chicago. People embraced players that some swore couldn’t be embraced because they didn’t speak English, or they weren’t good North American boys (fuck you Don Cherry).

I’ll probably always love 2002 the most, just because it was so special — a great time in my life. And 1997 will always have the charm of being the first.

But there’s something about this one that almost means more. It means that my favorite sport isn’t dead yet in Detroit. It means that my favorite team can change and still succeed. It means that I don’t have to feel like I need to apologize for talking about these guys at a table full of basketballheads anymore.

In truth, this one might be the most special. The previous three were like a hazy dream — this one was like a well-deserved reward.

Fuck Gary Bettman for ruining my favorite sport, and fuck Versus for being representative of just how pathetic the state of hockey has become. Fuck lockouts for making my true sports love a joke. And fuck you Steve Yzerman for retiring (not really).

But GO WINGS!

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