Kukla's Korner Hockey
by George Malik on 02/28/08 at 04:23 PM ET
Hockey fans are all whiners who bitch and moan, never go to actual games, and sit around in a little circle of fellow bitchers and moaners who complain all day long.
How do I know this? Jamie Samuelssen told me, in a nice little 9:23 rant that’s available for your listening pleasure on WDFN.
Samuelssen claims that Red Wings fans and all hockey fans—with enough “you people” references to usually merit a lawsuit—are negative Nancies, each and every one, and he feels that the trade deadline brings out the worst in what hockey fans are.
The reason he went off is almost immaterial at this point, but, for the record, he says that it’s not fair that fans claim that Ken Holland never does enough to give the Wings a chance to win the Stanley Cup. He actually makes a rather impassioned argument that Ken Holland is the best GM in Detroit sports, and that Wings fans are lucky to follow a team that wins as consistently (the last ten games excluded, he notes) as the Wings do, and is as consistently a playoff contender as the Wings are, but that’s wrapped in a, “One day you people won’t have such a great team, and you’ll be sorry rant that the intent thereof is almost completely lost amidst the name-calling, rationalizing, and stereotyping.
Samuelssen, whose radio station is fueled by the fact that all sports fans bitch and moan about their sports teams, also seems to have forgotten the team that his old buddy Greg Brady is now employed in the radio market of the team whose fans have spent generations bitching and moaning about the fact that the Toronto Maple Leafs suck year after year (Ah, since the days of Wendell Clark, Dougie Gilmour, and Felix Potvin, I’ve always wanted to see my name associated with those lovely words), which is a pity. Or that the Lions exist.
As stated, all sports fans bitch and moan. It’s part of being a sports fan, whether you have court/rink/field/course/pool/etc.-side seats, play three times a week, have never played the sport but love it, you find ways to follow your favourite team from thousands of miles away, or you only watch “when it’s on and [you’re] in the mood.”
Fans bitch because sports is a huge societal outlet. We get to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves by following our favourite organizations and/or players play a kid’s game, we feel the camaraderie that is being part of a group of fans who celebrate wins and lament losses together, and the time, money, and energy we put into following our sports, our players, and our teams generally pays off in the enjoyment we receive from doing what we do. We’re more like Star Wars fans or video game players than we’d like to admit, but there’s something about the literal nature of flesh-and-blood human beings coming together to wage war that very likely calls to the fact that we’re walking around with caveman (and cavewoman) DNA, and want to cheer on and share in the spoils of a successful hunt—or the victory that is literally kicking another tribe’s butts by defeating them in battle.
We get to complain because sports, like any other pastime or lifestyle choice, because, let’s face it, for some of us, following a sport becomes our lifestyle, we get to do that wonderful deed that is sublimation, the redirection of joys or frustrations from one aspect of our day-to-day existence to another.
It’s not like you can go out to have a beer and say, “You know, there’s a presidential election coming up, and I’m having an existential crisis because none of the four remaining candidates vying for their party’s respective nominations adequately represent my personal beliefs,” or, “Boy, the concept of war as a profit-making enterprise distresses me in a way I cannot quite explain as there is no way that I can truly address the situation,” or maybe, “Certainly, I understand that there is global warming, but given that we’ve only been closely monitoring our climate over the last 200-some-odd years, and there are so many factors at play, from the 23-degree tilt in our axis to the ‘wobbles’ of both our planet’s natural orbit around the sun and the influence of the moon, the relative output of the sun based on geomagnetic or nuclear forces that we cannot yet measure, or maybe there are even factors that we don’t even know about contributing to climate change, but dammit, before we start screwing around with the climate, shouldn’t we attempt to flesh out the data set that we’re operating from?”
Okay, or maybe, “Geez, I’m in a bad mood because of work, school, or a familial, fraternal, or romantic relationship, and/or a combination of those factors, or possibly the weather.”
It’s a lot easier to say, “Dammit, Lilja, why do you keep turning the puck over,” isn’t it? Or to maybe break the bounds of what is sports talk and say, “Huh, what do you know, as it turns out they call him ‘Floppa’ for a sound orthopedic reason; his feet really were coming out from underneath him!”
If you’re statistically minded, however, a sports fan generally has a 50-50 chance of seeing a win or a loss, barring other factors…But as I proudly failed college statistics twice, let’s just say that for every win, there always seems to be a disheartening loss, and for hockey fans, only one of the thirty teams ends their year with a parade in June. The other 29 end their season on the golf course (what is it about golf, anyway? My whole family golfs, and I don’t…oh, wait, sorry, wrong website), so there’s almost inevitably a lot to complain about. The trade deadline and the start of unrestricted free agency just happen to be the two days where, playoff or regular-season ousters aside, we all think that our team’s general manager could have done better, and we’ve got individual lists of players we would have wanted to acquire, and players and draft picks we would have given up (or not given up) in a trade to get that most-wanted player or players.
To be honest, all this rambling aside, I love Samuelssen’s rationalizations for a simple fact—I love being a Wings fan because, playoff losses included, the team has won and won consistently over the last 15 seasons, they’ve won three Stanley Cup championships, the team’s had tremendous roster continuity, so (PR mismanagement included) I feel like I’ve “gotten to know” the vast majority of the roster. Sure, I’ve been a fan long enough to know that these players are paid a tremendous amount of money for what they do, probably disproportionate to the rest of society, and yes, I’m well aware of the fact that they don’t know me from a stick in the mud, but I’m okay with that. I think that most fans who’ve been through the lockout—and kept their eyes open to what was really going on, and who really manipulated the press, anyway—had to accept the “ugly” parts of sports more than most other sports’ fans.
Again, all of that being said? I love being a Red Wings fan because I live in a state with a crappy economy, unpredictable weather, a city that’s ragged upon relentlessly, and I still get to walk around with a smile on my face because my team plays such a highly-skilled, aesthetically-pleasing game that I sometimes get the giggles watching the things they do with the puck. I get to dissect the third-period let-down that led to an extra goal against, or the fact that our “depth defensemen” have proven their status while my team’s been ravaged by injuries, all while smiling as I watch some mid-round pick who was once better known for being Dion Phaneuf’s partner (and do not ask him about that, man, I did once, and “Meecher” was less than pleased) outplaying our “depth defensemen” by a Manitoban mile, eating up 27 minutes of ice time, taking 8 shots, and giving as good as he got from the Wings’ extremely-skilled forwards.
Being a Wings fan is awesome. It’s one of those rare “occupations” (if you will) in sports fandom where being positive is essential and integral to the experience, because, for all the slings and arrows you take for who you are and which team you root for (and where you come from), your team usually wins, and they do it by being the best team, having the best players, and under Mike Babcock, outworking the other team more nights than not.
Do I have my beefs? You better believe it, like any sports fan, I’ve got a list of dislikes and annoyances a mile long, and a few fundamental issues that I can go on about for hours, like the way the players are kept at arm’s length from the fans, but the on-ice product? Are you kidding me? When 4/6th of our defence isn’t out, watching the Red Wings play, and play the kind of high-skill, high-speed, puck-possession hockey they do, it’s something that can get you through the day, can get you over feeling under the weather, if only temporarily, can make you forget about the bad day at work, the troubles at home, even the reemergence of totalitarianism in Russia under Vladimir Putin, again, if only for a little while.
When I go to games, I get my money’s worth, especially under the realistically-revised ticket prices, I get to plop down the money for tickets and parking (I skip the concessions) and feel like I saw the best of what I think is “right” with hockey, the speed, skill, tremendous plays, big booming hits, scoring chances, scintillating saves, cycles of play, ebbs and flows of momentum, and hard work that allow me to tell people who don’t follow hockey that, in Detroit, anyway, they’re missing a helluva entertaining product and some players who really value the logo on the front over the laundry on the back. When I get to see an open practice, I get to see grown men giggling about how much fun they’re having getting paid to play a kid’s game, I get to see Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg play “keep away” in such a dazzling display of skill that even when they’re wrestling on the ice like kids, the puck’s dipsy-doodling and dangling from the blades of their sticks, and Filppula, Kopecky, and Hudler are waiting their turn playing with the masters of puck possession.
How can I not enjoy that? How can I not want to tell people about what I see, what I perceive and experience, not want to reach out and say, “Hey, come join the party,” or, “Hey, is this not most certainly Crescent Fresh?”
I don’t know which “you people” Samuelssen was referencing. I know that there are sports fans who make it their profession to complain about sports, who get off on nothing more than putting an athlete down, or explaining why they coach it better, run the team better, or very literally make better plays than the guys who get paid to execute them. He has to deal with them all the time, because that’s more or less what sports talk radio is, interviews aside—listening to people complain. As somebody who at least is making not-so-random stabs at eventually getting paid decently to write about sports, I can sure as hell tell you that the people who love to make anonymous comments or emails jab at every little mistake, and that’s annoying as can be, to the point that I can get to the point where I occasionally cringe when I see, “Snapshots Weblog: Feedback” or “Kukla’s Korner: You have just received a comment!”
But I’m a writer. I understand that for every 100 people that read what I say, 50 won’t care, 20 will react negatively, 10 of whom will hate what I say regardless of what I’m saying or how I’m saying it, but those last 30 people—the 10 that mildly say, “Huh, yeah, that was okay,” the ten that say, “Huh, that made me think,” the three who say, “Right on!” and the two who actually reach out and say, “Dude, thanks for writing that” (if those two ever do that, which is an exception to the rule)—those people are my audience, and while those aren’t great odds, and for that matter, they might be overly optimistic…I love what i do, and I want to share my opinions and insights and random thoughts. Negativity is a hard, hard thing to deal with, and we have this finite existence to live in that’s difficult, and, if you’re an existentialist, meaningless save the meaning you impart to it, and inherently futile.
Kind of like sports fandom. Relatively meaningless in the greater scheme of things, but important because you make it important.
I think it’s really damn important to say, “No, Mr. Samuelssen, you are making an incorrect assumption. I am a Detroit Red Wings fan, I am a hockey fan, I am one of ‘you people.’ Man, I love every minute of it, and the best part? The best part of being a Detroit Red Wings fan is that it’s such a positive and plain-old fun experience. I don’t think you can be spoiled if you know how lucky you are to be the fan of a team that’s as good as the Red Wings are, and enjoy it as much as I do.”
And I do.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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