Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Why do we come back?

A fictional movie character once said in a voice that sounded exactly like James Earl Jones, "People will come, Ray. They'll find they have reserved seats somewhere along one of the baselines, where they sat when they were children and cheered their heroes. And they'll watch the game and it'll be as if they dipped themselves in magic waters. The memories will be so thick they'll have to brush them away from their faces....It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh, people will come Ray. People will most definitely come." If the movie, Field of Dreams taught us anything, it is that our passion for our favourite sport can often overcome our own common sense. As hockey fans, we tend to cross a very fine line between being the most passionate people on Earth and being the most naive.

Here we are as hockey fans, on the eve of another long stretch of regular season games that span from October through April, and we're committed to following every detail of our team and their foes during that time. And what do we do in April? We prepare for a second season that we hope and pray will last another two months through mid-June. If our team gets eliminated earlier than that, we utter what would otherwise be seen as ridiculous comments by non-hockey fans: "Summer has come too soon," and "I can't wait for this stupid summer to be over so we can get back to the cold winter." Some would say we commit the ultimate no-no in any relationship - we love someone who doesn't love us back. We pour our hearts into the Senators each and every spring playoff run and always end up with a sickening taste in our mouths, so bad that we're actually wishing we just had a regular hangover. It's as if Jeff Friesen or Jason Pominville or Joe Nieuwendyk personally walked into our living room and kicked our dog and drank our orange juice and left without saying sorry, that's how awful we feel. And do you know what else we sometimes do? We promise ourselves and our peers that we must be leery of becoming this involved in the team this coming fall.

But we aren't less involved in the fall, are we? Even worse, we've found a way to justify why our team will really win it all this year. We write off the departed as greedy nogoodniks and hail the newcomers as the missing links. We read the paper each morning and look at the line combinations from yesterday's practice, and we read up on how our new goalie looked in warmups. The proverbial water cooler becomes the office hot spot once again. We stop talking about the putt Johnny missed on the 17th last weekend and we start talking about why Jason Spezza will win the scoring title. And before you know it, it's opening night in Toronto and you've got your jersey on your back and the television is turned up far too loud. Your Microsoft Outlook calendar is filled with home games and you're actually checking flights to see if your family could take a quick vacation to the south during the Florida/Tampa/Carolina road trip in November. Guess what, friend? You're back. You said you wouldn't be here, but you were wrong and you are once again walking on the tightrope between passionate and naive.

When the puck drops tomorrow night in Toronto and our latest installment tries once again to be the last team on the ice, take comfort in this: your entire city will be right beside you cheering for their Sens. We're not naive, we're passionate. We love our team and we love how it brings our city together. We may arrive at Scotiabank Place complaining about the drive out past Kanata, but as soon as we come across and mock a lost soul in a Toronto or Montreal jersey, we're united once again. The naysayers say that we love a team that doesn't love us back. Whether or not you believe this doesn't seem to matter when you consider the effects that NHL hockey has on our community. Thousands of children have had the opportunity to play on the Senators ice and call it the Rink of Dreams. Did you hear that? It is a kid's dream come true to step on that ice, all because it is the same ice where Daniel Alfredsson plays. Oour neighbours participate in charity events to raise money for great causes, partly because we're a great city and partly because Mike Fisher does it, too. On the other side of the picture, adults shed tears and prayed at night for the families of Chris Neil and Wade Redden when they each experienced tragic losses during last season. We welcomed Dany Heatley into our city and into our hearts when he wanted to turn the corner on a difficult past. Now you tell me there isn't a bit of love and passion involved in the relationship between the Senators and their fans. How do they show their appreciation? They show up each fall and put on our team's colours and play their guts out for 9-10 months of the year in pursuit of our common dream.

Terrence Mann hits the nail on the head - people will come. On this, the eve of another NHL campaign, we count down the hours until puck drop and we think about what player's name and number we'll get printed on our next jersey. Our hangover is over and we've forgotten about Pominville and the empty carton of juice in the fridge. It's as if we're peeking out from underneath our security blanket and we see Daniel Alfredsson saying, "I hope you're ready, because we need you," and without even thinking you just nod your head to acknowledge that, yes, you'll be there. And all of a sudden, all you see are the 82 games in front of you and your team and it occurs to you that everything is falling back into place. Order is restored. The boys are on the ice again and tomorrow night at 7:30ish, the only thought in our passionate/naive minds will be about our hatred of the Leafs.

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