The NHL lost a fan today at about 4:30 PM EDT.
He was not an ordinary, everyday hockey fan. He was a long-time season ticket holder for the New York Rangers. He and his family not only attended games at the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden, but also traveled to other cities that had difficulties filling their arenas (whether it was due to the team’s fortunes or just a general disinterest in hockey).
Like many hockey fans, he became interested playing the game as a young boy until an injury prevented further play. He was also lucky enough to have a dad who had access to tickets at MSG, and he was a frequent spectator.
Like most Ranger fans, his life as a Ranger fan had nothing to do with winning and everything to do with tradition and loyalty. He had to wait 38 years of his life to finally see Mark Messier hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in hockey’s top-rated market. Following the joy of 1994, the ensuing twelve seasons were, at best, frustrating and included some of the greatest team failures in the Rangers’ long history.
Needless to say, you have probably figured out who that fan is. So let me tell you why I am abandoning hockey after 39 years.
The 2006 – 2007 season was shaping up to end in another disappointment, but the team made a fabulous turn-around and finished the season strong. Following a sweep of the Atlanta Thrashers in the first-round, the Rangers’ had the misfortune of drawing the Buffalo Sabres in the second round. The misfortune had nothing to do with Sabres ranking as the NHL’s top-rated team but more with the fact that NHL management and the hockey media already crowned the Buffies as the Stanley Cup champs.
The city of Buffalo had always been a non-entity to me, the northern version of El Paso, Texas. First of all, how can you like a city named after a big, ugly smelly animal? Buffalo is dirty with extreme weather and it makes absolutely no contribution to the culture or sophistication of the United States (if anything, it detracts from it). If Buffalo disappeared, nobody would care. Their sports teams have historically collapsed and choked in championship games, a fact that will haunt them again when they fail to win the Stanley Cup this year.
Let’s recognize that these fans are flakes … three years ago, when the Buffies were also-rans, they sold 5,700 season tickets in a 15,000 seat arena and played to a deserted arena many nights. This is clearly an indication of poor team loyalty. Their third-round loss last year to the ultimate Cup winners, Carolina, made the Buffies the darlings of upstate New York. Carolina’s failure to make the 2007 playoffs bodes well for the Buffies, so fan loyalty is a bandwagon issue.
But this year I developed a personal grudge against Buffalo and their hockey fans. Early this season, in November, the Rangers played the Buffies at MSG and the the usual Buffy fans who were stupid enough to pay three and four times the face value of tickets to get in were there. It was obvious early on, as it is listening to Buffalo home crowds, that Buffy fans know absolutely nothing about hockey. That is almost understandable. However, these Buffy fans were the rudest, most obnoxious people that I have encountered at any sporting event.
You could say that this might be a case of the pot calling the kettle black … after all, the Rangers are New York City’s team. Ranger fans are highly disrespectful to the refs, the Islanders, the Flyers and Denis Potvin. But there is a difference between disrespectful, and rude/crude. For example, Ranger fans will chant at the refs whereas Islander fans throw garbage on the ice.
Ranger fans are at least somewhat conscious of the fact that hockey games are attended by children and women. You will hear the word “s**k” (which is heard on radio and network TV regularly) and an occasional “A**HOLE” cheer for the refs.
But Buffy fans at MSG are regularly removed for starting fights and yelling obscenities that would make truck drivers and sailors blush. My problem with Buffy freaks is that one of them decided it would be funny to throw a plastic beer bottle from the upper level down at my wife during this November game. Fortunately, she was more in shock than injured despite a small cut, bump and minor concussion. Am I blaming a whole city for the actions of one idiot? Yes, I am. But nobody cares about Buffalo except those who were damned enough to end up living there (some instant karma?).
After all, can you imagine anyone saying, “Honey, I have always dreamed of vacationing in Buffalo!” Better yet: “Honey, I have to move to Buffalo now or I can’t face another day.” It is truly a mystery to me why all the great jobs and major corporations have refused to find a home in Buffalo.
Anyway, back to the NHL.
The man at the controls of the NHL is Colin Campbell. No, he is not the commissioner but he is in charge of the referees and, more importantly, the video review team. Campbell was a nondescript NHL player for about twelve years and was lucky enough to be an assistant coach when the Rangers won the Cup in 1994. The following season, he became head coach and was fired four years later when he started the first year of the Rangers’ playoff absence for eight straight seasons. He joined the NHL offices and has been sticking it to the Rangers ever since, and takes every chance he can to screw them.
Today was the last straw.
Campbell’s stupidity in trying to bury the Rangers is that the Rangers and Detroit are the only two teams of the original six NHL teams in the playoffs. Montreal, Toronto, Boston and Chicago did not even qualify for the playoffs. Why would you want to railroad the largest hockey market in the United States out of the playoffs? NBC should be headed for the trauma room because the exit of the Rangers will send the TV ratings for the playoffs into the toilet.
The third game between the Rangers and the Buffies is about to enter the second overtime. Through the first two games, the refs were calling everything they could against the Rangers and ignoring obvious infractions by Buffy players (click HERE to read my post on CONSISTENCY). Campbell nullified a Ranger goal in the second period today after an instant replay review, a call that baffled the NBC announcers and every other hockey guru watching the game. Later, in the third period, the refs called four straight penalties against the Rangers.
It was then I relaized that watching hockey had stopped being pleasurable.
More important was the realization that some bald-headed geek was sitting in front of a TV monitor in Toronto making arbitrary, self-serving decisions that were controlling my enjoyment of the game. All of a sudden, I started remembering Rollerball, Marshall McLuhan, Wilson Bryan Key and Karen Horney. Damn it! I had fallen into the media trap that I always believed I was too smart and educated to buy.
Sports are another method for polarizing Americans but, even more frightening, team loyalties and competition provide an arena atmosphere for inappropriate, anti-social behavior. Imagine … praying to God for a team to win or for another team’s player to get hurt! Try to picture adults watching their children curse and scream obscenities. People who call themselves fans boo their own team … better yet, some morons in the upper decks curse out players on the ice, truly believing the players can hear them. It’s a damn hockey game and we are making it into a modern-day version of the Christians versus the Lions at the Coliseum.
We have made “winning the game” more important than the enjoyment of the game. We can’t appreciate the skill of players because we’re too busy watching the refs decide the outcomes with inconsistent, bad calls (or non-calls). Again, the lack of balance and consistency are the messages we need to address as a people. We need to find things to unify us as human beings rather than dwelling on things that send us to opposite corners.
For what it is worth, the Rangers won the game in the second overtime. Colin Campbell failed in his mission to have the Rangers swept out by the Buffies. All he has done is cost the NHL a really devoted fan. I’m done.
But I still hate Buffalo.