CapsChick’s got me thinking again. She’s spent a lot of the past week dissecting the fanlove/fanhate relationships between followers of NHL teams and lamenting the way Pens fans will come be jerks at Verizon Center.
Seeing as how I’m tiptoeing perilously close to the Dark Side admitting that I’m a Pens fan who loves the Hershey Bears pretty close to unconditionally at this point, I wanted to deal with this for a minute.
I understand that sports will have rivalries. I lived through how many years of the OSU/UofO game back home in Oregon? I’ve played on teams with cross-town rivalries, and as an athlete, I can honestly say that the adrenaline gets going just that much MORE when you’re playing “THOSE GUYS” and you know you both have something to prove. I can even see how that adrenaline boost would give the spectators an even better game than normal to watch, so I can understand why big rivalry games sell out-that’s when you see your team performing at the top of their game as WELL as at the top of their endocrine system.
However, I don’t understand why rivalries have to become a pissing contest in which the game itself is virtually forgotten in favor of trash talking and threatening motions towards the other fans. Honestly, and this may be going out on a limb, I feel like it must be mostly male fans who go to this extreme of fan hatred. I, as a female, have never felt physically endangered when admitting what team I cheered for to another female fan. Granted, Kristin, Nadine and I may get into it verbally, arguing over the Flyers and the Penguins but we’re doing the internet equivalent of pillow fighting. I insult Briere’s parentage, and they make fun of Crosby’s hair. Never once before I met Kristin did I think “Oh, maybe I shouldn’t go meet her, she might punch my lights out for liking a different team.”
The same thing goes for CapsChick, Shmee and I. I stayed an entire two nights at Shmee’s house without fearing for my life, and with Shmee fully endorsing a good round of “Mock Ovechkin’s Photo-Face” and CapsChick laughing her butt off at “Ben Clymer’s Penguin Parents.” Technically, we’re rivals, but you’d be hard pressed to tell we weren’t just cheering for hockey half the time.
And I think that’s the most important thing that people miss. So often, people will say to me “Oh, you watch hockey, huh? Which is your team?” My usual response is “The Penguins, mostly, but if there’s hockey on, I’ll watch it.“
That right there says worlds about a person. Real fans, in my eyes, may favor a team, probably know quite a bit about the team as a whole, the individual players, and may even show unbridled adoration for a single player on the team, but know enough about other teams to watch and talk intelligently about them. If a person’s response is “Yeah, well my team could beat them.” that’s not a hockey fan. That’s someone who’s bought into the logo, they’ve bought into the spoonfed marketing, and they’re watching a machine play hockey. They don’t care who’s out there, but goddammit, that’s their logo on the ice.
Which really brings me back to the female/male issue. Women, from what I’ve learned from the Hlog girls, don’t watch hockey for the machine. We will be the ones out there who, even while watching a team we generally don’t, will learn a player’s name and start watching what he DOES, rather than what he doesn’t do, or even just glossing over him as another cog in the machine.
I’d also posit last night’s Bears game as another reason for the anti-machine hypothesis. Hershey is a town of around 13,000 people. This town of 13,000 has adopted the 20 some boys of the Bears for as long as they’re here, and often still follow their careers once they leave. Fans refer to them by first name, and a good number of people in the town have run into them in grocery stores, at hair salons, and etcetera. Bears fans KNOW their team. They love their team, almost unconditionally.
Last night, the man next to me was a Flyers fan. Across the rink there were four or five Caps jerseys in a cluster. Two Penguins fans were down behind a goal. A lady in a Wild jersey was up to my right across the ice. There were Reading Royals jerseys. There were Jonestown Chiefs jerseys. Hell, I could have worn my Canucks jersey and not been out of place. All these people rooted for the Bears, yes, but also rooted for their other separate teams. And last night, with all these 9,000 some people in the same arena?
There were no issues at all. Because dammit, we were watching our boys play hockey.
And that, THAT is what the game is all about.