So. The Cubs, hey? 108 years of misery finally coming to an end, although not with a few coronaries along the way. Up by three runs with an inning and a half to go? Almost a sure thing, you would have though. The defibrillators at the Cleveland stadium would have no doubt been needed once Cleveland tied it up – for fans of both teams. And how they came back from a three games-to-one deficit was pretty impressive. It was only the sixth time in World Series history that a team has come back from the brink like that. Just cements the train of thought that this was a team of destiny.
The opposite side of the coin (known in the numismatics business as the “obverse”), of course, would be how the Indians would be feeling. And, indeed, how the city of Cleveland would be coping. Having won their first “city” title since 1964 a few months back, with the Cavaliers winning the basketball championship (strangely enough, coming back from a three-games-to-one deficit as well), the denizens of that city would have, no doubt, been pretty confident about needing more champagne to celebrate their superiority in a particular sport.
But this is the beauty of sport, is it not? As Jim McKay used to quote at the start of the Wide World of Sports back in the 70s – it’s the thrill of victory, it’s the agony of defeat. And if you can remember Jim saying that, you’ll also always remember the ski jumper going head over heels in the introduction. You’d probably remember the weightlifter, too. I don’t know who that guy was, but I’m sure the World Anti-Doping Agency would like to have a retrospective word with him. For those of you with a nostalgic bent, here’s the promo: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2AZH4FeGsc. Apparently, David Letterman was a reporter on the Wide World of Sports. See? You CAN learn something every day.
There are people in the world who say they don’t care about sport. I have a feeling that these are the same sort people that eat brussel sprouts on a regular basis, or willingly drink non-alcoholic beer (unless they’ve got a medical condition, of course – hi, mom!). I don’t understand how someone can’t feel even a small sense of excitement if there’s a close game or a playoff game is on the idiot box. I have always felt it’s a primal instinct, to watch individuals or a team beat the holy hell out of each other. I dunno, maybe it’s a missing gene or something.
For the rest of us, though, the mad sports followers, we can be split into two groups: one is the group that will watch ANYTHING sports related, such as tractor pulling, volleyball, the first rounds of a golf tournament or even cricket. Oops, I’d better be careful, might be some Australian Immigration Officer who catches wind of that. Anyway, you’ll usually find these people live in a small apartment filled with lots of sports memorabilia on the walls, and zero female companionship. The other group, and the group that I probably relate to most, is the group that will sit down and watch most sports, assuming that either the other half doesn’t have the remote and isn’t interested in watching the game.
Naturally, I don’t mean to insinuate that women aren’t as dedicated to the sports-watch as the fellas, of course. Some of the most intense sports people I’ve met or known about are women. My wife isn’t one of them, nor have I had any past girlfriends that have shared my dedication – but I’m certainly working on brainwashing indoctrinating my daughter. The thing with the kid, though, is that she doesn’t really want to WATCH the game – just wants to know what the results are. Very happy when the team wins, very disappointed when the team loses. Guess there’s still some work to do there, though.
It would be a shame, though, to perpetuate the myth that most women follow sport simply for watching the men. While, admittedly, my blushing bride started following Australian Rules Football in this way, she’s become quite the passionate and knowledgeable supporter ever since. Long story short, I dragged her to the footy one day (I didn’t want to go by myself, and she had a rare weekend off), despite having a life-long distaste for the game. Once she saw a certain player on my team, her interest was piqued. But after that player was traded to a different team, she became more interested in the game itself, and now loves the game as much as anyone.
One of my former bosses, Dawn, has written a book (“Real Women Love Footy”) about what Australian Rules Football means to her, which is worth a read. The missus and I get a mention in the book, describing the tale above, which was nice. But Dawn is most definitively not the sort of supporter you say bad things about her team. While I’m certain she has nothing against me personally, there always seems to be a bit of underlying tension, considering my team has beaten her team every time since 2011. The things said about my side after the latest loss was rather uncomplimentary. Her passion, though, is undeniable, and most indicative of the support that women have in any particular sport.
Personally, I’m pretty fortunate in my sporting life. I’ve seen my BC Lions win a Grey Cup with zero time left on the clock (with the great, nay, LEGENDARY Lui Passaglia kicking a field goal as time expired). I’ve seen my AFL team do something that only five other teams have done in the history of the game (spanning over one hundred and fifty years) and win three premierships in a row. I’ve seen the Seattle Seahawks fulfil their promise a few years ago and finally win a Super Bowl. I watched Joe Carter hit a home run to win a World Series for the Toronto Blue Jays. Pretty good, yeah? Well, all that good stuff is balanced out with my lifelong love affair with the Vancouver Canucks.
I can’t remember exactly what year I started following the Canucks. I think it was 1975 but it might have been 1976. I remember, vividly, waking up one day and seeing a Canucks team calendar in my room. My dad had gone to the gas station, or Shopper Drug Mart, or somewhere and picked one up for me. I don’t recall much about hockey at that age – although no doubt I was watching the iconic Hockey Night in Canada at the time. But that calendar opened up, somehow, the pathways to a passionate following that lasts to this day. But really, I’ve been following them for forty years. What else am I going to do? Follow some other team? Too late for that.
In 1982, when I was twelve, we made our first Stanley Cup Final. (As a side note, have you ever noticed that fans use the term “we” in relation to their sports team, even though we don’t have any physical connection? Perhaps it’s the spiritual, emotional and monetary connection that causes us to do so). I was probably too young to appreciate the effort that it took to make it to that level. I just remember the series leading to that point, and how we were led by my second favourite Canuck ever (#12 – the Steamer, Stan Smyl) into battle against the mighty New York Islanders. Unfortunately, that Cup Final ended in tears. We lost the first game in overtime, and got our butts handed to us in four straight. The Islanders were in the middle of their dynasty – eventually winning four in a row – and the general feeling in the community was that we’d done well to get there.
We had some pretty awful teams after that Cup run, though, so any thoughts of future glory quickly dissipated. So, it was with great anticipation that we found ourselves in the Final in 1994, against the powerhouse New York Rangers. To be honest, we were lucky to get to that series – we had to overcome a three-games-to-one deficit against the Flames – thank the hockey gods for Pavel Bure – but we earned our spot in the final by beating Dallas and Toronto in relatively short order.
I don’t remember many people giving us too much of a shot that year, but while we had the heart that the team in ’82 had shown, we also had better skilled players that our team was missing twelve years prior. Players like Greg Adams, the aforementioned Pavel Bure, Kirk MacLean, and Jykri Lumme were all skill to go compliment guys like Cliff Ronning and my all-time favourite player, the captain, Trevor Linden, who were the heart and soul with that game. We started to really believe when we went to Madison Square Garden and beat the Rangers in Game One. Unfortunately, it was all downhill for the next few games, and we found ourselves down – you guessed it – three games to one. But the team rose to the challenge, and beat the Rangers at MSG in game five – disappointing all those who were waiting for a coronation. Then the Canucks played the best hockey game I’ve ever seen, beating the Rangers 4-1 to take it back to New York for a Game Seven.
Being the Canucks, though, there was no happy ending. We were down 3-1 by the end of the second period, and despite the heroic efforts of Linden, and a near miss by Nathan Lafayette, hitting the post with about thirty seconds to play – oh, I can still hear the “ping” off the post – bloody Mark Messier was the one accepting the silver trophy. And our dreams had to wait. Again.
That series hurt, but it was nothing compared to what happened in 2011. If you were to ask any Canucks fan, 100% of them would tell you the worst experience they’ve ever had in their lifetime would be the Stanley Cup Final that year. You want know how much it still hurts me? I was driving home the other day, and I was about to pass a car – until I saw the car had a Boston Bruins sticker on the back window. I followed him the rest of the way home. There was no way I was going to let him see the Canucks sticker on my bumper.
We were the best team that year – by a long way. We had the equivalent of five more wins than the next best team in the league. We had the best scorer in the league, we had the best goalie tandem, and we have the best defence in the league. Why wouldn’t we be confident? Oh, sure, it took us to overtime in the seventh game against Chicago in the first series (despite having a – you guessed it – three games to one lead) – but once we made it past Nashville and San Jose, we felt – we knew – this was the year. And then it was time to face Boston. Mother-loving Boston.
Boston and Tampa Bay played in the Eastern Conference Final. I wanted Tampa to win, because I knew what Boston’s goalie, Tim Thomas, was capable of. But Boston won 1-0, in a game that didn’t have any penalties for Boston. I felt, without any logic, that was BS, but at any rate, it was Boston in our way to glory. Any thought of game-rigging disappeared when we went up two-zip in the series. That was it – I made plans to be on a plane to Vancouver within the next few days. Sadly, it was not before the Canucks lost 8-1 in Game Three. I was even more chastened when the stewardess told me over the Pacific that the Canucks had lost 4-0 in Game Four.
I went to Game Five with my best mate, and without a word of exaggeration, it was the best sporting event I’ve ever been to. It was electric. It was a tight, hard, defensive game, each side doing their damnedest to win the game, and be one win away from the ultimate glory. And it was us who scored early in the third period. And the atmosphere got even more intense. I still have the video of the last minute or so from the game, with about twenty thousand of my closest friends and I in the arena going absolutely insane. It was beautiful. It was magical. It was… our last win of the year.
We had both a 2-0 and a 3-2 lead in the series, and we went back to Boston for Game Six, and got smashed – the Bruins had a 4-0 lead after ten minutes, and ended up with a 5-2 win. The series went back to Vancouver for Game Seven, and it wasn’t close. We lost 4-0, the first time the home team had lost on home ice. It was the first time I cried after a sporting event. Me, an adult, crying over a damn game. But I don’t think for a minute that I was the only one.
And so, Cleveland fans, I know exactly how you feel right now. It’s a lost opportunity for your team, and the pain is so, so vivid. I’m hoping that you guys can make amends, and win your first Series in almost seventy years next year. I want to see Drew Carey doing exactly what Bill Murray was doing during the Cubs celebrations over the past few days. We all know that’s a lot more fun than having to deal with a victory hangover than a defeat hangover.
Sport is an integral part of life. It brings, sometimes, the worst in us, but it also brings many people together. After each of the championship games I’ve been to, I’ve hugged many people without fear of being arrested, and we all shared euphoria that lasts to this day. Of course, on the other hand, many of the Canuck fans I’m in contact never talk about 2011, but we could if we wanted to. And so, since you’re reading this, I like you, and I wish you have some sporting success in your life! Unless, of course, you follow the Bruins.