There are a two important things about sports
may people forget. First of all, it helps to pick one team and root for them over time. Best of all if it's a local team. You don't need to spend your whole weekend in front of the television
sucking up potato chips
. You can watch your one game and get on with your life. And you can get to know this one team. You learn each players story
, and take a bit of them into you. Over the years, that compiled data ads up to lore
, something that can be shared.
And that leads to the second truth about sport, it is best when shared, and reinforced when you share your passion for that team with others. We don't go to the game alone. We go with others who share our passion for the game. We have parties where the game is watched together. We break bread with other fans, and watch our teams ups and downs in fellowship.
It is true that sticking to single team means not every season will prove victorious. But that's not bad either. There's joy in shared misery, and each new season brings fresh hopes and joys as new players and coaches rotate in. As a fan of the Ohio State University I define football success as a national or Big Ten championship. But for other teams success is defined differently. A trip to the NCAA tournament is one measure. Beating a loathed rival is another. I discovered baseball in the 1960s and the Cleveland Indians were my home town franchise. Back then Indians fans defined success as season where we won more games than we lost. You lost a lot of games as an Indians fan back then. Sustained mediocrity gives fans an enormous appreciation of success. Nothing is sweeter than when your team emerges from the desert of defeat into the spotlight of victory. When the Indians started going in the '90s you could feel the energy everywhere
In hockey, my home team is the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Jackets have been known as a measure of utility, one of three professional sports franchises to have never played a playoff game. We used to joke about this, correctly pointing out we were the only National Hockey League franchise to have never lost a playoff game. But the joke is bitter, for it implies that every season has ended in games without meaning. But they are my home team, and I share my passion for them and the game of hockey with several friends. In fact, it has helped bond us together. And this year's team has been different. I get the same feeling I did back in the 90s when the Indians started down the road that led to two trips to the World Series. There's a buzz on the street when your team starts beating the same people it always lost to, and in their house.
So it was last night when I and about 350 other Blue Jackets fans found ourselves at the R Bar, Columbus's only hockey bar. We came knowing that one measly point was all that stood between us and the Jackets' first trip to the playoffs. The game was against the Chicago Blackhawks, and original six franchise with a long and storied tradition and current holders of the fourth playoff spot. The Chicago crowd was loud and partisan, and spirits fell when the Jackets fell behind 2-0, one goal having been knocked in by our team Captain and all-star Rick Nash.
In the past, we would have been done. The old Jackets would have folded under adversity on the road. Not anymore. The Jackets rallied to tie it. And with each beer the high fives and screams became louder. We cheered like we were at the United Center and wanted our players to take heart from us. We laughed and told stories, though I knew none of the people next to me. Our hearts fell when we fell behind 3-2 but leapt again when Nash scored a goal to tie the game at three. We were all in shock when Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock sent defenseman Fedor Tyutin out in the shootout. But we were screaming when he scored the winning goal.
And so it came to pass: The Columbus Blue Jackets are now in the playoffs, and a team absolutely nobody wants to meet in the first round. Our cheering could be heard from blocks away. We bought rounds for each other slapped hands, cheered and hugged. Couples began groping in earnest. We had the finest of sports moments, shared joy from a long awaited triumph. And it was sweet!
This year the Jackets lose their first playoff game.