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There are many books and essays out there what it is that draws people to professional sports.  The pride, the competition, the feeling that, even if you aren’t playing, the players represent you, in some way.

To a non-sports fan, this all seems silly.  I mean, why do 50,000 people pack Yankee Stadium to see grown men swing a stick at a ball?  And in Canada, why the relentless 24/7 media coverage of NHL hockey, where, as one good friend described it, “Men put knives on the bottom of their shoes and chase a frozen rubber ball.”

While I can understand how non-sports fans can ridicule the passion of those who eat, breathe and live their team’s ups and downs, I sure have a hard time explaining the feeling of despair I feel today.

For those unaware, the Vancouver Canucks are a hockey team from Vancouver.  They played their 40th season this year, and have never won anything – ever.  For many of those 40 years, they hung near the bottom of the standings, yet fans still poured their heart and soul into the team.  Twice, in 1982 and 1994, they made the Stanley Cup Championship Final.  Both times, they were beaten by New York teams, the second time resulting in ugly riots in Vancouver.

But this year was different.

Not only did we finish with the President’s Trophy for the first time in franchise history, meaning we topped league standings in the regular season, but many of our players are up for individual awards as well.  We were dominant all year, and all of us in Canucks Nation felt this would be different.  Maybe, maybe, after so many years of heartbreak, we could finally celebrate a championship for the city and franchise.

My friend in Beijing turned Grinders, a sandwich bar in Shuangjing, into a Canucks playoff headquarters.  Fans there woke up to catch games at 7am, 8am, 9am and 10am, even once in the middle of the night at 3am, because they felt it.  People took days off work or called in sick.  This is it.  In Hong Kong, at the conclusion of the first round of the playoffs (there are four rounds), I ran up to a bar on my lunch break to watch overtime between Vancouver and Chicago.  When we scored to advance to round two, about 40 fans erupted in joy.  I was in my suit, hugging other fans and cheering the team so far away with so many others who cared just as much.  The owner, from Saskatchewan, said he would buy a free round of beer for everyone there.  He understood.

As the playoff run continued, more fans showed, I launched a website called Nuck Yeah! that united fans in bars and pubs around the world.  Up until game time this morning, I was still receiving tips from fans in places such as Prague, San Francisco, and Cambodia.  Hockey is not on most people’s radar, but the passion and ferver with which fans come together to find a place showing the game — any place — makes it more special than a Superbowl Sunday or World Series.  We know about this sport, and we care, even if most people don’t.

Our team was banged up and bruised.  A few players were injured.  We led the best of 7 final 3-2 with game 6 in Boston on Tuesday morning China time.  The players flew their families in, just in case this was the moment when 40 years of losing would end.  Unfortunately, the Boston Bruins had other ideas, and sent the series back to Vancouver for game 7.  Which was this morning.

I flew into Phuket last night for a few days of rest and relaxation.  Upon arrival at the hotel at around 2am, I discovered the internet wasn’t working (which would prevent viewing of the biggest game of my lifetime).  I called the front desk and said I selected this hotel because it promised free internet, so can it be fixed?  He said the internet team comes in at 8:30am, so they can fix it in the morning.  Knowing the game started at 6:30am, this was not sufficient.  Needless to say, some stern talk, and even a bribe, passed hands to get that damn internet up and running.  There was no way I would miss this.

I was groggy when the alarm went off, and even a bit nervous.  As the game progressed, Boston took a 1-0 lead, then a 2-0 lead.  Then they went up 3-0.  Then, we knew it was over.

It’s hard to explain the feeling that came next.  Since last September, our team has been picked to win it all.  Then the season came — 82 games of preparation for the playoffs.  When the playoffs began, there was a tremendous feeling of anticipation.  This isn’t like past teams.   Tens of thousands were gathering in downtown Vancouver to watch games on screens set up for the occasion, and fans gathered in pockets spanning the entire globe.   It finally felt like we could throw the monkey off our backs this year.  But in the end, we lost — just like every single one of the 40 seasons before it.  We have never been the best.  Not once.  And it hurts.

The feeling is a bit like a child on the evening of December 25th — weeks of preparation and excitement and guessing at Christmas gifts, only to have all that excitement end in a few hours on Christmas morning.  Then there’s nothing to look forward to until next year.  It is an unbelievable high one moment, and then a breathtaking letdown the next.  (Christmas wasn’t that big of a let down for me, but you get my point…)

The question I find fascinating is why people feel so connected to their sports team, no matter what league it’s in.  When I was younger, I was a big sports fan and closely followed baseball, Canadian football (which is the NFL for Canada), hockey, and even NBA basketball for a time.  I got my start in broadcasting because I dreamed of being an analyst for hockey games.  As I got older, other priorities overtook sports, but my love of the game of hockey – and the Vancouver Canucks in particular – endured.  For whatever reason, after being a fan this long, the team has become a part of me.  I remember catching the school bus to my grade 9 classes in 1994, the last time they made the finals, talking with classmates and joking around.  Who knew the next time we made it that far again, I’d be a full-grown adult watching in Phuket, Thailand?  I shudder to think how long it will be before we get another chance.

But as with everything, life goes on.  I suppose being in a place like Phuket, with the tropical air and waves rolling up the sandy beaches, should help to compensate for the loss.  But it isn’t.  Right now, there’s just a feeling of disappointment, and a feeling of embarrassment: why did we let ourselves believe?

Sorry to bring this up on an otherwise China-related blog.  I just had to get it off my chest.

As for the Canucks, I guess there’s always next year.

 

 

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1 Comments

  1. XQ says:

    Well Written….. Get to understand more about your passion for the game, or the sport.