Due to my mom’s hatred for wild and ruthless confrontation, she never exposed me to the toothless sport of hockey. The one time I attempted to watch it, I experienced so much trouble following the puck on our 32” rounded screen TV, I gave up instantly and turned on another competitive activity, Iron Chef.
For me, I liked other easier-to-follow sports and simply stuck my thumb up at any band wagon that would pick me up on its way to the playoffs. You see, growing up we moved plenty and clicking my ruby slippers to take me to a “home” meant Maui, Albuquerque OR Simi Valley. Try picking a football team with those choices. It’s impossible!! But eventually the fair weather way of fandom became embarrassing and my reluctance to settle down turned lonely.
The solution: place two quarters into a dispenser holding NFL team stickers and whatever team slid out had my heart. I’ve been a Philadelphia Eagles’ fan since. Ugh.
Many many hockey seasons passed before I took another shot at watching a game and when I started dating a guy who lived for it I needed to lace up and learn to love it. It took grave patience to teach me the rules, point out the fast-moving black speck (“or is that a bug?!”), and tell me the deep-rooted traditions of the coveted Stanley Cup. Stanleyâ€¦What a namesake. He helped me turn over a new leaf (type: maple) of embracing MY OWN HOME team from inception.
The team: “under major construction” Los Angeles Kings.
Winning never seemed so out of reach and the reality of becoming a true fan to something backhanded me right in the face. It pained me to follow a “rebuilding” team…
“How long does it take to rebuild?!” I questioned after every loss.
Slowly, after grasping the intricacies of this new sport and also an understanding for the necessity of forgiveness, I developed an emotional attachment for the team…as individuals. When someone got traded, I shivered at the image of him in some other uniform. When someone got checked, my heart cringed and my body coiled. When someone made a horrible play, I shuddered. Suddenly, I found myself punching the air when they won and punching a pillow when they lost with actual sentiment behind each follow through.
As they rebuilt their team, I built my loyalty from the ground up in a different way than the Eagles because Los Angeles was home nowâ€¦and the Kings, my home team.
My new investment once took me to Costco where I opened a membership in order to get Bob Miller’s book signed; it drove me to Fan Participation Day to watch the players skate around casually for their fans; and after my boyfriend and I broke up, my journey with the team continued and sat me behind Alexander Frolov’s family at a game. They made me drink with them. I don’t remember that game, but I do remember it being warmer than usual.
Now, as we are all aware, the Kings brushed off the dirty ice and transformed into a polished team that made it to the 2012 playoffs as the 8th seed. If you don’t know sports that means there are other bandwagons with far more appeal.
I watched every game either at a dumb sports bar (the sports bars in the West Hollywood area are actually dumb) or my friend’s house, where we made salads, punched the air, a pillow or on occasion, each other’s fists. As the wins tallied up, the dream of a Stanley Cup Championship became a tangible reality.
“Ok. So each player gets the cup for a day or two if their team wins,” I recalled this particular tradition to a friend. “They do whatever they want with it. What would you do?”
“Hmmmâ€¦My uncle got me into hockey,” (everyone has a reason for loving a team or a sport, don’t they? It’s incredible.) “I would visit his grave with it. Then I’d drink ’61 Monfortino out of it.”
“Oh, that’s a good one!! I think I’d find a way to wear it as a hat and go to the races.”
During the finals, my anxiety boiled for many reasons:
1) The need to be around a large group of like-minded fans who will chant and hug
2) The thought of losing
3) The thought of winning
4) The debate of whether or not to contact my ex-boyfriend. We are and will always be on good terms, but he’s married now. Is it necessary?
5) I plucked three chin hairs and immediately after, they lost. Everyone blamed me for getting rid of my playoff beard.
6) The absolute desire to go to a game ..but tickets? A FORTUNE
Once it came to game four the city KNEW the Kings would win the cup. We knew it. We felt it. We tasted it. I began googling how to create a fastener out of a 34.5 lb trophy. (Note: it’s not possible. Also note: I bet it is. Also note: I’m bad at googling.). I left work early to bare the chaos and met friends deep in the rumble of LA Live and suffered numerous anxiety attacks, for I figured the celebratory riots would end my life. After the forgivable loss we all agreed that if they make it back for Game 6, we would not endure downtown Los Angeles again.
Game 5, I watched with my friend Lauren and her dedicated family whose 5-yr-old grandson became my student. I taught him how to yell at the TV during crucial moments. He later asked, “Do you sleep alone?”
They lost and an insufferable stress tapped me on the shoulder, reminding me of the pressure to watch Game 6 somewhere spectacular. Good god, it’s the last thing I wanted but if they won the cup, it would be history. First time for them. First time for the fans. First time for an 8th seed to hoist the damn thing above their banged up heads before gently kissing it and passing it along from player to playerâ€¦
The day before game 6, I received a text.
“Would you pay $500 for a ticket? Let me know, I’ll try.”
My heart stopped, then very rapidly started again and I ran straight to mommy for advice. She recalled the time she witnessed the Angels take the World Series.
“It is something I will never forget. No other event I’ve ever been to can match the energy in that stadium. I hate hockey, but I advise you to go to that game.”
My mom is the most frugal person on the planet. If she says yes, so do I. I texted, “YES!”
The day of the game, my ticket fell through but my friend was still going. I HAD to also go. My face burned with adrenaline and my heart pounded like the glass bordering the rink being hit by fans during a fight. I refreshed StubHub all day until prices began to dropâ€¦As they did, so did my heart because I had feelings of buyer’s remorse before the purchase even happened.
“MOM! They’re $600.”
“BUY A TICKET,” she kept strangely encouraging.
I had ten minutes to decide after a day of the most unrefreshing refreshing. While reading a piece by Bill Simmons I was touched by the line, “Of the 75 greatest moments of my life, sports were involved in at least 20 of them” and made a deal with myself to buy a ticket. $565 later, I had a single seat in the premiere section. “I am sitting alone but will make lifelong friends tonight,” I figured as I packed my purse with pepper spray and deodorant, held my relentless heart and headed to the Staples Center with a Kings’ fan of 30+ years.
I entered the venue in a tizzy, my smile anything but toothless, and took my seat.
I sat next to Greg, also alone but gregarious and open to hugging and high-fiving. I know this because I asked if he minded my embrace during moments of excitement. Unfortunately, he moved down five rows to hug his friends instead and I had to force high-fives with the twerps surrounding me. After the Kings’ second goal, and tapping my heels with jittery delight I joined Greg, who almost knocked me down with enthusiasm. “SIT BY ME!!!!!! YES!!! DANIELLE!! YES!!!” I felt at home. At home.
Payton, my new buddy to my right bought me a cocktail to calm my nerves and the man behind me dictated the entire game with the emotion of a proud mother and the passion of a man who’s watched this team for years without regret. As the goals pelted the scoreboard, the crowd realized we all were about to witness something special. Edges of seats remained occupied only on the rare moments when it wasn’t a standing room only. My hands shifted from my cheeks to the top of my head to the shoulders of my new friends all in a state of shock, joy and craze.
We held nothing back. Sports do that to people.
I witnessed a sea of grown men’s tears drip to the floor when that buzzer sounded. They patiently supported, forgave, questioned, and watched this team for up to 45 years with a hope that they would someday hold a magnificent trophy called the Stanley Cup.
As the team handed the glorious goblet from one to the next, I watched a room of boisterous dreamers melt into silence: the players, once young boys, chose to devote their whole lives to vie for this cup. And the fans, dedicating this phenomenal energy to them in hopes of one day feeling overwhelmingly proud.
There is something about sports that brings out the best and worst in people. Lauren and I morph from dainty ladies to foul-mouthed sailors, spilling beer and obscenities everywhere when we watch games together. Other people cry, fight, break tables or won’t date someone because they like the Red Sox.
I live for the palpable and addictive vitality of sports and although buyer’s remorse can be fixed; it’s the “what ifs” that can’t. GO KINGS GO!!!