Thursday, May 29, 2008

Still Alive, and working on a doozy.

I am currently in Virginia. I have been in NJ/PA for the last several nights. I will have an update soon, that will include thoughts on coming "home" and being back on the East Coast.

It will likely be titled, "Thomas Wolfe was right."

Stay tuned.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Nothing of substance to say

I have nothing of substance to say right now. I've been dealing with three sick kids and perhaps one too many shifts at the restaurant. We leave for Philly this week, and while the trip will likely be a whirlwind, we are looking forward to it.

The Flyers are done. Good season. Bad end. Typical Philly sports.

That said, I'm pulling for David Cook.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Why I love Hockey now more than ever

I’m a sports fan. Always have been. I’m from Jersey with Philadelphia-based paternal parentage. So, my loyalties have always been with the big four: Eagles, Phillies, Flyers, and I suppose the Sixers, though I’ve been a bit down on the NBA of late.

Throughout my life as a sports fan, the Eagles and Phillies have been good, and they’ve been bad. Real bad. I remember with nausea some of the horrendous afternoons wasted as a kid watching Lance Parrish and Dickie Thon pretend to be major league baseball players. I remember watching Izel “Toast” Jenkins and “Junior” Tautelatausi waste hours and hours of my Sundays with their insipid imitation of NFL stars. Watching team after team either fall apart, or just be flat out horrible, was really hard, especially where I grew up: On the border of Eagle country; most of my neighborhood was either Jets fans or Giants fans. Or the front-running losers like the kid down the street who was a Cowboys fan. Still hate that guy. And the Giants and Cowboys were winning a lot of Super Bowls. Don’t get me started on the Mets in 86, though the Phils got them back pretty good last year. Took that “worst collapse ever” tag off of us too. Thanks Mookie. Poor Bill Buckner...whatever.

But, there were a lot of good memories:

Wilbert Montgomery scoring the touchdown that sent the Eagles to their first Superbowl. (which you can watch by clicking here: )

Tug McGraw, leaping into the air after striking out Willie Wilson to give the Phillies their first, and frustratingly only, World Series win. I was sitting on the floor of the family room, leaning against the huge wooden support beam, though there was ample room on the coach and an empty seat across the room. The Phils had done well during the season when I was sitting there and the cat was in the room, so my dad made certain both conditions were met during the final games of the series. Phillies fans, you’re welcome by the way. It was really uncomfortable…but I’d sit there again.

I don’t really remember the Sixers title win in 1983, a year that saw the Phillies again in the World Series, only to lose to the stupid Orioles. The Sixers remain the last World title that the city has seen, assuming you don’t include the numerous Major League Lacrosse titles that the always entertaining Philadelphia Wings have won. I loved Dr. J growing up though. Still remember playing the Dr. J vs. Larry Bird video game at Alan Foley’s house in Junior High.

The Eagles got good in the Buddy Ryan era. Though they couldn’t win a playoff game, Buddy gave Eagle fans something that we were sorely lacking back in the 80’s and that was a reason to cheer, and a kick in the attitude. One of the most vivid memories I have as a sports fan to this day is the game against the Cowboys during the NFL strike year where Buddy had Randall kneel down twice at the end of a game the Eagles had won, and on third down, when all he had to do was have Randall kneel down again, called a fake, and had Randall throw a long one to Mike Quick, where a pass interference call led to another score to stick it up stupid Tom Landry’s ass, since he stuck it ours when we had scabs in the earlier game, and he played his starters who crossed the line. Buddy’s comment in the post game press conference? “That last touchdown was very satisfying. I had it planned all along.” Yeah, I got it good from the Cowboy fans at school the next day, but damn if I didn’t give it right back to them. Though they never delivered in the end, I loved those Buddy Ryan teams.

The 1993 Phillies gave me a summer and a run to the series that I knew would end up breaking my heart, but I went to game after game, and listened to every other game on radio. That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had as a fan. That team embodied everything that makes Philadelphia sports both the greatest and the most excruciating passion there is. They were everything we like: they were fun, tough, ugly, hardworking, previously underappreciated, and generally possessing of a chip on one if not both shoulders. We loved them, and they seemed to love us back. I remember one night listening to a game that finished at 4:35am (rain delayed double header) where Mitch Williams went to bat for the first time all year and singled in the winning run. I had to get up for work in 90 minutes, but I could not turn it off-I set my radio to sleep, and it turned off every 59 minutes, and I hit it back on… It was a really fun summer. The end of it all, in game 6, as Joe Carter rounded the bases, still stings when I think about it. I actually met a guy named Joe Carter a while back. Still don’t like him. No real reason but the name. Philly fans understand I’m sure.

If you’re interested in reliving that moment, check it out here: and see if you can watch it longer than I did (13 seconds) before turning it off in disgust. That one hurt. But, to paraphrase Philly Sports gurus Macnow and Gargano, Rocky Balboa, who though fictional remains a legend in Philly, well, he lost. “But he never leaves his feet” they wrote. Still hurt though.

There are days that I honestly felt I’d never feel quite the same about the Phillies as I did then. I’ve always gravitated more to football, and the Eagles 2004 Superbowl loss to the Patriots hurt too, and year after year, I know that I am not alone in thinking that there has to be more to do with my free time with this. But, I brought all three kids to training camp last year, and were it not for the commute, I’d do it again this year. I also brought the kids and the wife to see the Phillies, and watching Ryan Howard live hit a ginormous home run in person with my family, may have brought me back somewhat. But I think as we age, we “fan” differently.

Which brings me to hockey. I’ve always liked hockey: the speed, the grace, the brutality, the mutual acceptance that ‘I might hurt you and you might hurt me, but it’s all part of the game we play’ has always appealed to the same part of me that embraces another passion of mine, professional wrestling. But, this entry is not about that.

The Flyers were popular when I was a kid, and I remember the joy I felt when I got my “Official Bobby Clarke Street Hockey stick and puck set” for Christmas. They had won the Stanley Cup in both 1974 and 1975, and while I was too young to remember them, the image of my father honking the car horn in celebration is one that repeated storytelling’s has helped me to generate. I remember ringing the big iron bell that topped the post Mom and Dad had put up in one of the gardens after the Phillies won in 1980, and like to think that Dad’s joy with the Flyers cup wins was as great as I’d like to remember. Hockey got huge in 1980 after the U.S. Olympic wins at Lake Placid against the Russians and eventually Finland in the Gold Medal game. I remember watching those games too, including Al Michaels famous call of the game with the Russians, which so many think was for the Gold Medal…it wasn’t, but it was hugely significant both for the country, and the game of hockey. I watched it all, from the floor, leaning on the support beam.

I always kinda kept up on what the Flyers were doing by reading the coverage in The Trenton Times, as we didn’t get cable until I was well into high school and channels 17 and 57, who carried the local games in the 80’s, didn’t come in that well. But, I was sad when the young and tremendously gifted goalie Pele Lindbergh died in a tragic car crash. I remember being really proud that Ron Hextall won the Cup MVP award in a 7 game losing effort to what some call the greatest team ever, the Wayne Gretzky led Edmonton Oilers of 1987. They were always on my radar, but I never had the chance to really wrap my arms around them. They missed the playoffs from 1989-94. I was ripe for fandom then, and they were really just kind of lost. As such, I was excited when they traded for a young stud named Eric Lindros. I kept abreast of them, and caught what games I could, and while living in NY in 1997, was all Flyered up for the 1997 playoffs, which landed the boys in the Cup finals with the Detroit Red Wings. They got swept in 4 games. I had Canadians living near me then. They laughed at me. That still hurts.

And I let the team in, and it hurt, but it was fun, and there was hope that they’d make it back-
there was talent on the team…and a lot of things happened…Lindros left town in shame. There was an NHL lockout. They changed the game. Although I lived in the Philly area, oddly enough, I couldn’t see a lot of games, as DirecTV and Comcast hate each other, and so I got about one game a month on TV. But, I kept reading, and watching when I could. The team got to be a mess. They missed the playoffs in 2007.

Then Bob Clarke and several other got fired…and then this current team got put together. I followed the team and had a lot of fun watching the young guys, like R.J. Umberger from THE Ohio State University, and new studs like Danny Briere, from long time nemesis the Buffalo Sabres (thank you Buffalo...) and I really started to enjoy this team. They seemed a great mix of young-ones and veterans…and they were hungry.

And then I moved to Hawaii. For whatever reason, our current DirecTV package here has included more Flyer games than I could see back home. And I’ve watched them, and as they inched closer and closer to the playoffs, I watched and taught the kids how to chant “Let’s Go Flyers,” which they do almost on request now…I’m so proud.

It seems like Hockey has always been there for me, and while I’ll admit that I’ve been a loyal fan, I can’t admit to being a rabid fan, at least until the later 90’s and even more so the last few years. And now, for better or worse, I’m hooked. I’m there. I’m Flyered up. Kate Smith singing “God Bless America” always gave me chills, and it does so today. (You can see why with the link below…) Even more, living in Hawaii, where hockey is something that rabid sports fans actually will talk about-there are a few locals at work that since I’m into the Flyers, have themselves decided to care, as it gives them another sports outlet. I’m OK with that.

But to be honest, these days, hockey feels like home to me. It feels like cold weather and tough hits. It feels like true fans and like honest work. Hockey feels like fast and hard and tough and free. It feels like an oasis of Jersey in the middle of a tropical “paradise.” It’s among the most normal things I’ve been able to experience while living in a place that a lot of the time feels like I’m living on Pluto. The planet, not the cartoon dog.

And, if I’m honest, as a sports fan, the Flyers haven’t broken my heart. Yet.

Truthfully, although a I've been a fan, I've never been as invested in the team as I am now.

The Eagles and the Phillies have hurt me deeply over the years.

The Sixers I’ve never bothered as much with. I just don’t enjoy hoops the way I did as a kid.

But the Flyers have always been there, tapping at me…and now, I’m done. I’m there. I’m hooked. They make me feel like I’m home. I like the game. This current team has worked real hard and been really fun to watch.

And I do remember Kate Smith. She’s got her own statue in Philly. And there is a reason. Want to know why? Watch this:

I hope they don’t break my heart. But, I already know I’ll forgive them if they do.

Truth be told, while it may have worked out for me while I was leaning on the beam in the living room for moments like the Phils and the US Hockey team championships in 1980, and there were other notable and memorable moments I recall while I sat in that room, including: Affirmed’s Triple Crown win in 1978 ( I was pulling for Alydar,) John Elway‘s “The Drive” in 1987 (I was pulling for the Browns,) and more Ohio State vs. Michigan games than I can recall. I learned, somewhat later than I would have liked that it never really mattered where I sat, or what I wore, or who may or may not have been in the room when something good happened. It just mattered that we cared.

In all honesty, for me to write an entry about the role of sports in my life would be laborious for all of us, but this entry is supposed to illustrate why I love hockey now more than ever.

The Flyers were floundering. They did a major personnel re-shuffling because they want to win. They went from missing the playoffs last year to the Eastern Conference Championship round.

They are one series away from the Stanley Cup Championships.

They made the kind of changes that I have. They changed their whole manner of being from the top down, just as I have. They’ve done a major re-boot. Kinda like me, leaving one job and life, and starting another.

And I will be watching the whole way through. And they make me feel like I’m home, and in true Philadelphia sports fan fashion, I’ve got my outfit, and my kids know the chants, and I’m all Flyered up, and…I already know that I’ll forgive them if they lose to the stupid Penguins.

But I keep asking myself, what if they don’t?

Why can’t it be Philly this year?

Why not now?

I know for me, it matters a whole lot more to me than it ever has.

I’d sure like to honk that horn. I'm not sure who'd hear it. But I do know it would matter.


Let's go Flyers.