In lieu of the fact that yesterday was my birthday I didn't feel like spending part of my evening scouring the internet for non-existent hockey links and NOT at a bar. Therefore, we have something different today, but hopefully something you'll find interesting.
I've been hanging on to these two things for a couple days, and today they get unleashed. No hockey articles today (even after the break), and if you completely hate this little experiment - well, chill out, it's only one day. Thanks for indulging me.
It's Not Just a Ballgame Anymore - A book by Sean Michael Hogan
Buffalo native and author Sean Hogan has written a collection of essays about sports and politics centered around the story of the 2006-07 Buffalo Sabres, when they started the year undefeated for ten games, started 3 players in the All-Star Game, won the Presidents' Trophy, and then collapsed against the Senators in the playoffs. One of the last essays is called "The Greatest Game Ever," and describes the 2008 New Year's Day game against the Penguins, and includes all the ridiculous, nostalgic optimism that comes with being a life-long Sabres fan who can't help being a little superstitious. If you're interested in purchasing the e-book ($2.99) but want to know more, the introduction can be found after the break.
Stealing Signs: Memories From My Last Life - A Visual Love Letter to Hockey by Mark Penxa
This is such a unique project that I'm going to use Mark's own words to try and describe it - just do yourself a favor and check it out.
My father tried to explain to me once that I will always have a "mistress" in my life, that there was "no getting around it" and how I should probably learn how to explain it to people because it could create a "problem" if they just didn't understand. To have a game (hockey) be your highly-profitable "mistress" is an interesting thought to consider. She's going to walk away from you at some point, you signed up knowing this. Your body is going to quit eventually, the money will run out, and you will no longer have anything to offer her. She is no longer attracted to your fire and skill; even though your mind can still outplay and out hustle the best of them. This is their love letter to the greatest, most beautiful thing they've ever seen. I hope you enjoy it.
Introduction to "It's Not Just a Ballgame Anymore" by Sean Michael Hogan:
By the fall of 2006, I had already spent a year and a half of my life without the comforting words of Hunter S. Thompson, and I was obviously feeling the pain. We were two years deep into the despair that set in after George W. Bush was elected for the second (first) time, just a year out from Katrina, and more mired in the Middle Eastern conflicts than we’d ever been.
On the upside, the Buffalo Sabres were about to embark on one of the most exciting seasons in their history, the Mets were looking good, and the football season—well, the football season was sinking into unprecedented violence, but that was nothing new. I had a cushy corporate job in an air-conditioned office, my custody situation had settled to the point where I could enjoy my two young sons without worrying too much about being stalked by crazy ex-in-laws, and just that August my girlfriend and I were married in an intimate setting at a shady bed and breakfast in a little village near the Susquehanna River. Things were looking up. I had even started writing again.
And maybe that was my mistake.
You don’t have to look any further for an all-American example of superstition and almost making it than Buffalo, NY, where I was born, went to college, and began my career. Straddling both sides of my college graduation were the Bills’ four straight Super Bowl losses, which were memorable not just for how they affected by fan-personality, but for how they became a naggingly fatalistic companion for my late educational and early professional accomplishments.
Meanwhile, the hockey team was mired in mediocrity. I was too young to remember the 1975 Finals loss to the Flyers, but I rooted for the Sabres every season for just as long I could, and back then it wasn’t a complete failure to make it to the second or third round of the playoffs. They certainly weren’t teasing us like the Bills were, which made it a little more bearable.
Then came 1999. It was enough to make us forget about the half-assed best of times of the previous twenty years, even the ones that did make us proud. But 1999 was different—they were going far. They even opened the Finals series against the Dallas Stars with a road victory, which is supposed to be a good sign.
And after four games, the series was tied—great news for a scrappy blue-collar team with the best goalie in the world.
But then it happened, just like it happened when the Bills went wide right against the Giants, except this was worse.
Three overtimes into Game 6 on Buffalo ice, Stars forward Brett Hull placed his skate inside the goal crease and then shot the puck into the net, which was as categorically illegal a goal as the NHL had at the time. The two-word mantra that came next, "No Goal," is the only justice that remains from that night, but bumper stickers and whining don’t put the Stanley Cup in your hands.
It had been a reckless ride as a Buffalo sports fan. I can’t explain it, other than it’s there, just like most of my family is still there, just like the next few years in American history are still there—they happened, and we have to live with them, and there’s nothing we can do about it now.
On October 9, 2006, an earthquake was detected in southeast Asia that was actually North Korea’s first nuclear test, and the Sabres were three games into a ten-game undefeated stretch to open a brand-new season that promised to be even more exciting than the year they lost the Cup without surrendering a series-winning goal. I watched nearly every minute of it, but I wrote about it less frequently because I afraid to jinx up the works. But as the season became the playoffs and the playoffs grew more tense and exciting, and as we almost started to taste it, I couldn’t help myself. The thought that it could have been my writing that finally caused them to lose again is the kind of superstition Buffalo fans don’t unlearn easily, even well after we’ve thrown all our saints and crosses out in the trash.
I don’t know when redemption will come for Buffalo fans. It’s no consolation to remind naysayers that the Bills won the last two AFL titles, just before the merger. There was plenty of cheering in Western New York when Buffalo native Patrick Kane scored in OT to win the Cup for the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010, but that was no consolation, either—it merely confirmed that you had to leave town before you could make it.
This is a road diary of sorts—scribblings of scenes and ideas, and the ill-conceived but sometimes prescient revelations of a writer who happens to be a huge Sabres fan but who was so far from home that the only remaining connection was on the page, and whose mutually rewarding relationship with his homeland was also becoming more tenuous with every headline. Because amidst the sad and unnatural death of the Bush administration, the anguish after the Sabres’ fall from grace came just as this country was preparing its one shot to grab control of the swirling wreckage. And we failed at that, too.
But there’s always hope, as long as there’s another game to play. And, even as the helicopters loom, and the poor become poorer and keep dying in our streets, and Congress keeps cashing its payroll checks from Wall Street, it’s not over until you hear the whistles. I’ve seen enough Holocaust films to know that that’s when you’re really fucked, and we’re not there yet. The evil empire may keep stepping over the line, slashing our ankles and humming high-velocity projectiles at our heads, but even the Red Sox won eventually, and so will we.
Special thanks to Sean and Mark for allowing us to try something completely different.