Ed Note: This post is not a news post; but this post is a result of having the privilege of an internet soap box and I'm going to use it today, if only for my own sake. If you want links today, I'm sure you can get out on the interwebs and find as many articles as you want to read.
Last night, the Buffalo Sabres went out with a whimper, in a fashion I think most Sabres fans would describe as "our worst nightmare," but this post isn't about that. Today I'm sure you'll read plenty of articles about the Sabres, or the Flyers, or Ryan Miller, or Danny Briere, or Thomas Vanek, or any one of 40 players. But this post is not about them.
This post is about the 2010-2011 Buffalo Sabres and about fandom in general. Although it was difficult to summon last night, and you may not be able to remember it just a day after, this Sabres team represented something that is rare in sports; they represented belief -- and not just belief but true belief, a belief which only graces a team every so often, and a belief which most of us were as Sabres fans, this season, lucky enough to experience.
As a sports fan, you get worn down year after year by rooting for a team that doesn't win, and Mets, Lions, Timberwolves fans and others can relate to this. (People in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and other giant cities can totally ignore this statement because they each win a major sports championship every 10 years or less. Also, most major cities in the US have won at least 1 title in some sport, so they can ignore this too. I'm talking to you, Tampa Bay, Raleigh, Detroit, all of California, Dallas, etc.)
I wrote about the idea of sports innocence earlier this year, how fleeting it is, and how lucky Sabres fans were to get that back this season; a rare gift indeed. Fans just don't dive in headfirst to a plaoyff team because they're in the playoffs, most fans older than 14 need a reason to believe beyond "anything can happen," and this year it was a combination of Terry Pegula, Rick Martin and Jim Kelley, an incredible turnaround from 15th place in the East to 7th, and the emergence of young players such as Enroth, Ennis, Gragnani and Gerbe that gave us that belief. Belief that a new owner can change an entire city, belief that somehow, some way, this might be our year, belief that an undermanned seventh seed can win a Cup.
This belief -- some fans might call it magic -- is difficult to capture. The 2006-2007 team didn't have it even though they won the President's Trophy. The 2009-2010 team didn't have it even though they won the division. But this team... to me this team had "it."
I won't go into what "it" is, though suffice to say you don't get it every year. That fact combined with the fact that your team doesn't seem "right" each and every playoff series means that as an adult you can't throw yourself 100% behind a sports team every year simply because it requires too much energy. The excuses are many: the chemistry's not there, they've got injuries, they're coasting in -- whatever it is, this year they just don't have "it." It's easier to be the Negative Nancy who says "I told you so" when the team is knocked out than to have your heart broken every year.
Whatever your reason is, it's simply impossible to dive headfirst into every single playoff series. I don't know about you, but I dove in headfirst with the Sabres this year, and the reason why this hurts more than last year's division win, why this hurts more than the 2006-2007 President's Trophy loss. It was a magical season, much like the 2005-2006 team -- anything was possible and I believed in the power of Pegula, Rico, and any other hockey deity than cared to make an appearance.
And the thing is, you only get so many of those seasons. Some teams get more than others, but I bet even the luckiest senior citizen can count on two hands the number of times they've been swept away by a team of theirs.
And that's why this loss stings more than most -- because this was one of those special times. One of those precious, incredibly unexpected seasons where I let down my Buffalo Sports guard and went in 100%, and I know many of you did as well.
That's why today there are no links to last night's game. There's no links to the series. Many people in the MSM and the blogosphere will be trashing Buffalo for an extremely poor Game Seven performance, which they completely deserve. But to link to those moments right now would tarnish the incredibly positive memories I've accumulated over the past five months. And to me, that's not worth it. Not even close.
As much as tonight hurts, and will hurt most likely for the rest of my adult life, I'm grateful for the hurt -- why? Because Buffalo was once in dead last place in the entire NHL and we were talking more about draft picks than playoffs; back in December we didn't stand a snowball's chance in Hell of even making it this far. The fact that this team took one of the three best squads in the NHL to Game Seven at this stage in their development is proof enough to me that the future is bright in Buffalo, the brightest it's been in a decade.
And that's something that we shouldn't mourn, but that we should celebrate today. Let's go, Buffalo. Now, and always.