It’s a lot easier to write about your team when everything sucks. One of the reasons for this is that it’s a familiar feeling. It’s not hard to relate a given day of sucking to all the past days of sucking. Being a sports fan, one has a whole closet full of sucking.
And when things are going well, my natural inclination is to point out all the ways things might not really be going that well. Which is to say, see paragraph one.
But when your team goes on a historic run, there’s nothing to compare it to. At least, nothing in the lexicon of the team. The Kings are 14-2 in the playoffs thus far, 10-0 on the road, etc., etc.. I find myself looking for other examples of such behavior. Well, the road record is unprecedented. That’s a league record. And — should the Kings win two more games, which I’m not assuming, I promise (because I believe in voodoo) — only one team (the 1988 Oilers) has ever won the cup and lost only twice, since the league went to four seven-game series. The 1968 and 1976 Canadiens lost only once, but only had to win 12 games. The 1969 and 1977 Canadiens and the 1970 Bruins lost twice, winning 12. The 1972 Bruins, 1978 Canadiens went 12-3, the 1981 Islanders and 1985 Oilers went 15-3.
Every team I just mentioned was part of a dynasty. Is this Kings team that good? Even I am not that crazy. Those of us who have followed the Kings closely for years have little doubt that this is a very good team. We have watched it be torn down to the foundation (that would be Kopitar, Quick and Brown), and then built into the team we have today. But I don’t think any of us felt the Kings were “destined” or unstoppable, especially not in the early rounds. A bad bounce here or there, and any of those series could have gone longer. And when series go longer, we all know anything can happen.
When I was a kid, I was a Bruins fan and spent many years losing to the Canadiens. You wanted to beat the Canadiens. You prepared all year to beat the Canadiens. You thought maybe this was the year you could beat the Canadiens. But the Canadiens always won. And you always knew they would. You could not beat them.
When I listen to the talking heads on NHL Network and NBC, their tone reminds me very much of the HNIC guys from the 1970s, without the sense of entitlement that I felt (as a non-Canadian fan) the HNIC guys had when Canadian teams played south-of-the-border teams. The current NBC/NHL Network guys have adopted an attitude of inevitability regarding the this post-season’s Kings. The attitude makes me feel like I’m watching a Bruins/Canadiens series, but from the other side. The attitude says, “do what you want, but these guys can’t be beat.” When I was a kid rooting for the Bruins, I would throw things at the TV. “Oh yes they can!” I would say. Now, when they’re saying about the Kings, a team I’m rooting for, I’m saying: “Woah, slow down, not so fast!”
Maybe that’s because, as a Kings fan, I am used to playing the role of Charlie Brown in the scene with Lucy and the football. “Come on, Charlie Brown. I won’t do it to you THIS TIME.”
I started this post with the idea that I would reminisce about other times in my life when I was in this position as a sports fan. The only thing I could compare it to was the 1972 Bruins. The problem is, my experience of that playoff run was mitigated by several factors:
- I was almost 9, and had been playing and following hockey for nearly a quarter of my life. Since I was 7.
- Since I became a hockey fan because of Bobby Orr, I was a Bruins fan. The Bruins won the cup, then almost won, then won the cup again. I was rooting for a team that was one of the best in history, with some (at least one) of the best players in history. And they won two cups in three years. You can’t be a real sports fan with all that winning.
- In 1972, there was no cable TV. NHL games were on TV in the US once a week. The playoffs were on NBC, but not every game. Being a fan of that Bruins team, I got to watch, on an 8 inch black-and-white TV with bad reception, maybe five games during the regular season, and another three or four in the playoffs.
- I also remember that when the Bruins won the ’72 cup, literally the instant the game was over, NBC cut away to go to the local news. Because, you know, they couldn’t wait for that hockey game to be over. At least on my local station, they didn’t even show the awarding of the cup.
- My experience of teams I followed as a kid was mostly through newspapers the next day.
- As the biggest hockey fan on Earth, it would have been nearly impossible to spend more than a half hour a day reading about hockey. Compare that to today.
- I have been a Kings fan since I moved to Los Angeles, essentially my entire adult life. That’s more than a quarter of a century. And I don’t think I’ve missed a Bob Miller telecast yet. Even the games I attended, I watched on tape later. That’s probably 99% true.
- That’s something like 2000 games worth of pent-up expectation. Hockey blue balls. (Sorry.)
My point is, I was looking for something to compare it to. And there really isn’t anything.