One of my very first memories of childhood involves the Flyers. It it just a snapshot–a flash. But I remember it clear as day. I remember sitting in our family room, I couldn’t have been more than 3 or 4. Our neighbor’s son was there. He was 9. We were watching hockey. And I was thrilled.
My mother was a Philadelphia fan. We lived in South Jersey. Everyone was. It was an exciting time for Philadelphia hockey, the 1970s. At least that is what I am told. What I know was that it was an exciting time for us.
I loved watching the skating back and forth. The movement of the puck across the ice. To me it looked like the players were dancing.
But as the years went on, watching Philadelphia hockey also made me feel yucky. They were so mean. They were called Bullies. They pushed and the shoved and they hurt people. I couldn’t cheer for that, even though I enjoyed the game. When I was 5 or maybe 6, I remember watching our Flyers hoist the Stanley Cup over their heads and I remember not being entirely thrilled about it. I think it was the first time I realized that not everything in life is simple–that joy can come at great expense. That sometimes winning means playing dirty. And I didn’t like it. I just didn’t like it at all. Life suddenly felt complicated.
As the years went on I lost interest in the NHL. It could have been that we no longer lived in the Philadelphia area and noone we knew got excited about the New York teams. It could have been that I grew up into dolls and books and art projects and dancing. It could have been the icky feeling I got about cheering for bullies.
But whatever it was, I still loved hockey. I watched the big kids play pick-up hockey on the pond, street hockey at the bus stop. In middle school and high school we hung out at the rink, watching our friends and dreamy older boys play high school and club hockey. When I found myself in love with a hockey player I actually learned something about the game, the strategy, what went wrong, what went right. I could recognize good players. I could appreciate how hard it was. In college, our team was not elite but I watched each game with interest.
But I could never get into the NHL. To me it seemed brutal and horrible and bloody and not interesting. I could sit in the stands watching college puck with interest but when the pros came on TV I stood up and left the room. I couldn’t even watch in solidarity with my close guy friends. Sportsman ship, treating people with respect, love for each other these things are important to me and somehow my early experience with the Broad Street Bullies just soured me on the game.
For a variety of reasons this year, having to do with magic and friendship, we have rediscovered hockey at our house. It has been hard not to get swept away by the story of the Washington Caps this year. I actually find myself reading the sports page of the Washington Post. I find myself worrying about the defensive lineup. I am in love with their coach–or at least his story.
For those who don’t care a bit about hockey (are you even still reading this post?? have I lost all readers?) tonight is the first game of the playoff series between the Capitals and (gulp) the Flyers. And I am a bundle of nerves, conflicted and a little bit sick. Not because I am a fan, but because I can’t stand not to watch. After watching every minute of the last two games I am hooked on the Caps, their young fast team and their story. And I am sick thinking about the new Broad Street Bullies and their mean mean play. And I am wondering how I will feel watching this series play out. Will I be 6 all over again? I wish I could just look away. But I want to see the Caps win. And I want to believe that my (new) team will win–playing fair and clean. And I want the bullies to go home, scorned. Because if that happens, maybe I can believe again that the world is fair.
I have a friend who is a big fan. He is serious about his Caps and hockey but I think he thinks that I, with my nervous stomach, am a bit crazy. After all its just a game. Sure it would be nice for the hometown to win, but does it have to be so complicated. When is a hockey game just that…a hockey game? Why does it all have to be fraught with meaning?
But it is. And while it might seem nutty its an opportunity. To watch what comes up for me. To observe. To see.
And maybe just to watch, cheer and enjoy.
Wish me luck. Its gonna be a long week.
Update: I am glad I watched. It was an amazing game–Twists, turns, drama. Physical yes, but hockey at it’s prettiest. I cheered for the Red team, the home team and didn’t feel I was betraying my past. The bullies had their moment but in the end the Capital triumphed. Better yet, I just had fun–me, Max, pizza and the TV. Big fat sigh of relief.