By Frankie O
For some of us, the ironies of life come in wave after wave. The more amusing in my life of course revolve around sports. In my house, for what seems like forever, I was the only one who had a sports “problem.” The Boss has never really cared and maybe that’s the key to our longevity. Her reality shows don’t have real-life drama but instead the made up kind of the Wives of Fill-in-the-blank-city variety.
So my hope was always in one of my youngsters catching the bug. I mean, this type of sickness is hereditary, isn’t it? At least that’s where I’ve always placed the blame for my predicament. It would figure then that I would soon be sharing my profound angst with a young, overwhelmed protégé.
With the kids, I’ve always been the type to encourage their interests as opposed to forcing mine on them. Not that I don’t have a vested interest, because I very much do, but they have to find their own way, and in the path I’ve been waiting for one of them to take, being a willing participant is key.
Especially since it would be nice to have someone share my passion not be Osmosis Jones and just be able to soak some in from the constant barrage of information that is flying around the house. Although it is funny the wife’s ability to have a current sports conversation because of this, since she really could care less. Or is it that she cares about me? Whatever!
Well my long journey in the wilderness as a lone wolf is over. I’m now part of 2-man wolf pack. That’s because my 10-year-old son has now become a Mini-Me in the sports realm. (One could argue he’s also become one in the eating realm, but more on that later) It started around the end of the summer with the end of the baseball season and has grown to borderline worrisome levels since. The journey to the Super Bowl was a lot of fun as I wrote here a couple of weeks ago even if the outcome predictably didn’t go the way we had hoped. This is a life of choice except if you’re from Philly. The choice then being that you’d better be ready to suffer for the glimmers of sunshine that you will get, but I digress.
The fun for me right now is that in spite of my longtime mental anguish, I can still see the innocence and the ability to quickly move on in his eyes. He’s having fun with this. And you know what, so am I. There will be time to deal with some of his residual mental issues from fandom later. For right now it’s: Game On! Which is pretty much all the time now when we are together, he makes it so much easier! “Sure honey, I’ll put him to bed.” “As soon as the period is over, right buddy?” He also has games or league websites on his tablet, PC or iPod touch seemingly every other moment. It brings a tear to the eye.
Currently both of our lives are being consumed by the two winter residents of the United Center, the Bulls and Blackhawks. He can’t wait to put on the Noah or Toews jersey (great choices by the way. All his) and watch whoever is on that night. So far it has been a great winter with the scrappy Bulls and the unbelievable Hawks. A Thursday night with both on is a fun dilemma and a game of tennis between two channels. Thankfully both were winning at bed time and held their leads. That will make for an easier morning, since the first thing he will do when he gets up is to grab the nearest computer to watch game highlights and see the final scores.
But my memory is still on the Hawks game against Edmonton this past Monday night at the U.C.
For, in his progression, it was only natural that he kept asking to go see one of the teams in person. And as luck would have it, that was to go and see the streaking Blackhawks. This endeavor as usual took the old man on quite a roller-coaster ride.
It is becoming very apparent that for him, this team is quickly gaining favorite status. And why not? It’s hard not to fall for a team that never loses. So the wound of 2010 is ripped open once again! It’s funny being me.
It’s not like I don’t like the Hawks, because I do. The team and the organization are easy to root for, especially having watched their progression over the last several years, including one very painful, successful season. They just create a lot of mental conflict.
But for my son, I easily realize how cool they are, since the process of going to his first game took me back to mine. Hard to believe it happened almost forty years ago, but its effects remain in full force, for that was the magical era of Philadelphia hockey. The Broad Street Bullies were larger than life and their hold on the Philly faithful has never waned, you know, it’s like here with the ’85 Bears.
Going to the Spectrum back then was like walking into a house of worship. Fittingly it was full of over-the-top zealots. I remember thinking how crazy older people were. But it was impossible not to get caught up in the energy of the building. It was the loudest place I’ve ever been and it was so much fun since that team almost never lost, especially at home. It was the coolest thing ever for a young fan to go and watch that team play in that arena. It was an environment that created life-long devotion.
It was with that in mind that I anticipated my son’s first trip to the U.C.
For over two weeks, he was telling anyone who would listen our section, row and seat numbers.
What soon was on my mind was the fact that the Hawks had not yet lost a game in regulation. Now what are the odds that a father from Philly would take his Hawk-loving son to the first loss in an all-time start to a season? I’m thinking they’re pretty good and that’s what I was telling everyone at the bar the week leading up to the game. Wouldn’t that just be typical?
So I tried to temper the expectations but reminding him daily that there was always the chance that they would lose when we were there. (I mean they have to lose at some point this year, don’t they? DON’T THEY?) But no matter what we were going to have fun.
Our pre-game meal, very important, was a taste of home for me: Cheesesteaks at Philly’s Best on Jackson, about five minutes from the U.C. They were awesome. You gotta love the Amoroso rolls! The key here being that we were so full by the time we got to the arena that we didn’t have to wait in line for any food. Failure to plan is planning to fail. Children teach us this every day. This was all about the hockey. This was about sitting in our seats and soaking up every bit of the experience.
You can’t walk into the building however without honoring the man who had it built, so we went straight to the Jordan statue for the photo op before going inside. Something funny here happened that I didn’t realize until I went through the pictures later that night. I typically just start snapping away with the camera and go back later to delete what I don’t like. What I found was on the final shot he gave me an unsolicited Jordan tongue wag homage. That’s my boy!
It was straight to the seats and time to soak it in. It now that I explained all of the things that were about to happen as part of the pregame. His two favorites were the practice skate and the Zambonis. I’m not sure, but part of that might be the fact that the crew by the Zamboni tossed him a practice puck, but I think it might have factored in.
For me it was watching his face as the lights went down and the introductory videos played and the Hawk logo laser danced on the ice below. Of course he was recording all of this, all night, on his iPod for later consumption. Kids these days are recording everything. And watching. Even being a first-timer, I didn’t have to explain the tradition of the anthem. He’d already seen it on YouTube. nice.
Then it was game time. He told me his only wish was to hear the goal horn and Chelsea Dagger one time, but I knew better. The Oilers scored the first goal on a short-handed breakaway. Uh-oh, that’s not a good sign. No worries though with this team though and they scored on the same power play. It was great that Patrick Kane scored the first goal he saw live. Of course it was Kane. Like I haven’t seen another goal of his over and over and over...
The Hawks spent the rest of the next two periods peppering their former goalie, Nikolai Khabibulin, but to no avail. For only the third time this season they entered the third period trailing 2-1. This had my anxiety at a high level since I vividly remembered the Oilers skating circles around the Hawks in two meetings last year scoring 17 goals and making them look very slow in the process. I was thinking of this because it was the third game for the Hawks in four nights and the third period is where the fatigue shows up. As all of us are finding out, even though the fact that there are not a lot of new faces on the team, a fact that is attributed to their quick start after the lockout, this is not last years’ Hawks team.
They played the third period with a lot of jump and tied the score 2:24 into the third. It was the first time my son heard me yell “Call Toronto!!” live as the goal was not accredited right away and they had to go to the replay booth north of the border.
As time wound down to end the third with the score tied at two, the Hawks had dodged a couple of late bullets and the streak was at nineteen. Awesome! I’m not the jinx! One day this thing is going to end, but we’re not going to be in the arena when it happens! I’ve gotta tell you, that was a relief. As we were preparing for overtime–meaning I was now explaining to my son that no matter what happened we were here for game 19-the C.E.O. of Harry Caray’s, GDP, walked up and asked if we’d like to watch the OT in his first-roe, I mean row, seats. Are you kidding me? The little guy might not yet understand the nuance of being able to watch a game from higher up, due to the speed and angles, but he does understand banging on the glass. Let’s go buddy! No time to waste!
As I sat, I played Captain Kodak with him along the glass, taking pictures at a furious pace, looking for the keeper. Just then, a very nice lady sitting behind me, tapped me on the shoulder, and asked to have my phone so she could take a picture of the two of us. Bless her heart. Now that’s a keeper!
The OT started and it was a blur. The puck was in front of us and then it was gone. Then it came back again, Patrick Sharp nearly scoring, Marian Hossa jumped on the loose puck hammering, one shot on Khabibulin, getting the rebound, then, pounded in the next shot for the game winner. The place was up for grabs. The thrill of an overtime winner is an adrenaline rush. The sight of my son jumping up and down with excitement pounding the glass is a snapshot a father won’t soon forget.
Seeing your children happy is a feeling as good as it gets.
(In fact, the Walt Disney Company has made a fortune off of this, in their theme parks, for a very long time. That these theme parks are houses of many conflicting emotions is another story for another day.)
We got in the car for the ride home, and I tucked him into the back, with his program, the puck and the scarf that was the fan give-away item of the night. He nestled in and put on his headphones and started watching all of the arena video he had taken on his iPod.
I started driving and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. As I was driving down the Dan Ryan, I asked back if he had a good day, forgetting that he had his headphones on and couldn’t hear me. I glanced back in the rear-view, seeing his face clearly from the glow of the iPod as he intently watched all the video that he had recorded at the U.C. The smile on his face was plain to see.
A day that neither one of us will forget.
A hockey journey that will last a lifetime.
A good day, indeed.