Monday, March 23, 2009

I Like Going to Hockey Games

My name is Heather B. and I love hockey.

I bring this up because there seems to be a question among certain people - journalists and even some fans - about why I still spend money on the Buffalo Sabres even though they're not very good. It seems like every recent TBN chat and blog has had some remark about how I'm supporting mediocrity and being held hostage by management. Putting aside the fact that the Sabres have been not good for two consecutive years which is not exactly a lifetime, I just happen to love hockey. Even more, I love going to hockey games.

I went to the Flyers game last week and while I wrote a very melodramatic post about it that night, the truth is, I had a blast. Kate and I had a merry time debating who should be fired, ragging on the team, defending our favorite players (kind of), and just enjoying the company of a good friend. Would I have preferred to be watching a team that's gearing up for the playoffs? Of course. But I had fun anyway.

I feel like sometimes people who write about sports for a living forget what it is about sports that people fall in love with. I know that journalists by definition watch sports in a different way than we do. I don't believe for one second that emotion and personal feelings never influence them but I do think most of them try to leave that stuff out of it and offer an objective point-of-view, pointing out things that fans, in their zeal, might miss. But I also feel like, even though journalists are not writing from our point-of-view, they should respect that our point-of-view is different and they should never talk down to me because I'm acting like a fan. Point out that my money is supporting management and that you think management is a joke and then let me make my own decision about what to do with my money. And if you don't like the decision I'm making, don't suggest to me that I'm wrong or that I don't understand what's going on. That's not reporting. That's passing judgment on your audience and you know what? It's really annoying.

I'm not a dullard. I understand that my money is lining Tom Golisano's pockets and I understand that maybe there's no reason for him to improve the team as long as he's making a profit. But I like going to hockey games. My perfect Buffalo evening would be a foot long and fries from Ted's followed by a Sabres game. I've been a sports fan for pretty much all of my life and I've yet to see one of my teams win a championship. Yeah, I hope that changes one day before I die but I also feel like a fan that lives only for championships is probably going to be a pretty unhappy fan. There's so much more to going to a game than who wins and who loses.

When I look back over this season, I can't even tell you how many times I saw the Sabres win. I can tell you about how stoked I was to see Henrik Tallinder score his annual goal in person and how I was still jumping up and down even after everyone else had taken a seat. I can tell you about how riveting Thomas Vanek and Tim Connolly are when they're on, even from the 300s. I can tell you about the proud Sharks fan we sat next to whose 7 month old daughter was attending her first game. I can tell you about the lengthy discussion I had with another fan about why I like Darcy Regier and why he hates him. I can tell you about how amazing it was to sit so close to the ice that I couldn't really see the jumbotron and how Kate spent most of that pregame texting friends in the building to point out where her seats were. I can tell you about bemoaning poor Chris Butler scoring his first NHL goal in the waning moments of a terrible game and taking a moment to cheer for him even though he couldn't cheer for himself. I can tell you what an emotional release it was to boo the Sabres off the ice at the end of really bad periods and how entertaining it was to good-naturedly boo Danny Briere after he kicked our ass. The guy who forgot he had a beer in his hand when he stood up to the do the wave and dumped it over his head, the know-it-all blowhard behind me who was calling players by the wrong name, the fan who cracked up our entire section by yelling, "THE LITTLE NET, HECHT!" when Jochen's shot barely stayed in the building, that guy who insists on high-fiving everyone he can reach, the other fans who, for a few hours became a part of my life, that's what I love about going to games.

Winning is not the be all and end all of sports. It's really not. It's sharing the moments of joy and agony, it's seizing those brief moments of hope and optimism and sometimes it's irrationally loving a certain player even when he sucks. (Not that I know anything about that.) It's escaping from work and responsibility for even a short time and it's setting aside a few hours to enjoy being with your friends or your family. Yeah, if ticket prices keep creeping up and quality of play keeps creeping down or if the team continues to be bad for the next few years, there may come a tipping point where I decide I'd prefer to stay at home and watch the Sabres on TV. But for now I'm perfectly happy to give Golisano my money because the Sabres and hockey are bigger than him and because believe it or not, I still have a ton of fun every time I set foot in HSBC. You don't have to agree and you don't have to like it that I feel that way but you don't have to lecture me about it either.


Katie said...

Great post, Heather. It came from the heart, and I honestly agree with everything you said. I really love going to the arena for a hockey game, and I hate that people can make you feel badly about doing something you love to do.

I'm a much better fan to be around at a game - I'm not as angry if they lose, and I'm ecstatic if they win. It's all about the experience - the passion you feel in getting to cheer for your favorite players, booing the "bad guys," and talking to total strangers who love doing these things as much as you do.

Heather B. said...

Thanks, Katie! Again, I know journalists have a different role than us but I think some of them sometimes forget that we're in a totally environment in the stands than they're in in the press box. For them it's all about the game. For us, it's largely about the game but it's about a lot of other things too. Sometimes those other things make going to games fun even when the game itself is awful.

And just as a general note for the record, I have NO problem with fans who are frustrated with current ownership and have decided to stop spending money on tickets and merchandise etc. I'm not there but I respect that some people are. What I do have a problem with is fans feeling like I MUST feel the same way or there's something wrong with me.

amanda said...

Amen, sister! While I don't watch the games as closely on TV as I did when the Sabres were kicking asses all over the NHL, I still really enjoy going to games and generally supporting the team. There's nothing wrong with that. It's your money, it's my money, and we can do whatever we damn well please with it.

Jennifer said...

Well said! While I have yet to make it to HSBC, I absolutely LOVE going to see the Sabres when they come to the RBC Center in Raleigh. No matter what the price of the tickets, I have to go! There are going to be good times and bad times, but a true fan sticks it out. (Plus, I own too much Sabres crap to give up on them now!)

Jaime said...

"the other fans who, for a few hours became a part of my life, that's what I love about going to games."

After 13 years of fandom, I can remember bits and pieces of probably most every game I've been to. Most of these memories have little to do with what happened on the ice but with my experience being part of the crowd. I too will be "wasting" my money for many yeras to come.

ToonTom said...

I've been a fan for over 35 years and in all that time (except for the Rigas scandal) I have never felt like quitting as much as I have this year. In other losing seasons, we always seemed to have a few players who were truly entertaining and worth following.

During this last stretch, I have not seen one single player step up and lead. This is especially so offensively. When was the last time someone scored a hat trick or had three or more points? It's even worse when you consider how many non-playoff teams we have played and ended up reeking when we should have been dominating. Those are games where these guys (so many of them well paid or about to be paid) should be racking up the points.

I could handle losing by a goal, losing in OT, losing in a SO but the number of times our team has collapsed, even after having leads, also testifies to the lack of character. These guys play one good period and then fart around for 40 minutes.

The only area I'm not disappointed with is goaltending. Miller, after a rocky start, was putting up MVP like stats. Lalime and Tellqvist tried to do their best, but that's hard to do when the team is being so badly outplayed in our own end.

Since the lockout, I think I have listened to 80% of the games on the Internet and watched them on TV whenever I could. My wife accused me of having playoff like fever/fervor in November. For me to not tune in WGR while I'm cooking supper (games start at 5:00 for me) is a big deal.

I guess my heart is broken because this isn't the brand of Sabres hockey I've followed since 1973. I'll never quit the team because being a Sabre fan is so much part of who I am. But for now, I need a break because there's just no pride.

Vanek's Hair said...

I agree with the sentiments in your post here. I, too, can attest that often, the fun of a hockey game is the overall experience. I have been to great games and dreadful ones. I have gone with large groups and by myself. But I can honestly say they have all been fun. Maybe with the exception of one game against the Blues in 2003. I have actually made friends at games that I otherwise never would have met. I also like running into other friends as I make way through the concourse. I enjoy hitting Pearl Street Brewery for a "Street Brawler" or two and some wings before the game. Cobblestone for a postgame belt or two. It's definitely worth it. Even Sabres games circa 2000 - 2003. The team was far worse than this rendition, and there were, perhaps 8 other people at the games usually.

As for championships, I have really changed my outlook on that whole thing. I no longer approach a season with a "Championship or bust" mentality. Teams can be good and enjoyable and still not win. Admittedly, in October I was celebrating the Phillies World Series championship. First since 1980. And since I was about 5 then, I did not celebrate with a glass of MacCallan's after the game. So this past October was far more enjoyable.

Thinking of the Phillies forces me to have positive thoughts about the Sabres, because there are some parallels. The 2008 Phillies were made up almost entirely of homegrown players who the organization stuck with through growing pains. Ultimately the reward was a World Series title when the core players all hit their prime in the 28 - 31 year old range. Looking at it that way, this team is still a few years from that age range. (By the way, two particular hockey players who got huge contracts in the 2007 offseason were in that age range). That is the prime of an athlete's career. Maybe patience is in order.

Heather B. said...

I guess my heart is broken because this isn't the brand of Sabres hockey I've followed since 1973. I'll never quit the team because being a Sabre fan is so much part of who I am. But for now, I need a break because there's just no pride.

Tom, that is TOTALLY valid. I can't disagree with anything you said about the team and I would never fault anyone for being beat down by them. They suck. I also fully acknowledge that I haven't been watching the Sabres NEARLY as long as many of the people reading this blog and I'm sure that plays a part too.

As for championships, I have really changed my outlook on that whole thing. I no longer approach a season with a "Championship or bust" mentality.

We were at the last game of the 2006-2007 season and as we were walking to our car, Mark broke his long silence with, "This whole season was a waste." It made me SO sad to hear him say that. I've never understood the idea of tossing over a whole season because it ended short of a championship. Although again, every single one of my seasons has ended short so maybe I'm just used to it :P

Kevin said...

Bravo, Heather. Bravo.

S.A.M. said...

wonderful post Heather. I really enjoyed it. You are very articulate.

And I agree. There is just something about being AT a hockey game, even a terrible one (I've been to many of those, Sabres and otherwise) that is a great time.

I have so many friends that I have met strictly because of hockey fandom/going to games that my life would be incredibly different now without it.

Every Sabres game I go to (even those horrible ones like the Caps game on Dec. 30) just reinforces what I love about being THERE and makes me want to buy tickets and come to as many games as possible next season.

So I guess what I'm sayin is.. Preach it, Sista! :)

Caps said...


Mark B said...

I agree. The whole going to the game experience is still one of my favorite things to do in the world.

ToonTom said...

I've never expected a championship every year. I just want to see a team that's improving, not spiraling downwards, esp. when so many players have been rewarded with long term contracts. The Sabres have been the second worse team in the NHL down the stretch. Worse than the NYI, Columbus, Toronto. Worse than everybody except the Sakicless Avalanche.

I think there's future but I feel management has been to patient with this team. It's so obvious we are lacking grit and leadership yet Darcy has done nothing to address that. He needs to spend the summer deciding who his core is and what players need to be brought in to support the core. If he gives Ruff the right combination, we know Lindy can do wonders.

Gambler said...

the fan who cracked up our entire section by yelling, "THE LITTLE NET, HECHT!" when Jochen's shot barely stayed in the building

HA! Poor Yo-Yo just figures netting is netting, right?

Actually, those types of comments are perfect examples of why I like watching hockey, even bad hockey. Just like I like watching bad movies almost as much as good movies. It's the MST3K effect, I guess.

Still, it's considerably less fun watching bad hockey all by yourself.

ElmaGolf said...

Mark broke his long silence with, "This whole season was a waste." It made me SO sad to hear him say that.

I couldn't agree more with your sentiment. Expectations can really ruin things.

I thoroughly enjoyed the 2005-06 season SOOOO much more than 2006-07. In 06-07, people really didn't enjoy or appreciate the Regular Season. Close wins were greeted with fretful "That Won't Win the Cup" analysis.

I said something similar to Mark after that season, but I think my sadness was more from the perspective of "The Season's Over and I didn't truly let myself enjoy everything that got us here."

Now my expectations have been reset to "who the heck knows" and I can enjoy every positive thing that happens and enjoy sharing the experience with my fellow fans.

Great Post, as always (shoot-out rants, notwithstanding)!

Kevin J. Hosey said...

Very good post, Heather B. As someone already wrote, bravo.