I actually watched Game 5 of the NHL Western Conference finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings, Saturday night. I was rooting for the Hawks because they were ahead in the series, and I wanted to see them clinch and engage in the obligatory celebratory scrum, accompanied by the presentation of the Western Conference trophy (or whatever fancy French name it goes by). Unfortunately, Los Angeles tied the game with less than 10 seconds left, and I wound up falling asleep before Chicago finally clinched the series in double-overtime.
I don't normally watch hockey (especially when neither team is named the Penguins), but I've always been fascinated by teams reaching the finals of any sport. There's just something about the last two teams (theoretically the best two teams in the entire world) squaring off for all the marbles.
As I said, I fell asleep during overtime and didn't see the aftermath of the Blackhawk's victory, but I'll make a pretty safe assumption that the players went nuts, along with the fans in attendance at Chicago's United Center.
Of course the fans and players went nuts. Why wouldn't they? Making it to the championship round of a major professional sports league is a rather obvious indication of an awesome season. And that's why I always find it funny how so many people--both players and fans alike--refuse to enjoy such an achievement. I can see players being more business-like about it (although, why so many NHL players refuse to touch the conference trophy is beyond me), but as for the fans? I really wish fans would just start enjoying the ride more.
I hear so many fans say things like "I'd rather see my team not even make the playoffs than lose in the championship."
I really don't get that kind of thinking. I mean, I get why fans would be disappointed and depressed following a loss in the championship round, but after a little time has passed, you would think people may soften their hearts and acknowledge that their team really did have a great season, despite losing the final game or series. But fond memories are more the exception and not the rule after a runner-up season.
I think I gained such an appreciation for just making it to the championship round after growing up in the 80's, a very mediocre decade for sports in Pittsburgh. The Steelers, Pirates and Penguins all pretty much sucked in that decade (although, the Steelers did make it to the AFC Championship Game in 1984, which I still can't believe), and I remember how abstract the thought of seeing one of Pittsburgh's teams make it to a championship really was.
The Pirates became championship contenders in the early 90's, winning three straight NL East titles, but they never made it to the World Series.
As for the Penguins, they did win back-to-back Stanley Cups in '91 and '92, and while I thought it was neat to see, I really wasn't into hockey at that time.
The Steelers have always been my first love. For years, I dreamed of watching them in the Super Bowl, but with players like Mark Malone and Weegie Thompson on the roster, I never thought I'd actually get to witness it. When Pittsburgh finally made it to Super Bowl XXX , it was a dream come true.
For me, very few sports moments rank as high as when Jim Harbaugh's pass fell incomplete in the right corner of the end zone on the final play of the 1995 AFC Championship Game at old Three Rivers Stadium.
I soaked up every second of the celebration as well as every second of the two weeks that led up to the clash with the heavily-favored Cowboys.
To this day, so many Pittsburgh sports fans can't even talk about Super Bowl XXX (the Steelers lost, 27-17), but I have nothing but fond memories of that time.
And why shouldn't I have fond memories? There are fans of teams who wish they had that kind of memory as recently as January of 1996.
There are teams who have never reached the Super Bowl. The Chicago Cubs haven't been to the World Series since 1945. How do you think Clippers fans would feel about reaching the NBA Finals? The Beattles were still together the last time the Maple Leafs made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
If making it to the championship round was so ordinary, I'm pretty teams would make it more often.
Reaching the championship is a pretty special thing, and it should be celebrated and appreciated just a little more.
I'll bet fans of the Bruins and Blackhawks are appreciating their teams' seasons right about now--let's hope the losing fan base can hold on to some of that appreciation when its team loses.