Hockey, like baseball, is a game of anticipation. Except there's not much anticipation factor during a Vancouver-Columbus game in January. Ah, but the Stanley Cup playoffs are different. Every game is vital. With every rush up the ice you can feel the excitement swell. This is the time, this is the play something could actually happen! Maybe even a goal! Hockey fans are small in number, relative to other sports, but they may well be the most passionate. A Stanley Cup final in Detroit or Montreal or Boston, well, the atmosphere must be electric. With or without the octopi.
This event, which drags on for what seems like weeks, is a celebration of the sport. It's pure baseball, without the millionaire players and attitudes. It's baseball with hustle and pepper and passion and enthusiasm. It was my dad's favorite event to watch on TV. Like any good reality show, he got to know the teams and certain players and developed favorites and rooting interests. It's Americana, really. Except with aluminum bats (unfortunately).
Or whatever they called that pre-Super Bowl supposed football game with the models wearing undergarments. I'd like to interview the combatants afterwards. Tiffany, what happened on that post route when Natalie was left uncovered? Christie, did you think you'd be able to run the ball that well against their 3-4? Maria, are those things real?
When an event is held only once every four years the build-up is excruciating. Who doesn't like rooting for underdogs like Cameroon or The Netherlands? In person, the national pride must make for an amazing atmosphere. It's fun to watch on TV (relatively speaking since it's still, after all, soccer) but in person it has to be unforgettable.
I've seen a bit of this game on television and I'm telling you, Americans could get hooked on it. It's a bunch of guys with no pads hitting each other, like rugby; kicking the ball, like soccer; and passing the ball, sometimes even behind the back, like basketball. It's fast-paced and exciting and physical. I can't believe it's not already an ESPN staple. The entire nation comes to a halt when the final is played each September, and occasionally a tiny-town underdog wins the title, as Armagh did in 2002. Which was the equivalent of the Washington Nationals upsetting the Yankees in the World Series.
Once upon a time, it mattered. Big Ten pride versus Pac-10 pride (preceded by the overindulgent Rose Parade), and the stadium itself is a piece of art in a sort of scenic ravine next to a public golf course. As a late-day bowl game, it was always perfectly lit by the sun (as if Spielberg was directing) and glowing with color. The locker rooms and the press box were slightly outdated the last time I covered a Rose bowl, more than 25 years ago, but for Midwesterners and Big Ten fans, it was always the ultimate destination and the ultimate game. Plus, California in January? It's better than Peoria or Champaign or East Lansing or any other snow-covered campus. It's sweet.