Hockey. Nothing even comes close. It's beautiful, physical, brutal and you can figure out what offsides is.
I've been a hockey fan all my life, going to Madison Square Garden as a kid to see the Rangers battle Bobby Orr and the Big Bad Bruins. It was epic. The hatred between the two teams made Republicans and Democrats look like squabbling children in a sandbox. Feelings got so hot between my college roommate from Massachusetts and me (he used to hang out the dorm window to try to listen to WBZ Boston when his beloved Bruins were on the west coast) that we got into a fist fight once because Ranger defenseman Brad Park broke his ankle during a late game and he woke me up at 2 a.m. to gloat.
One other quick story... I was attending one of the classic Ranger v. Bruins games in the early seventies. As the Bruins warmed up, skating around their net prior to the start of the third period, some guy who was sitting to my right stood up, produced a rubber chicken and threw it at Boston's Derek Sanderson, smacking him right in the face. Incensed, he charged to the corner where I was sitting and pointed me out as his teammates started to climb over the glass. I quickly pointed out that it was the guy next to me. Order was soon restored, but I have to admit it was an adrenaline rush.
Hockey is a close relation to soccer, the beautiful game, but with a lot more scoring, less theatrics and no shorts. I used to have season seats to the Los Angeles Kings when I moved out here. Couldn't give the tickets away when I wasn't able to make the game. However everyone that took the tickets and went came back a converted hockey fan. Especially women. I daresay that the best looking women are hockey fans.
You don't have to have a favorite team to be a hockey fan. It's a Zen-like sport that puts you into a trance as the tensions build. Especially now during the Stanley Cup playoffs. For years, whenever a sports magazine runs a survey and asks what the most exciting spectator sport in the world is, a seventh game Stanley Cup playoff game finishes miles ahead of all others, including the Super Bowl.
It's a very social sport, with not one but two intermissions to mingle. Meet someone on the street wearing a hockey sweater (They're called sweaters, not jerseys) and there's always a knowing nod that you're both part of an elite club that knows the difference between icing and a two-line pass.
What's the most iconic Olympic moment of the past 50 years? The USA hockey team's gold medal victory in 1980. I watched the semifinal game at LAX before catching a plane. During the flight the pilot announced over the PA that we beat the Russians. Everyone was a hockey fan that night and they all cheered. Do you believe in miracles?
Speaking of the Stanley Cup, is there any trophy more sacred? Come on, even you -- who probably can't stand hockey (I know you're out there) -- can identify the Stanley Cup. The Cup spends the summer with the members of the championship team. Each player gets it for a day. They take it to hospitals, parades, baseball stadiums (Where ballplayers vie to get their picture taken with it), wherever the player wants. Do you do back flips when you get near the Lombardi Trophy? Bet most of you don't even know what the Lombardi Trophy is. But you all know the Stanley Cup.
This time of year I love to sit back in my most comfortable chair and watch the playoffs. I could watch three games in a row and it wouldn't faze me in the least. The sound of the skates when a player makes a snow spraying stop, the tingle when your goaltender makes a save on his belly while the team is two men down. The metallic "ping" when the puck hits the crossbar. The sportsmanship in the line up for handshakes from the two teams that just finished slugging it out in a playoff series. Every pass, every check and every penalty the stakes are enormous. That's hockey. Nothing like it. Best sport ever.
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