June 20, 2011

This one's for Paps

I hope you all had a great father's day. I know I had a blast with my Paps yesterday. An in light of the holiday, the 22 years he's raised me, and a certain championship parade Saturday, I decided to put a little something together for y'all. Enjoy.

I've been watching sports with my dad since I was just a little kid. On TV. At Fenway. In the Garden. Freezing our asses off in section 318 at Gilette. It doesn't matter how or where...we've seen a lot of incredible moments. And witnessed a bunch of Bostonian championships. Six in the past ten years. But we never saw the Bruins win the Cup.

I'd argue that of all the fanatics of Boston sports, Bruins fans are the most loyal. Sure you've got your die-hard Celtic, Red Sox, and Patriot fans. But let's be real. Success brings fans in, and those three have seen WAY more than their fair share over the past decade. Meanwhile, Bruins fans have waited in frustration SINCE 1972 for the Cup to make another victory lap through Beantown. Some gave up on the team. Others grew indifferent. Or disgusted, whether with ownership...or freak losses. But those who stayed with the team more than deserve this moment.

This story isn't about the loyalists. This is a story about those who fell off the bandwagon...and came back.

Let's start with a brief history of the Bruins. For an original six franchise...they've experienced a Maple Leafs-esque myriad of misfortunes:

- The departure of Bobby Orr
- Seemingly eternal domination at the hands of arch-rival Montreal
- The cheap shot to Cam Neely's knee
- Ray Bourque finally winning his first Cup...in Colorado
- The Jacobs Ownership
- And of course...blowing a 3-0 lead to Philly in last year's ECF

Well...maybe not quite Maple Leafs-esque. They lose more than the Purple Parrots in Legends of the Hidden Temple. But you can imagine that the list above could dishearten even the most loyal Bruins fan.

You could say that was the case with my Dad.

If you grew up in Massachusetts during the '60s & '70s, hockey was king. It was the sport that EVERYONE played, whether organized or on a frozen pond. My paps was no different. He lived hockey. He played hockey. And he, just like everyone else, lived and died by the Bruins.

They were his team. And they were VERY freaking good. Phil Esposito (76 goals in 1970, prompting a bumpersticker "Jesus Saves...Espo scores on the rebound"), Johnny Bucyk (no slouch of his own with 51 in '70), Ken Hodge (a third guy with 40+ goals in '70), Wayne Cashman, Derek Sanderson and countless others. Oh, and the world's best player in Bobby Orr. No biggie.

But the mid '70s, particularly Orr's strange departure (possibly a result of tampering) to Chicago, and the trade of Phil Esposito (to NEW YORK of all teams) were part of a laundry list of misfortune that turned him off from hockey. And I'm sure there were plenty of others who gave up on the B's. You can't blame them. I can't blame him.

This is where I enter the picture. Sports were religion to me as a little kid. I was obsessed. Reading the sports page as soon as I could read. Obsessing and absorbing every single sport almanac ever created. Turning off the TV so I could listen to sports talk radio. Watching every game my parents would let me stay up for. Playing every sport, whether baseball, basketball, soccer, or football from dusk til dawn.

With sport as my religion, I WORSHIPED Boston teams. The Celtics were first. Sure they were terrible, but I was obsessed with the team's history, particularly Larry Bird. And wouldn't you know it, I met him in a restaurant right before attending my first Celtics game. The Red Sox were next. Then the Patriots were top dog...and have stayed there ever since. But the Bruins? And hockey? Always fourth fiddle. Hell I never even went to a game. And never really had any interest.

That changed a bit in 2004. I went to my first hockey game ever, and then twelve more...and saw the Tampa Bay Lightning win the Stanley Cup. I jumped aboard the bandwagon. And according to the rules of fanhood...once you're aboard you can't jump off. As a Bostonian, that might be my biggest regret.

That was especially the case when the Bruins beat the Lightning and advanced to the Cup. Sure I was mad the Lightning lost. But I was more mad that I wouldn't be able to enjoy it the way my friends would. Or my Dad.

Naturally I rooted for the Bruins in the finals. A team from Boston...or a Canadian "hockey" team that bites fingers and flops more than Italian soccer players? Easy choice. Even if it was only temporary.

As the Cup rolled along, I got more into it. Part of it was because Vancouver embarrassed all of mankind with their girly play. Another part may have had to do with my pals sh*tting on me because I rooted for the Bolts.

But the biggest part? Watching the Cup with my Dad. And seeing the script reverse. Watching my Dad getting excited, animated, and yelling at the TV like I had done as a kid. Seeing a huge grin on his face when Boston put it away with some "good old-fashioned" hockey. It was contagious. It was fun. And it was sport bringing us closer together...one more time.

Happy Father's day Paps. And Happy Father's day to all Bruins fans. After 39 years...you couldn't have a much better present.

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