Thursday, September 22, 2005

Hockey's Last Hoorah?

{Note: This is one crazy long, rambling post.}

Did you hear that the NHL is getting ready to play again?
It's true. There are people all over the country who don't know this or don't care.
Living in St. Louis, this news has garnered more attention here than it has elsewhere. I hear some people wonder why that is the case. Well, here is my opinion on why St. Louis seems to care a little bit about this sport.

For reasons that defied all demographics and financial statements, St. Louis proved to be a town that embraced its hockey team. Early in the team's history, we didn't just elevate them to a "star" status and ooh and ahh over their performance. We related to these scrappy guys. We knew their names and we knew their attitudes. Each player knew precisely what his job was with the team, and he gave his all to fulfill his duty. These guys weren't overpaid or lazy and outside of the relatively small hockey fan base they were totally unknown - we appreciated those facts.

Thousands would show up at an old Arena to watch these guys skate around on ice for 60 minutes. Hundreds would congregate on the parking lot after a regular game to discuss how the team was doing. The Old Barn reverberated the shouts of the crowd. The intensity of the play on the ice was sometimes surpassed by the crowd in the stands. People clapped their hands together and stomped their feet and shook the metal walls and pounded on anything that might add a little more noise to the cacophony. The building shook. The players heard the ruckus and responded in turn with a little more energy.

People lost themselves in celebration of a goal. Beer was spilled. Popcorn was thrown. Families were united in their passion for their hometown team. The crowd would lean forward when the Blues got a breakaway. The crowd would hold their breath as the slap shot was lined up. The crowd would cheer when one of their own squared off against an opposing player to resolve a dispute. There was seemingly an inexhaustible supply of support and emotional energy emanating from the crowd.

And that is why the fans fell in love with the St. Louis Blues.

We were the underdog. We played in a building that once housed cattle for crying out loud. what did we have to lose? We unashamedly associated ourselves with this team because they were ours and they were different than every other team in the league. We liked it that way. The price to attend a game was affordable for the common hard-working, nickel-scraping guy to be able to take his family of four to a game and have a great time. The Arena was packed with common people backing their team unashamedly.

So what changed?

Well, the League began to expand into markets that had no reason to ever own a hockey team. Businessmen began buying teams as investments and not because they had a passion for the game. These same businessmen owners began changing things so that other businessmen would feel more comfortable coming to watch this entertaining event called a hockey game. Plain scoreboards were replaced by “state of the art” television boards, so attendees could watch the game on the television screen instead of watching the action happen in front of them on the ice. Suddenly, 60 minutes of grown men flying around on metal blades over a frozen surface, hitting each other mercilessly was not enough to entertain these new constituents. The intermission between periods was no longer the time when the zamboni would come out and resurface the ice and the fans would fight their way to the concession stand and restrooms. It became the time when silly games, which are usually hosted by an annoyingly obnoxious announcer, are played.

As more and more businessmen owners renovated their existing arenas or simply had new ones built for them, it became obvious that the old days of grabbing the family and heading to the hockey arena were on the verge of extinction. Businesses began buying boxes to seat their visitors in. It became common to see people in business attire sitting in the areas closest to the ice. Fancy club areas were installed to better accommodate the mingling and chatting that businessmen like to do while on business outings. Restaurants were brought in to cater to the every whim and want of this new type of “fan”.

Might I suggest that the players have changed as well?

Looking around and seeing their surrounding change dramatically, the players got the idea that maybe they were becoming a “hot commodity”. Players began demanding more money. Players began seeking out the limelight. Players began taking pot shots at each other in the media instead of on the ice. Players began to talk about the need to be protected on the ice and so the rules were adjusted. Teams that began to play a version of hockey slowed the game down to what could best be described as “bore the other team into giving up a tacky goal”. The referees began to take the competitive spirit out of the game by constantly stopping the play. The amount of time spent between plays became a slave to the “television time out”. The game became longer and slower. Players were playing a less physical game and wanting more money for it. Fans were paying more to attend a game and yet seeing less of the game they grew up loving.

And then the strike came

That thud that wasn’t heard by most Americans was the popularity of the NHL dropping through the floor. Suddenly, networks realized that the common man didn’t really care about the game. Owners discovered that the businessmen they had geared their stadiums for had little interest in becoming repeat customers. The common man couldn’t afford a ticket to the game, much less the astronomical cost of a pretzel while at the game and the owners didn’t seem to understand this fact. The lackluster players who, just ten years before would have been pleased to have a contract at all, were demanding 7 figure incomes. The once common man game of hockey had become the businessman’s bastardized failure at marketing to a clientele who didn’t give a rip about a team or it’s players.

So how can the league salvage what is left?

I don’t really care about the league. If they can figure out how to manage the financial side of things, they will continue to function as an entity. I am more concerned with how the St. Louis Blues can begin to make amends with an audience that they forsook a long time ago. Long before the laser light shows and video screens and plush seats, there was a team that had a die-hard following. This current team needs to try and find those fans and somehow try to gain their love, admiration and respect once again.

How can the current St. Louis Blues recapture the glory of days gone by?

I’m not sure how they can achieve any sort of redemption in the eyes of the fans that have walked away disgusted by the changes to the game, the league and the players themselves. I for one would love to see a change in the attitude of the team right off the bat. For too long the fans have been seeing pretty boys smiling for the cameras and worrying about how much they might make elsewhere next season. Screw that. If you want to play somewhere else, then let us help you pack your bags. I don’t want to attach myself in any way, shape or form to a player who is so worried about the money that he can’t and won’t develop any kind of loyalty to his team, his town and his fans. Give me a player who plays as hard as he can, day in and day out, doesn’t care how he looks for the camera, doesn’t dwell on how much money he could make elsewhere and doesn’t back down when the play gets a little rough. I’ll take a whole team like that, even if they do not win a lot of games.

If the team can change how they are perceived, then perhaps they can earn the right to be adored once again. If I were the coach of the St. Louis Blues this season, here is what I would do. I would tell my guys that I don’t care how much they are getting paid, if they are not playing all out, they will sit out. There’s a whole bunch of guys in Worcester just dying to play in St. Louis. The St. Louis Blues used to represent a smash-mouth team that played hard and did what they had to do to win. We must become known for those qualities again. If a team is playing dirty against us, we will sink to that level. If a team is outplaying us, we will do what it takes to slow them down. If an opposing player takes a run at one of our big production guys, we will send a guy out to do the same right back at them. If they want to stir things up a bit, we will be more than willing to drop the gloves.

Let’s make teams worry about playing the St. Louis Blues. Let’s make them dread coming into our town. Let’s play with such outrageous animosity for the other team that they can’t wait to get on board their buses and leave. Let’s give the fans something to cheer about, even when there might be nothing to cheer about. Let’s make things happen on the ice. Instead of playing on our heels letting the play come to us, let’s take it to the other team. Let’s relentlessly pound the boards and play the man. You know how teams seem to get more wired up the closer the playoffs get? You know how tough each game of the playoffs is played? Yeah, let’s play every game that way. Let’s grind it out and make the other team earn every stinking point they may score.

It may not be the way to build a winning team, but it could be a way to build a fan base.
I would watch such a team play such a game.
I would even be willing to follow a team that played that way.
And any player that chooses to stay in St. Louis as opposed to going elsewhere for more money will always have my respect.

I grew up watching the Blues with my family. I watched the changes happen firsthand as the team moved from the Arena to the Savvis Center. I recognized the change in players attitudes and grew to hate it. My father quit going to games after the move (he couldn’t justify the cost.) I continued going a couple of times a year, but it became harder to afford it and I began to enjoy the experience less and less. I even began catching fewer games on television. I found myself no longer able to confidently name players and their positions. I didn’t recognize some of them anymore. When the possibility of a strike loomed on the horizon, I found myself not upset about it at all. In fact, I found myself hoping that the strike would close the league down for at least one season, if not longer.

Now that the strike has happened and been resolved, I hope to see the sport I grew up loving revert back to its old ways and once again become a sport I follow and appreciate.
I’d love to be able to teach my children the game of hockey with the St. Louis Blues as their focal point. I’d love to go see a few games and share the experience with my wife who has never been to a game. I’d love so much for hockey in St. Louis to become everything it used to be and so much more.

Let’s make something awesome happen.
Let’s bring hockey back to St. Louis in a way that the fans can be proud.
Let’s make wearing that Blue Note a thing of pride like it once was.

Let’s Go Blues!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Pledge of Allegiance

I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Michael Newdow and all of his California friends can pack it up and move to Mexico if they don't like it.
If the Pledge of Allegiance is deemed unconstitutional, then so should the National Anthem...

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Lyrics - Spare An Angel by Chris Rice

Artist: Chris Rice
Album: Run the Earth and Watch the Sky

Spare An Angel
Found her stare'n at the rain
And ask'n why it has to hurt so bad
Where's the limit to the pain her heart can take
Before it breaks in half
I wanted to be strong enough to hold her
And show her the way
But she's so far out of reach
And now all I can do is pray

Can you spare an angel tonight
Send a little help from your side
Cuz somebody's lost down here
Let him wing his way through the dark
Carry some of your love into her heart
Can you spare an angel
Spare an angel
Spare an angel

She wonders further in the dark
Feels the cold and hears the thunder cry
While the rain keeps pouring down
Her only answer from the lonely sky
She has no idea how much you love her
Or how much you care
So would you choose one of your best
To be the answer to my prayer


Oh I don't know what else to pray this time
Maybe an angel can lead her lonesome heart away to Jesus side


Friday, September 02, 2005

Excuse Me Mr. President

In the aftermath of the immediate death and destruction of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of Americans are struggling to hang onto their lives in a place where there is no water, no food and no help. The actions taken by the Federal government and FEMA have been inadequate at best and criminally negligent and inexcusable at worst. While people are dying waiting for food and water, the decision-makers gawk and stare at what is becoming the defining moment of President Bush's already tenuous turn at the helm of this great country.

I still believe President Bush handled the tragedies of September 11th incredibly well and I was proud to have him as our President during that tough time. I stand with him in the war in Iraq, even though his reasoning is questionable to say the least. It is now however that I must step away from the side of the President and point my finger at him and say "Shame on you!".

To sit in your comfortable leather chair, in your air conditioned office, surrounded by people who are at your beckon call, able to grab a bite to eat or swallow a mouthful of ice cold water at any moment and say that "I think there ought to be zero tolerance of people breaking the law during an emergency such as this, whether it be looting..." when asked about people stealing shoes to cover their torn up bare feet is a disgrace.

These people have gone through hell on earth. Some of them have barely escaped the hurricane with their lives! And you're going to sit there and condemn some of them for breaking into a store that it utterly destroyed, with all of it's contents damaged and unsuitable for sale when they are trying to merely clothe themselves?!?
You have stepped way beyond the limits of decency and respect for these people who are living in a terrible situation.

Is looting wrong in a time of crisis?
There are two sides to that answer.

I believe that if people are stealing necessities for life then it is understandable - particularly when their government is not providing them with those necessities, regardless of what that government is saying. If the government cannot provide the immediate assistance that these people need to live, then they have every right to fend for themselves and find those needs wherever they may be.

However, it is indeed wrong of people to take advantage of the situation and take things which are non-essential to life. The big screen tvs, computers and jewelry have no direct tie to survival. So if a person is taking these items, then I believe it becomes a punishable offense.

The way I see it is that the people who were dumb enough to steal these other useless things during this time will be reaping what they've sown very soon. The people who went and took food and water will be around to watch as these other hooligans die while hugging their new 27 inch plasma tv. Realistically, these same hooligans are most likely the same people roaming the streets causinbg all sorts of mayhem and trouble in an already desperate situation.

Back to my point...

The government has failed the people of the coastal cities effected.
No words or committees will ever change that fact.
While the politicians pounded their chests and wondered what should be done, the people in these places struggled to keep their heads above water and did what they had to in order to extend their lives. These people have heroically lived through an amazing ordeal already and have done everything they can to by their government more time to save them. The government has not responded in turn.

All day yesterday I watched and read reports of the calamity that is the New Orleans Convention Center, with somewhere around 20,000 people stranded there without food and water. All day long reporters talked to these people and presented their plite to the world in print, on television and on the internet. And yet, the government acts as if it had never heard of the situation until late last night. These people ended up at this place because the government officials told them to go there!

Mr. President, if you can explain to me why the military could not fly one of its many helicopters over to the Convention Center and simply dropped a pallet of water to these people I would love to hear it.

Mr. President, if you can tell me why the people at the Superdome are getting carted 350 miles to a new shelter that has had to start turning them away, I would be most interested.

Mr. President, if you can enlighten me as to how these people are suppose to survive without taking the necessities from these places where they exist, I would gladly listen.

Mr. President, if you are so concerned for the plight of these people, then why haven't you been down there on th eground yet? I seem to remember you being at Ground Zero in New York City sooner than this...

Mr. President, if I were a resident of one of these cities that have been ravaged and you came walking down the street now to give me a pat on the back, a bottle of water and offered to hold my child in your arms, I would deny you that priviledge. In fact, although I would want to hit you and dunk you under the murky water for a moment to give you a sense of what I had lived through, I wouldn't. It wouldn't be worth the price that I would have to pay for that moment. I would simply turn and walk away.

Mr. President, the government has failed these people.
The Mayor of New Orleans has stated it.
The Governor of Louisiana has stated it.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Director Michael Brown stated it.

Quit trying to deny it.
Start trying to fix it.
People are dying.

It's a shame that such a mismanaged "Relief Effort" could take place in our nation in this day and age.

It's an insult to the men and women who are despeartely trying to offer assistance to these people but do not have the resources, manpower and permission to do so.

It is appalling to think that people who are so obviously in need of simple supplies could be allowed to die in front of the cameras while pleading for help.

Mr. President, if you were in your first term of office and were running for re-election, I would oppose you at every turn.

Mr. President, like you I have "zero tolerance" for some things too...
Empty words...
Broken promises...
Destroyed families...
Lack of sympathy...
Lack of love...