Its only a game

OK sports fans. I guess I should start by saying that I’m not much of a sports fan. I’m not opposed to sports. I wrestled in high school, I’ve been a skier and a paddler most of my adult life. I enjoy playing with friends and neighbors. I pay attention to the NBA finals, the World Series and the Super Bowl. I read the box scores and keep track of the Chicago Cubs. But watching others compete isn’t the highest of my priorities. Part of it is that I simply don’t watch much television. It seems like I always have other things that I’d rather do.

When it comes to watching sports, my favorites are the ones where I know the players. A good high school basketball game is more fun if I know the kids who are playing. I enjoy watching small children play soccer and t ball, but I often really do not enjoy watching their parents. The behavior of parents at children’s sports events is often quite disturbing.

Still, some sports stories do get my attention.

I wasn’t paying much attention as the Cleveland Cavaliers lost the first two games of the Eastern Conference finals in Boston. The Celtics were predicted to win. They have a well-balanced team with plenty of power. Both teams have amazing home crowds, but the series favored Boston on that score. Now, after four games, I’ve started to take notice. LeBron James is an amazing basketball player and he leads the Cavaliers well. To win the series, however, Cleveland now has to win in Boston, which is not an easy task.

You get the point. I’m not oblivious to sports. I’m paying attention even though I will often say that I’m not a sports fan.

There is one more team that has captured my attention this year. And this one is surprising. Because I don’t really enjoy watching hockey. I did watch a bunch of youth games a few years ago when a member of our congregation was really into the game and I wanted to support him in his passion, but for the most part the game is a bit wild for my tastes. It seems to encourage unnecessary violence and often appears as if brute force is valued over intelligent game play.

It is, however, difficult to ignore the Las Vegas Golden Knights. This is a brand new expansion team that was just created out of the leftovers form the league. For an expansion team to pull of a winning season is a very unusual and unlikely event. But the Golden Knights are headed to the Stanley Cup after defeating the Winnipeg Jets. That is an upset that is unheard of.

The Knights ended their regular season 51-24-7. Compare that with the last two NHL expansion teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets who won 28 games in their opening season, and the Minnesota Wild who won 25. And now they are headed to the Stanley Cup. You’ve got to admit that this is an unusual story.

What has been most interesting to me, however, is the way that the team ant its community have formed such a strong bond. I think that part of the story happened before the team ever played its first NHL game. Back in the fall, on October 1, a lone shooter, armed with semi-automatic rifles equipped with bump stocks rained bullets down on a concert crowd from a high-rise hotel in Las Vegas. 58 people died. Team members stepped up to help the victims’ families and to offer their support to first responders. They made connections with their community that went far beyond the usual for a sports team.

On opening night for the new team, as a row of first responders stood near center ice and the huge video monitors showed scenes of the grieving community, Vegas defensemen Deryk Engelland skated to center ice and made an emotional and inspirational speech about what it means to be Vegas strong, about how much he loved the community, and how ready Las Vegas was for NHL competition. It was a speech that none who attended will ever forget.

I’m no hockey fan, but I’ve watched the speech on YouTube several times.

The passion behind that speech seems to have carried over into a nearly perfect season for the young team. They are fast. They are aggressive. Beyond that, they are passionate. And now they are headed to the Stanley Cup. The final series begins next Monday.

There are moments when sports can bring out the best in a community. Teams can provide emotional centers for community spirit and cohesiveness. Sports have the power to reach beyond the differences that divide us from one another. But they also can bring out the worst in us. Intense completion can result in the vilification of the opposing team. Thee are too many stories of how racism has reared its ugly head in high school sports in South Dakota for anyone to say that sports are the cure all for the ills of society.

All too often we forget that it is only a game.

Maybe that is why I’m a fan of the Chicago Cubs. In addition to having lived in Chicago for four years, I’ve been attracted to the Cubs in part because they aren’t always winners. They aren’t World Series regulars. They’ve lost some heart-breaking games in my years of watching them. They teach their fans the love of the game over the love of winning - the joy of the journey above the success of the destination. It is a lesson every coach of youth teams espouses, but very few actually practice. In the heat of the game a win-at-all-costs attitude can take over even the most philosophical of coaches.

It may be that losing has more to teach us than winning.

Still you’ve got to love the story of the Golden Knights. The Capitals prevailed over the Lightning forcing a seventh game, so we won’t know until tomorrow who the Knights will be facing. I think I know which team I’ll be rooting for.

Copyright (c) 2018 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!