Approximately 15 months ago (which puts us roughly in the same time of the NHL hockey playoffs from last season) I was sitting at our kitchen island finishing up some late night work, half watching the last few seconds tick off a relatively successful Columbus Blue Jackets season (probably the most successful), and I heard whimpering from upstairs. My wife beat me to it, but before I got to the stairs, I realized what was going on. My then 5-year old was heartbroken over the Jackets not making it to the 2019 Stanley Cup Finals. Tears were flowing. Some of you may remember my wife’s Instagram post of the same kid crying his eyes out when I woke him up to tell him Lebron was headed to L.A. Imagine if he had he been alive for “The Decision.”
At the time of last year’s Stanley Cup playoff elimination game against Boston, I remember having to talk my wife into going back downstairs so I could calm the grumbling of the annoyed then 8-year-old from across the hall, and attempt to talk some sense into the younger one at 10 PM. At that moment, I realized the joy and sorrow of growing up in a Major League town. The Jackets are his team, their team, the biggest team in their hometown market that they know. Foligno and Atkinson (even Panarin and Bobby, I suppose), are their guys; they have the jerseys to show for it. They’ll argue with anyone who thinks Seth and Zach aren’t the best D-duo in the league. They know their stats, they know wins and losses, starting lineups, etc. They know the guys that used to play here and where most of them are now, and they know that Nash and Boll are back in town.
Finally, now it makes sense to me why you Clevelanders embrace the Factory of Sadness, yet before the midway point of every season, you’re already talking about next year. It makes sense to me why some Reds fans await the return of the Big Red Machine, while Bengals fans would give anything for a new front office and to be better than Pittsburgh… just once. You grow up living, breathing and sleeping this continuous firehose of hope. No regard for reality because your teams have been cellar dwellers far more years in your life than they’ve been competitive. The same can roughly be said about my boys’ Jackets.
I didn’t grow up in a Major League city. I’ve said before that my guys were the Clippers who cleaned house on four years of Governor’s Cup Championships with future Yankees that would go on a World Series run four out of five years pre-9/11. There’s a huge difference, and my little man was proving it to me in the moment of that Game 6 loss to the Bruins at Nationwide Arena.
My other favorite teams? Minnesota North Stars (best American-born skater ever), Philadelphia Eagles (Buddy Ryan’s defense and the best running QB pre-Mike Vick), Atlanta Hawks (the Human Highlight Film), and the San Francisco Giants (Wil the Thrill’s prettiest swing in baseball). What do all of those teams have in common? They’re not in Columbus. My loyalty to them outside of an occasional next size up Stars jersey? About as loyal as baseball free agents in the mid-90s.
Columbus was a cow town then (and still is now in some parts), but the Jackets have put us on the map. These guys are heroes, including those that chose not to don blue sweaters this year. They provide us the highs and lows, regardless of your age, that comes with Major League sports. We’re relevant, and everyone knows it.
So while I live each workday optimistic about many difficult things in the world, my youngest son just wants to know what it means to watch the Stanley Cup Finals in person. “This could be our year,” I tell him. The Lord knows Tampa Bay is still bothered by last year. Except I drop “The Bubble” on him and failed at explaining how that works for the time being. His very next thought was, “How do they eat?”
Ha, thank you, buddy, for forcing me to be thankful for where we are and why we’re here. Be grateful, Columbus, and Go Jackets!