Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Hockey Fever vs the Swine Flu

Tough choice for me. One gives you the chills, nausea and makes people want to avoid you. The other is an international pandemic.


It's hockey playoff time and there's no worse country than Canada to be in if you're not a fan of the pucks. Every other car has numerous hockey flags waving from it, newscasts stop scare-mongering with the latest on the pig disease in order to bring you our local heroes skating around, and, worst of all, everyone assumes you care.

The other day, a mom at my son's preschool tried to engage me in the subject of the NHL playoffs. I told her I don't like hockey. In retrospect, I think that's a little harsh. It's not that I hate it; I'm indifferent to it. And because I don't have a rooting interest in any team, or the sport in general, I don't follow it or care one way or the other how things turn out.

I mentioned that I had to go downtown one night last week and, wanting to know whether parking would be more of an issue than normal, had to ask my wife if there was a game on. My wife said there wasn't.

There was.

That tells you something right there, that two citizens of this hockey-crazed town didn't even know if a playoff game was being held in their own town that night. The mom said to me, "You do realize the Canucks won the series 4-0, don't you?", figuring that I at least got the broad strokes if not the finer points.

I didn't.

With the internet now, I don't need to read the papers and sift through stuff I'm not interested in to get to what strikes my fancy. I don't have a day job where I have to go and interact with people on a daily basis, so I'm not privy to office buzz, and I listen to my iPod when driving rather than the radio. And friends know enough not to default to hockey talk around me lest they be greeted with blank stares. So how would I know these things?

In looking back at an old Sports Guy column I did in 1996, I see I wasn't always this way. But the writing was on the wall. I think my history as an all-purpose sports fan would be charted as a bell curve. And a skinny bell at that. It wasn't until I got a temp job as a sports reporter for the Province newspaper that I realized I didn't really care about any sport except for basketball, which I didn't get to cover. From then on, I didn't define myself as a sports fan.

This column, from May of 1996, was co-written by my friend Danny Mather, as I mention in the piece. Turns out I have become him:

The Sports Guy, May 9-15, 1996

Sports are all around us. You walk into a restaurant or bar and you’re inundated with a wall of TV sets keeping us up-to-date on all the latest games. It seems every other person pledges allegiance across their chest or on their cap to a favourite pro team. You would think one would have to be from Mars not to follow sports. And yet, inexplicably there are people, otherwise like you and me, who are loathe to the mere mention of the word.

These people have no interest in it and take great pride in their ignorance. They have to. It’s a defense mechanism. They’d get eaten alive otherwise.

Many of my best friends are Martians. Sure, it’s hard to talk to them once the topic of the weather has been exhausted. But we make do. They know not to call me during Sports Page and I know not to call them after 8:30 because these people have no lives. What’s the point of staying up if you absolutely, positively don’t have to find out who won the pre-season Lakers game?

But I can relate to them because I come from these people. My family is not what you would call a sports family. As an adolescent, my father worked at the public library. Nuff said. We may be one of the few groups of humans in Canada who didn’t watch one single second of the 1972 Canada-USSR hockey series. Didn’t even know it was on.

It wasn’t until 1979 when I underwent my metamorphosis into sports fan. No one, myself included, knows how it happened, but Kafka would have been proud. Consequently I am able to talk with total strangers about the equivalent of Paul Henderson’s game-winning goal. And furthermore I can’t think of a thing to say to my family.

Although lately with the increase in popularity of motor sports (he said oxymoronically) I’ve felt like my outcast Martian friends, feigning interest over the lamentable fact that Ford has overtaken that other car company (or was it the other way around?) in one of the major circuits.

In such situations one feels totally helpless. It’s like being dropped in the middle of a foreign country, the only difference being that talking slowly and loudly won’t help you. And there is no Sportsfan/Non-Sportsfan dictionary and phrase book to fall back on. Although, if you read further, maybe there should be.

I asked my friend Danny Mather, of Mars, to help me convey his angst to the sports-reading masses. The rest of the column is his:

“So how about those ’Nucks, eh?” the serviceman asked me as I unlocked the door for him.

“Sorry?” was my confused reply.

“The Canucks. You know, pretty lame, huh?” he again queried.

I didn’t know what to say. I’ve never paid attention to sports in my life, except for going to see Rocky III, and I have reason to believe that most of all that wasn’t real.

“I don’t watch hockey much,” I ventured lamely, not meeting his eyes (my peripheral vision is all I need to pick up someone’s disdainful glances).

I let him into the area he was working in and then headed to my desk to phone my friend Rocky (no relation to the famous actor guy), who has to be a sports fan the way he’s always yelling when he’s watching T.V.

“Rocky, I’ve got a problem. People keep trying to use sports to make small talk with me and I don’t know what to say back to them. This has been going on my whole life and that damned Raptors shirt that my brother got me for Christmas hasn’t helped one bit.”

Rocky laughed in that crazy sports fan/stalker way he has. “Easy as cake, pal. Just say the following: ‘As long as we got Hirsch.’ It’s only relevant to hockey, but you can still try it. Anybody who doesn’t understand it doesn’t matter anyway. And hey, can I have my Rocky III video back yet?”

I think it works. I haven’t actually tried it on anybody yet, except for a few test tries on people that know I don’t know diddly-squat about sports, but I’m pretty sure there were impressed anyway.

If you’re reading this column, you’re probably some kind of sports fan. If it happens to be you that walks in when I’m working and starts making small talk about sports, just humour me, okay? Don’t start asking me tough stuff, like what team he plays on or what position or what his first name is. Because then I’m just back at square one. Then we’ll have to talk about the weather, or politics, or about the latest plane crash/natural disaster that killed a whole lot of innocent people. And that depresses me.

The world is a nice place. A good place.

As long as we got Hirsch.


  1. I loved and still do love this column. In fact I often use the Hirsch quote or some version of it. Currently I work where the secretary's last name is Hope. I often say, "As long as we've got Hope." I know it's not the same, but it comes from this column. Rocky, if he exists, was brilliant.

  2. Rocky does, in fact, exist. And that's his real name. Or at least the name he goes by.

  3. I've downgraded myself from a sports nut (as a teenager) to a sports fan (as a young adult) to a sports dabbler today--in everything except baseball, to which I remain irrationally attached. I'm aware of how the Canucks are doing, but haven't watched more than a few minutes of any game this season. Not sure if this is a sign of growth so much as lethargy. Too hard to keep up, and I don't care enough to try.

    Mebbe I'm just turning into a crotchety old bastard.

  4. I work with Danny and the first time I brought up the Canucks, he used the "As long as we've got Hirsh" line on me. Hahaha!

    Rocky is a real guy too. His name comes up every now and then.