A Few Good Men

19 06 2009

One of my favourite movies of all time is A Few Good Men.  Every time it’s on TV (which seems monthly at this point), I find myself landing on it and staying there.  It’s a movie filled with A-list actors and memorable lines.  And the best line of all comes at the end, when Lt. Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) says to Lance Cpl. Harold W. Dawson (Wolfgang Bodison) – “You don’t need a patch on your arm to have honour.”  After the final match of the Nutrilite Canadian Championship last night, I think I may need to watch this movie again on the weekend.

Smoldering flames

It was April 19, 2004. The Vancouver Canucks were at home to the Calgary Flames for game 7 of the first round of the playoffs. The season had already been marred by an ugly incident involving Todd Bertuzzi, but the resilient bunch looked capable of a decent march into Lord Stanley’s Spring.

I was less than a year into my first sports gig – marketing assistant for the Vancouver Canucks. Between data entry and other staples of the administrative world, I was charged with taking hold of the Inside Edge, this new ‘e-newsletter’ project that was going to push content out in an interactive and efficient way. I was making a cool $24,000 a year, but hey, I worked for a professional sports team, so I was on top of the world.

When game 7 approached, word spread around the office that there were some seats opening up for staff to purchase. I jumped at the chance, spending a quarter-paycheck on what was to be a highlight of my young career. I took my girlfriend (now wife) and we nervously watched the game unfold. I still remember it like it was yesterday. When Matt Cooke scored with a couple seconds left to send it to overtime, the building erupted. It still gives me goosebumps watching it. I picked up my girlfriend and swung her around like a rag doll. I was high-fiving and hugging everyone in my vicinity. Somehow our entire section became life-long drinking buddies who had just won a trip to Vegas.

The next moments happened in an instant. Everybody packed into the concourse to hit the washroom before overtime commenced. As I waited in the concourse for my girlfriend to get through the line and back to our seats, I remember thinking that I was witnessing one of the greatest Canucks games in history.  Watching Pavel Bure score his game 7 goal a decade earlier on a 22-inch tv in 100 Mile House had nothing on this moment.

My girlfriend came back and we rushed up the steps to our section.  Before we could get back, it was over.  Calgary had scored.  I didn’t even see it.  All I saw was the rush of people coming towards me like a fire had broken out.  That’s one of the key things I will also remember – that feeling of everybody rushing to get out of the building, like the loss was a virus that was going to infest us all.

It’s not you, it’s me.

That week back to work was especially difficult.  I can say for certain that I lost something that week.  You see, sports is like a love affair.  You fall in love with a team.  You wait on every bit of news.  You plan your days around them.  You feel heartbroken when they lose.  But you hang on, because you believe that happiness is just around the corner.

Working for a sports team, you lose this aspect very early.  The shine wears off.  The novelty gets old.  I always tell students that if they want to work in sports, prepare to give up your affection for the team.  Don’t get me wrong, working in sports is great.  But when you’re on the inside, when you have to deal with the highs and lows not just as fan but as an employee, it loses a bit of lustre.  Less than 12 hours after that fateful game 7, I had to put my despair aside and get back to season ticket renewals and email data capture.

You know when people in a relationship say ‘I love her, I’m just not in love with her?’  Game 7, 2004 is when I fell out of love for the Canucks.  I still cheer them on, I still wish for their success.  I read all about them, opine with my friends about their transactions and watch the games closely.  But it’s not the same.  I love them but I’m not in love with them.

The lamplighter brings darkness

Last night might have been the hardest loss I have ever taken as a sports fan.  Perhaps I am hyberbolizing because I’m still caught up in it.  But let’s face it, Montreal deciding not to show up and losing to Toronto FC 6-1 was one of the Whitecaps biggest losses in history – and we weren’t even on the pitch.  On the brink of CONCACAF Champions League, it was snatched away by an opportunistic TFC and a Montreal squad that most have described as their ‘B Team’.  I watched it amongst 50 Whitecaps supporters at The Lamplighter and words cannot describe the feeling in the room after it was all said and done.  It was a mix of shock and anger.  It was worse than a loss.  At least with a loss, there are answers to be unearthed; people to blame; an autopsy to conduct.  This was beyond that.  We were helpless.  It was like pulling up to your house after a night out with friends and watching it engulfed in flames.

I attempted to drown my sorrows at The Roxy’s 21st Birthday Extravaganza.  But after seeing too many colleagues and having to discuss and dissect what had previously occured hours earlier, I wanted out of there.  I just wanted to go home and fade away into dreamland.

The sun also rises

Waking up this morning was blissful.  There’s that 5 or 6 seconds when you wake up that your brain is still recounting its final dream and has no recollection of any reality from the day before.  That is a beautiful, beautiful time.  But as with all good things, it’s fleeting.  Reality set up shop and slammed a door in my face.  I was dreading coming into the office.  But I trudged through the morning and arrived at work to see a ghost town.  Where Thursday the office was bubbling with laughter and excitement, today felt like a funeral.  No eye contact, no conversation.  The frustration and confusion was pungent.

And then it changed.  I went onto the Southsider message board and read the sentiments.  Mixed in with the anger, a central theme emerged.  They were proud to be a Whitecaps fan and publicly stated it.  I moved onto the blogs and articles smattered across the web.  Again, it was respect to the ‘Caps.  I checked my Twitter accounts.  More of the same.

That’s when it hit me: last night, was a dark hour filled with despair and heartbreak.  But we arose a stronger club.  Our emotions may be low but our heads are high.  In one of the most eventful 7 days in club history, we’ve learned who we are and what we stand for. Ultimately, that’s worth more than any trophy.

All it took was a few good fans and a bunch of ‘new age’ web devices for me to see it.

Press on.





Stay of execution

2 06 2009

Working in sports, you can measure how much a moment means to you by how much you stick around after the match. When I worked at the Canucks, friends would tell me I was so lucky because I could hang out and watch every game. But nothing could be further from the truth. You work so hard day in and day out that most of the time you just want to go home. Sure, I stuck around for the big ones, but more often than not, I was content to just watch from home or at a pub with friends.

Working at the Whitecaps, I hardly ever miss a match – pretty much only if I’m out of town. I enjoy the atmosphere and I enjoy the closeness I feel to the club and thus I don’t want to miss a moment. But I will say, once the game is over, I want outta there. I don’t stick around, I just want to get home or onto whatever plans I have for the evening.

When a game like this occurs, however, you become like a kid at Playland. You just wander around with a perma-grin. Last night, I found myself going up to anyone I knew to shake hands, pat on the back, high five, whatever. When players were being interviewed I lingered, when fans were chanting in the concourse, I applauded. I just didn’t want to miss a thing. I wanted to be a sponge and soak it in. Tuesday night’s match reminded everyone how great following a club can be. I don’t want to even think about the future, but rather just enjoy what we have before us. Let this moment linger, just like me post-match on Tuesday.