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.


Juno who Jeff Parke is?

31 03 2009

Working over in marketing for the Whitecaps, it’s not often you get to be involved in team signings and roster moves. Now, I’m not suggesting I had any major involvement, but this is probably the closest level of influence I’m going to get.

You see, Friday morning I arrived at the office to learn that Jeff Parke was on his way in to Vancouver. We felt he could be a key signing for the club and really strengthen the back four. He and his wife were set to arrive in the afternoon and we had put them up in a downtown hotel for the next several days. As is customary with these types of situations, you want to ensure the player has a positive experience with the club and the city. It’s sort of a courting game, per se. So with the Juno Awards in Vancouver that weekend, we thought it would be a great event for Jeff and his wife to attend and get a taste of the city.

But how were we ever to get tickets to the main events, especially on the same day that it was all to kick off? Well, that’s where I stepped in. With my relationships at various radio stations, I knew they would be the best source to hit. It was a little bit of a long shot, however, as most people give out their passes long before the day-of. But I explained the situation to my wonderful colleague at CFox and sure enough, she couriered me off some concert tickets and VIP passes!

So when I found out we actually signed Jeff last night, a little piece of me claimed victory. It was a fairly minor and possibly inconsequential element of the process, but hey, maybe it did play a factor. I’ll continue to think so until someone tells me otherwise!

Championship Memories

26 11 2008

It has been a good six weeks since we won the championship, and it already is starting to fall away, into the memory bank.  Working for a sports team, you always have only a limited amount of time to savor the moment you are presently in.  Before long, it’s back to moving onward and upward.  Planning for the ’09 season beckons and with my focus on that, it seems our playoff run is creeping further and further away.

So maybe now is a good time to reflect on that playoff run, and in particular what I remember most.  Now that some time has passed, there are only two memories that seem to stick out in my mind.  I’ll share the other one next week, but here’s the first one:

It seems every championship team needs to cling onto something to reach the level required to win a title.  This seems intuitive: teams are required to play at a high level for six months or more.  When the playoffs arrive, injuries are piling up, travel is taking its toll and a weight of expectations sit upon every players’ shoulders.  Ultimately, teams that succeed are teams that can find that extra motivation to carry them to another level.  Whether it’s the ‘nobody believes in us’ underdog mentality or the ‘let’s win this for person x’ honor pledge or the ‘we were wronged’ revenge plot, it all leads inevitably to the same ending.

In 2006, the ‘Caps rallied around Eddie Sebrango to win the championship game.  You may be thinking ‘wait, wasn’t Eddie suspended for that match?’  He was, but his influence on the team was far greater than he could have exerted on the pitch.  Eddie’s Obi-wan Kenobi moment, if you will.  His goal against Montreal was the stuff of legend.  A guy who felt wronged by the organization and fled to its rival scores the winner in extra time on that same pitch he once called home.  Overcome with emotion, he whipped his shirt off with joy, and of course had to sit out the final match in suspension.

Most people would feel ashamed and distraught over such an error in judgment.  But Eddie took it upon himself to step up in the week leading up to the match.  He turned into Eddie Sebrango: Player-Coach.  By the end of the week, the team knew they had to win this match for Eddie.  And boy did they ever – a 3-0 defeat to Rochester in their own stadium and our first USL-1 title.

This past season, Jay Nolly became a revelation.  At the start of the season, we didn’t quite know what we had in him.  As he and Djekanovic battled for the starting goalkeeper spot, it seemed inevitable a time-split was in the cards.  When Serge started the first couple games, it appeared Jay would be relegated to backup duty.  But Jay got better as the season progressed and his command of the box and vocal leadership on the pitch was very evident.  By season’s end, he was not only our number one keeper but quickly becoming one of the league’s best as well.

That’s why that fateful moment during the first leg in Montreal was so gut-wrenching.  When Jay received a straight red card (and subsequent one game suspension) for an altercation with Antonio Ribeiro, the entire Whitecaps fanbase felt their hearst plunge into their stomach.  We now had to weather the storm from a momentum-gaining Impact squad, with young Tyler Baldock as our savior between the posts.

But a funny thing happened during that game.  A defense that had struggled of late suddenly came together, and a rookie keeper stood his ground.  We escaped Montreal down 1-0 and in the strongest test of character of the season, knocked Montreal out with a 2-0 win at home.  I remember sitting next to Jay before the game.  I didn’t say a word to him – his emotions were written all over his face.  He was nervous and felt horrible.  As kids in the stands kept asking him questions, I wouldn’t have blamed him if he just hid in the tunnel.

So when the final whistle blew, the first thing I did was look around for Jay.  There he was, the happiest guy in the stadium.  He ran onto the pitch congratulating his teammates, knowing that vindication was his for the taking.

In a fierce semifinal against a hated rival, the defence stood up and won the series for Jay.  And he would return the favor a week later, saving six shots to help the ‘Caps knock off the number one team in the league, 2-1.  Just yet another chapter in Whitecaps lore.

Sebrango a-go-go

12 11 2008

In case you haven’t heard, ‘Caps MVP Eddie Sebrango is heading back to Montreal.  Eddie was the heart and soul of this team and played with a passion that spread throughout the organization.  You couldn’t watch him play and not be inspired by his heart.  And ultimately, it’s his heart that is taking him away from Vancouver.  While he loved the city and organization, his desire to be closer to his two kids in Kingston, Ontario, trumped all.

I’m always an optimistic, silver lining kind of guy and I’m feeling okay with this move.  We were needing to develop our younger forwards anyway, and this presents a golden opportunity for someone like Randy Edwini-Bonsu or Dever Orgill.  Plus, you can’t really be too upset when someone makes a decision that’s best for their family or personal situation.

I will miss mostly the cheerfulness and candor that he displayed to everyone inside and outside the organization.  But what I will remember most is the photos he produced.  My philosophy as it relates to our marketing efforts has always been to capture the raw emotion of soccer.  There are no helmets or pads in soccer, so a player’s emotions are right there for all to see.  That’s what makes the sports so special and that’s why it grabs people.  And Eddie was the best at displaying those emotions.  I loved his aerial acrobatics after scoring a goal.  And I loved when he would fail to score and hold his hands against his head and look up at the sky.  Sure, that was a failed opportunity, but it was also a very real and sincere moment in the sport.  It was that essence that we tried to capture in much of our advertising and website photos.  He gave us real emotion and let fans in to how he was feeling for a full 90 minutes.

So, to Eddie: we’ll miss you and we wish you the best.  No doubt you’ll receive a thunderous cheer upon your first visit back to Swangard.

An ode to Winger

31 10 2008

We have a Whitecaps Movember Facebook group now set up.  Visit http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=42869489497 to join.

In honor of our Movember push, Winger has graciously adopted a stache (well, with the help of Photoshop).  This also marks a good time to toast the fantastic mascot, after another season of keeping fans entertained and ball kids pestered.

Apparently we used to have a Gorilla as a mascot.  I have no idea why, but this video kills me.  I laugh every time I watch it.  Notice how the Whitecaps gorilla is just standing on the sideline watching the game.  Like a regular person interested in the action, who just happens to be a gorilla.  I love it.