There will be no Game 7, as I’m sure most of you know.
The Devils finally got themselves into a situation from which they could not recover. They took a bad early penalty, gave up three power-play goals in a five-minute stretch, and the Kings never looked back. The final score was 6-1.
I know that many of you that wouldn’t have otherwise done so watched, and rooted, for the Devils because you tell me so in your comments and in emails I receive. I am incredibly touched that you would concern yourselves with my kids’ favorite hockey team.
Even though there was no celebration in my house, I still have so much to tell you.
I want to tell you how when Game 6 went so terribly wrong for New Jersey from the start, that it was not Ryan that had the meltdown. It was Riley. That rather than piling on as he tends to do when she gets upset, Ryan tried everything in his power to comfort his sister.
I want to tell you that when the Kings scored two meaningless goals in the final minutes to turn a reasonable 4-1 score into a 6-1 butt-kick, Ryan did not lose it when he learned of the result.
I want to tell you that by the end of the game (or by the time Ryan went to bed at 4-0) that both kids had calmed down and decided they would be proud of the Devils for how close they came.
I want to tell you that I am happy for my friend H, who shared Game 2 with us. How I met him in the spring of 1993, when the Kings were on their only other run to the Stanley Cup Final, and how happy he must be at this result. I am thrilled that he was able to witness a little bit of this championship, and spend some time with our family.
I want to tell you that I am happy to for my co-worker F, another Kings fan who managed to maintain his professionalism while working his tail off throughout the Cup Final. How seeing him on the ice after the game, smiling among the Kings players still celebrating with the Cup, made me just a bit jealous.
I want to tell you that even though the Devils came up two wins short in their quest for an improbable championship, the nine-week run they went on through these playoffs gave our entire family such incredible memories. But even without the memories, that playoff run meant a whole bunch more glorious three-hour blocks of time spent together engaged in our favorite family activity.
I want to tell you that no matter who wins, hockey has the greatest trophy, and by far the best celebration, of any sport. There is a formal handshake line in which genuine congratulations are exchanged between combatants that have just spent two weeks trying to take each others’ heads off. That is followed by the presentation of the trophy that is well over 100 years old and contains the names of thousands of individual players who have been on the winning teams. Unlike all other professional sports in this country, the trophy is presented not to the team owner, but rather the team captain, who lifts it, kisses it, and hands it to a teammate, usually a proud veteran who has waited the longest to get his hands on it. Players treat the Cup with reverence and respect, and those that have never won it refuse to even touch it.
I want to tell you that no matter how many times I have watched teams celebrate with the Cup, it never gets old. There is something magical about those 35 pounds of silver that truly does turn men into boys. It is a privilege to witness it up close, and it reminds me how lucky I am to have a career that allows me to do such things.
I want to tell you that even after four cross-country flights in 10 days, even after being away from my family during some trying moments, I still feel that way.
I want to tell you that if you haven’t read Bill Simmons’ brilliant recent column called “The Consequences of Caring” about watching your kids grow into sports fans, then you should do so immediately. In it, he recounts how his five-year-old daughter, who has become a Kings fan, cried after the Kings failed to win the Cup at home in Game 4. He admits to feelings of guilt:
That’s how I felt when I watched my daughter sobbing. Why did I do this to her? Why would I pull her into this fan vortex where you’re probably going to end up unhappy more than happy?
Simmons goes on to say that the guilt is temporary:
Sports is a metaphor for life. Everything is black and white on the surface. You win, you lose, you laugh, you cry, you cheer, you boo, and most of all, you care. Lurking underneath that surface, that’s where all the good stuff is — the memories, the connections, the love, the fans, the layers that make sports what they are. It’s not about watching your team win the Cup as much as that moment when you wake up thinking, In 12 hours, I might watch my team win the Cup. It’s about sitting in the same chair for Game 5 because that chair worked for you in Game 3 and Game 4, and somehow, this has to mean something.
I want to tell you how much I connected with those words, and how they made me realize something. I once felt guilty about exposing Ryan to sports: on the occasion of Ryan’s original “butt-kick” meltdown. But I attributed the guilt more to Ryan’s autism than genuine fandom. I once carried a sobbing, six-year-old Riley out of a Devils playoff loss and never felt guilty about exposing her to it because I knew that this connection to something common would likely serve as a lifelong bond between father and daughter.
I want to tell you that I now know that even though there are some obsessive, autism-tinged aspects to Ryan’s interest in hockey, they are secondary to his genuine love of the sport, and his desire for everyone to love it as much as he does.
Mostly I want to tell you that I no longer have any guilt about exposing Ryan to it. That doing so has brought more of the “good stuff” that Simmons describes into our lives than anything else — memories, connections and love among them.