It is, perhaps, the thing I love most about sports. Each season, each game, each period, each shift, each shot — they’re all loaded with possibility. And in every season, when every team but one fails to win a championship, you learn to treasure possibility. It’s the thing that keeps sports fans coming back, year after year, game after game, ready to believe all over again that maybe this year, this game, this shift, this shot, will be the one that turns possibility into reality.
Unless you are a very, very lucky sports fan, those moments are rare, and so it is the anticipation of the possible that drives you.
For Ryan, all of 12 years old, but already familiar with the fickle nature of possibility, Tuesday night presented another such moment. His beloved San Jose Sharks gamely forced a Game 7 in the second round against the defending champion Los Angeles Kings with a gritty win on home ice Sunday. Ryan, against his regimented nature, stayed up to watch every second of that victory.
We discussed with him staying up late Tuesday, but we knew it was hopeless. He only agreed Sunday because it wasn’t a school night, and even then it required some coaxing. If he wanted to stay up Tuesday, we would have let him stay home from school today. But Ryan is a creature of habit and routine, and to do so would violate both, and so he went to bed before the puck even dropped.
We talked about other options. How about DVRing the game and getting up early to watch — without knowing the outcome? Ryan agreed, but only if he could get up at 4 a.m., and even then we knew he would check the score first. We talked about waking him up with a few minutes to go if the Sharks were leading, but he didn’t want any part of that.
Here’s what we settled on:
Ever since the shots-on-goal anxiety cropped up a few months ago, Ryan leaves his iPad in our room when he goes to bed. At some point each night he rises, runs into our room, grabs the iPad, checks all the scores and shot totals, and goes back to sleep. For last night, rather than waiting for him to wake up we agreed to bring him the iPad as soon as the game was over. But he insisted that we do so “with no expression on our faces” lest we give away the result.
And so it was that I found myself tiptoeing into his room, shortly after midnight, expressionless, toting his iPad. I may have been stone-faced, but inside I was heartbroken for Ryan. The tough 2-1 loss eliminated the last of our favorite teams from the playoffs, and so marked somewhat of an end to another hockey season, the extinguishing of another year’s possibilities. We’ll still watch the rest of the playoffs, but it’s not same without any of our favorite teams to root for.
I stroked Ryan’s arm to wake him. He stirred, then bolted awake and grabbed the iPad from my hands. I turned my back so as not to give away the result and violate our agreement. Between the moment he grabbed the device and the next word to escape his lips — “damnit!” — was perhaps 10 seconds. I wished I could make the time last longer. For in those 10 seconds, I knew another season’s possibilities were being extinguished for him.
I was proud of his reaction. Beyond that one word, he remained calm. He told me he was mad. I told him how well the Sharks played, that they just ran into a goalie — L.A.’s Jonathan Quick, that was simply too good. We tucked him back in, and said good night. He was soon back asleep, but I was too disappointed for him to fall asleep myself.
I no longer worry that Ryan will abandon his love of hockey during the offseason. My sadness comes from knowing that, for several months,I won’t get to see the joy he gains from watching his favorite team have success. But just as I — having learned long ago how rarely possibility translates to reality — now treasure moments rather than seasons with my favorite teams, so too will I hold on to the memory of Ryan watching the Sharks win Game 6. Knowing that he had to break do many of his routines to do so made it all the sweeter.
Next season will once again be filled with possibility. But, like Logan Couture said, right now this one is filled only with heartbreak.