This past weekend was the Winter Classic. For those who are unfamiliar with what the classic is, let me explain. It is a hockey game that takes place on New Year’s Day or just after. What makes it special is that it is the only game of the NHL season that is played outdoors. This year was the fifth classic. It generates a lot of excitement amongst hockey fans and is one of hockey’s premier events. This year the classic took place in Philadelphia.
The Philadelphia Flyers have a passionate following in the city. The fans long for another Stanley Cup, as it has been over 35 years since the Flyers won the coveted trophy. That championship team, affectionately referred to as the Broad Street Bullies, actually won back to back cups with the second following the 1974 -75 season. While I am too young to remember the team, the car horns honking in the streets in celebration is one of my earliest memories. Anyway, part of the Winter Classic, there was an alumni game with a number of players who played on those championship teams on the ice (the oldest was 68). The fans went crazy for these players as well as the more recent alumni. I wonder why they were so interested. The game does not count towards the standings, it was hardly going to be top notch hockey, and the tickets were expensive. I say they, but I admit I was interested as well. While I neither attended nor watched the game, I read a number of articles about the game and was excited to read the details surrounding the event.
We, the fans, feel an attachment to the players we rooted for especially those who won. They represent us and bring civic pride. Most of all the players and sports in general bind us fans together. We debate and discuss, enjoy and simmer, and remember and smile. Yes, sports fandom is about emotion. Drop the tough guy stuff. The biggest fans have the least control of their emotions. They are crazed – why else go shirtless in the freezing temperatures, or paint your face and scream yourself horse, or spend hours watching. We fans, or fanatics, lose control. Those players who reward our craziness by their spectacular play have our neverending affection. So, the alumni game, while meaningless in the standings, is meaningful in much more important ways – it reminds us why we love sports.