Author’s Note: This column appears in the April 12 issue of The Villanovan.
Some weeks, it’s easy to pick a sports-related topic to write about in this space. Something either gets me really excited or really upset, and it’s not hard to focus that into 800-1000 words that get about .5 laughs per week. But as I sat at home this weekend, stuffed full of Easter ham—my second ham dinner of the week— (Kanye & Jay-Z, eat your hearts out), I couldn’t think of an event or a player or an issue that was really calling out to be written about. So much of my weekend revolved around sports—and people making jokes about Jesus and YOLO, myself included—that I didn’t know where to start.
Do I talk about the dismal start to the season that the Red Sox and Yankees had? My Opening Day was spent at Fenway Park, even though the team that plays there wasn’t. The last time those two teams started 0-3, they finished ninth and tenth in the league. That league had ten teams. Both teams blew leads late, both teams saw reliable starting pitching do spot-on impressions of Sidney Ponson and both teams’ fans are convinced that this team might just go 0-162. Well maybe that’s just me and my Sox.
Or maybe I should have spent my words on the greatest four days of golf: The Masters. I’m not the world’s biggest golf guy, but when you have a sport’s top event go into extra innings/time/holes, it’s always going to be riveting. When Bubba Watson and Louis Oosthuizen both missed a chance at a green jacket by about half of an inch, only to then shank their drives at the next tee, it showed both how incredibly talented the two golfers are, and also how unforgiving golf as a sport can be. Switching back and forth between the Sox collapse and the back nine at Augusta made for some choice Easter Sunday couch time. And if you didn’t see Oosthuizen’s albatross on the fourth hole on Sunday, or Watson’s second shot during the second playoff hole, stop what you’re doing and find them online. Shots like that are the reason why professional athletes get paid to play a game, and also why we pay to watch them.
I could have talked about Chelsea’s miracle win against Wigan, the implosion of the Orlando Magic or Petrino-gate. No. One sporting event, which kicked off last night, trumps them all in my mind.
The Stanley Cup playoffs.
That’s right, the playoffs of the National Hockey League, the red-headed stepchild of the “Big Four” of American professional sports. No other sporting event offers such a sustained level of high quality, fast-paced action over the course of a two-month tournament. But what sets it apart from the rest of the month of April—arguably the best sports month of the year? I’ve got four reasons:
1. These teams don’t like each other, and they’re allowed to show it.
When players on your team are given the role of “enforcer,” sparks are going to fly. A week and a half ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers met in an emotional game which ended with the coaches nearly coming to blows. In a twist of fate that benefits fans of both hockey and fighting, these two Pennsylvania squads will be matched up in the first round of the playoffs. Personally, I don’t like hearing stories about players from opposing teams meeting up after games for steak and beer. With series such as Pittsburgh vs. Philadelphia, there’s no love lost.
2. Anyone can win it all.
Similar to the NCAA Tournament, seeding determines the matchups, but has little to no effect on the winner. Take the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals, which pit the No. 7 Flyers against the No. 8 Canadiens. The Habs upset the No. 1 Washington Capitals and No. 4 Penguins on the way to the Eastern Finals, and the Flyers ousted the No. 2 New Jersey Devils and No. 6 Boston Bruins. Speaking of my beloved Bruins, last year’s team entered the playoffs as a No. 3 seed, picked by many to be upset in the first round. Two months later, they were hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup. Sure, seeing No. 15 Norfolk State beat Mizzou was fun while it lasted, but they had no shot at making it to the end. Not the case for the NHL.
3. They have the best announcer in sports.
No, it’s not Gus Johnson. Fun fact: Gus Johnson is actually a miserable announcer. Sure, it’s awesome to hear him scream, “He hit that one from the parking lot!” as Syracuse gets upset, but Gus’ screaming masks the fact that he really doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Not the case for hockey announcer Doc Emrick. Emrick—an Emmy award-winning play-by-play announcer—is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the only member to be inducted for contributions to media. When people use the phrase “he wrote the book,” it usually is colloquial. Not for Emrick. The man literally wrote the NHL Pronunciation Guide, which is the guide by which all other announcers pronounce names like Kostitsyn and Bryzgalov. And try to not get excited while listening to a game called by Emrick. When he yells “And a drive…” as a shot heads to the net, you feel almost as if you’re sitting right in the arena.
4. Playoff Beards
Do I really need to say more? What sport wouldn’t benefit from some extra facial hair? I’m looking at you, NBA. Puck’s in your court.