Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A discreet affinity for Hockey.

OK... everyone's got a guilty pleasure or two. There's always some particular source of enjoyment that needs to be experienced in secret, away from the prying eyes of one's peer group. For me, September brings that temptation once again- for I am a hockey fan. The first preseason games arrive with the end of Summer, and once again I am on the message boards following the new developments.

I follow this game with the full knowledge that doing so makes me a hypocrite. Get me started on sports (football in particular) and you'll have a hard time keeping up with my invective. I'll tell you of misplaced resources and reverence... of the vicarious enjoyment of the cult of athleticism... I'll rail against the "us vs. them" mentality that sports perpetuate. If the United States only devoted a fraction of the loyalty and analysis it reserves for sports, then the nation could solve a good measure of the problems that plague it. Spend the money on education... pay attention to politics... invest in the local community... I have so many suggestions for you- the sports fanatic. But still, when I get a moment by myself, alone at night in front of the computer... I'll spend a few moments checking out the scores of the latest contests on the ice.

And what makes it even worse is that I am still a follower of the team closest to where I grew up- the Philadelphia Flyers. I love Pittsburgh, and prefer living here. There are a multitude of reasons why I wouldn't want to move to Philadelphia. Yet this irrational loyalty is hard-wired, and difficult to sunder. I bemoan the construction of two stadiums in Pittsburgh, yet would happily support the building of a new arena... just so I can find a friend with cable who will let me watch the Flyers play the Penguins on local television. I haven't even gone to a game in years.

If pressed I will explain the distinctions between hockey and all other sports. It is the "unpopular" game... once one of the major four, and now relegated to a spot in the mainstream culture somewhere between professional wrestling and soccer. It's fluidity and grace stand alongside its tacit approval of on-ice fistfights. The pads and uniforms are loose-fitting, and seem not to unduly accentuate the male form, unlike football or baseball. The players display modesty and poise in after-game interviews. Hell... it's the national sport of Canada. As a pastime, it is a scrappy and little-heralded underdog. It exists on the margin of public consciousness. They even kicked it off of ESPN. But I'm not fooling myself. I realize that all of this amounts to mere justification.

In fact that is the point of a guilty pleasure... it should be beyond any need for justification. So go ahead, and enjoy your vulgar obsessions- football, basketball, and baseball. But don't assume I am interested. Don't expect me to "get into the spirit" of Monday-night gridiron struggles. Don't talk to me about the October series or March Madness. I won't be wearing black-and-gold on casual Fridays. But if you watch carefully, you might catch me sneaking a peak at the latest goal stats, or the NHL injured reserve... and then you can me on my bulls--t.

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