Across the bottom line of ESPN reads this breaking news headline: “Malkin Out for the Season with Knee Injury.” A second headline reads: “Crosby Still Out With Concussion-Like Symptoms.” The Philadelphia Flyers fan in me is grinning from ear to ear. I text my friends, do a little dance and envision the first Flyers parade down Broad Street since the Ford administration. Suddenly, it turns cold and my happiness wanes as this thought hits me. Is a championship spoiled if my team’s arch rival and chief competition is reeling from injuries?
The life of a sports fan is never an easy one. Sports fans dedicate their heart and soul every year to a group of ever-changing players with which they have little personal contact in order to fulfill their only goal: winning a championship. Insanity creeps into the picture when fans invest their money and emotions each year with the hope that their team is unlike the other 30 or so teams in the league that fail to reach the ultimate goal. Most fans would give anything for a parade in their hometown; but at what point does that sweet joy become bittersweet?
As a Flyers fan, I personally despise the Pittsburgh Penguins. I hate how they have Sidney Crosby (who I also hate with a burning passion). I hate their bandwagon fans who were ready to sell the team off to Canada, or worse Cleveland, less than a decade ago. I hate their ugly new arena that houses those hated fans (which the Flyers christened with a victory in October). I hate that they claim to be in “Titletown, USA” despite the fact that they ignore one-third of their franchises. I hate that they have stepped on the Flyers on their way to back-to-back Stanley Cup Finals appearances including a championship of their own. I hate how they are the NHL’s media darlings and are on television more than the 1970’s Dallas Cowboys. Nothing would please me more than to squash the Pens on the way to a championship.
But then again, is their any value to outlasting the Penguins without their top two superstars? There is a certain emptiness to be sure. It just would not be the same if my team won against such a depleted opponent. This is the crisis of the sports fan.
Does it matter to others? Am I alone? Ask fans of the Alabama Crimson Tide after their team rolled through Texas last January to win the BCS National Championship. Victory came only after Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, a Heisman Trophy finalist and future NFL pro, suffered a major shoulder injury during the game, thrusting raw freshman Garrett Gilbert into his first extended action. Would Bama have defeated the Longhorns with McCoy healthy behind center? We will never know. But for Alabama fans, all they saw were 13-0 National Champions.
Ask those pesky cheeseheads from Green Bay. Yes, they suffered what seems like 35 injuries the way the media has portrayed them and no one here at the news desk is going to question the efforts of one Aaron Rodgers, but what about their penultimate matchup against the Bears at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship? Say what you will about Jay Cutler and his knee injury, but no one outside of Colorado Springs thought that undrafted third-stringer Caleb Hanie gave the Bears a better shot at taking down the Pack than a healthy Cutler. Four weeks and a B.J. Raji pick-six later, the Lombardi trophy is heading home to its ecstatic fans.
Ask those leprechaun-clad Celtics fans about their most recent success regarding their mantra, “Beat L.A.” In 2008, the franchise from Boston known for Bird and Bill, were the benefactors of the pitfalls of another “B”: Bynum. The Celtics prevailed in a difficult six game series, four to two, on the backs of its Big Three against the hated Lakers, who were missing their seven-foot center in the middle, Andrew Bynum. Leaving only the “White Swan” Pau Gasol to bang up against an inspired Kevin Garnett, Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins, the Lakers were dominated on the low post and never had an answer for the well-rounded Celtics with someone not named Kobe. But you know what? Number 17 never tasted so sweet.
Injuries happen to every team every year, and many times it is the team that stays the healthiest that comes away with the big prize. But imagine a year when Peyton wins another championship by scurrying through Foxborough against Brian Hoyer, or when the Cubs knock off the Albert Pujols-less Cardinals on their way to an NL pennant, or when LeBron and the South Beach Three defeat the Lakers sans Kobe in the NBA Finals. Would those accomplishments feel the same without all hands on deck?
As a friend of mine and fellow Flyers fan told me, “I don’t care; I just want a [ahem, flipping] parade!”