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Coming to Grips With the Winter Classic

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My wife and I took a recent extended weekend vacation to Chicago to celebrate my birthday; and we were fortunate enough to attend to the Blackhawks home opener against the Stars at the United Center. Suffice it to say that it was the highlight of the weekend — it’s an absolutely incredible atmosphere to watch a game (and this is from a Caniac who thinks the RBC Center particularly rocks during the playoffs). But one thing that my wife and I couldn’t quite agree on was the Blackhawk fans’ tradition of cheering and clapping during the national anthem. For me it was one of those amazing moments that I now think every hockey fan should experience in person while my wife found the celebration disrespectful. How do you feel about the national anthem at Blackhawk home games?

— Chris H.

I can understand the reasoning of anyone who isn’t a fan of the tradition — although, if you’re part of the majority of fans in any sport, any location, who start drowning out the anthem during its final line, you don’t have very high moral ground to stand on — but it doesn’t really strike me as disrespectful or unpatriotic. I think it almost adds to the majesty of the national anthem. The precise opposite would be the fat slob who screams “CROSBY SUCKS!!!!!!!” during a pause in the song at a hostile arena. (I originally innocently wrote “at the Flyers arena” because, you know, the two teams are rivals … but then came to my senses and changed it out of fear that someone will puke batteries on me during the Winter Classic.) (Oh god, what have I done?)

The tradition in Chicago may be kind of selfishly hockey-related (it began in 1985 when the Blackhawks were down 2-0 against the Edmonton Oilers in the Campbell Conference finals and returned home to a crowd that couldn’t and wouldn’t pipe down, even during the national anthem), but it assumed greater import during the All-Star Game in 1991, shortly after the U.S. had entered the Gulf War. Watch this video before judging:

Ideally, fans would just belt out the song like good Canadians do. But getting upset about Chicago is a losing battle: It’s certainly not the only place that has carved out its own potentially annoying tradition. When I covered ECAC hockey in college, Cornell and RPI both shouted “RED!” extra loud, while Clarkson fans sang “… gave proof through the KNIGHTS! that our flag was still there.” (Rumor has it that Union College sings “Oh say can U! C!” but I’m going to choose not to believe that one.)

The list goes on. In Dallas, the word “stars” is emphasized; at UVA, “whose” becomes a whooping “‘Hoos!”; in Atlanta, fans holler “Braves!”; and during Houston Rockets games, they just cheer when the singer gets to “the rockets’ red glare.” The tradition of shouting “O!” at Baltimore Orioles games during the anthem’s penultimate line is so entrenched that not only do Washington Capitals fans do it (sorry, poor Nats), editorials have been written at both Virginia Tech and Duke decrying the practice by their Balty-area-heavy student body. (I think we can all come together to agree that the Baltimore diaspora is the lamest of all.) And if you’re a Hurricanes fan, can you confirm or deny the rumor that, in honor of Jussi Jokinen, fans at RBC were known to amend the words slightly to “Oh, say can JUSSI!”?

Anyway, I guess it comes down to this: As long as we’ve got Christina Aguilera, Carl Lewis, or Zooey DeschonlyonFOX!, we’ve got much bigger problems on our hands.

I enjoyed your analysis of Sidney Crosby’s post-concussion troubles. My son is five years old. My wife and I have already agreed (I started it, frankly) that he is never playing tackle football. Slippery slope time, though: where does it end? Do we forbid him from ice hockey (LaFontaine, Lindros, Primeau, now Crosby?) He is a pretty good little soccer player, and the game right now is all on the ground — but that will not last. I guess basically what I am asking is whether I need to limit him to tennis, golf, swimming and ping-pong. What say you?

— Phil K.

If your kid detects that you’re not letting him do something, it’s going to become all the more desirable. You have to couch your sports preferences in terms of the positives, like: If he gets really good at golf, he’ll get to smoke cigars and drink beer during the workday, expense it, and call it “closing a deal.” If he’s sick at tennis, he can spend summers in college rhythmically telling hot moms in short skirts “looow to high.” If he plays squash, he can get into an Ivy and be featured in the most insufferable New York Times article of all time. (“Then again, with the numbers of squash players as young as 8 swelling, parents are concerned that they might already have missed the moment.” Hey, maybe Ping-Pong will be the next craze! At least he’d fit in at Dartmouth.) I’d watch out for swimming, though: Per my college experience, he’d be more likely to get a concussion falling off a table during team initiation than he probably would playing some intense contact sport. Those guys drink like fish.

Since it’s too early to discuss the actual season, I’m interested on your take on the future of the Winter Classic. The best part of the Winter Classic was that it focused on tradition, (buying new jerseys and cold weather gear), getting back outside, and team heritage — but now it’s becoming more and more of a spectacle to the point that it’s a little embarrassing. Hockey is about rock and roll (see: The Scorpions and Queen at full volume) and drinking Canadian beer. Why does the minimalist, down and dirty approach have to be supplanted by the super-lame gimmicks we’ve seen of late?

How long before a Canadian-based team plays a U.S.-based team in the Classic, and which teams would make the best at that? Will the NHL ever allow teams to organize their own outdoor matchups each year without the New Year’s day spectacle? It’s not like people wouldn’t go.

If Jerry Jones makes us watch a Winter Classic in Cowboy Stadium I’ll puke.

— Josh

I loved this question, primarily because the writer mentioned that he is stationed in Afghanistan (which, in all seriousness, thank you so much for your service, Josh) and added: “there is no hockey here, but possibly more of a fan base than in Phoenix.”

Here’s the bottom line, and the bad news: Hockey fans are going to have to suck it up and get used to the Winter Classic as a made-for-TV movie. Keep in mind how the event initially came to fruition: at the repeated urging not of a league official but an NBC bigwig. (And even he was shot down by the league until an exec from the NFL’s well-oiled marketing machine joined the NHL and became an ally to the cause.)

But once you accept the fact that the Winter Classic — with all its promos and questionable musical guests and carefully calibrated, ratings-optimized matchups — isn’t going to feel like a childhood lap around a makeshift flooded-and-frozen backyard rink, you can start to cherish the good news. The game grabs the attention of casual sports fans right at the midpoint of the season, drawing enough viewers to also lure sponsor dollars. It mints money for the league directly, through ticket sales and merchandise, and indirectly: The game’s success was a cornerstone of the 10-year, $2 billion NBC TV contract agreed to earlier this year. Most important, it has led to the single greatest hockey development of my lifetime, HBO’s 24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic.

Unfortunately, this all makes it likely that Canadian teams, who did the outdoor-game thing in 2003 with the Heritage Classic before the U.S. counterpart was born, could remain limited to that occasional event. (The league held a second Heritage Classic last season, but will not put one on this year.) Which means a smaller chance of cool intracontinental matchups in the Winter Classic like Buffalo and Toronto, or San Jose and Vancouver: The league has a vested interest in pairing big U.S.-only markets to maximize domestic eyeballs. And while I’d be all for your idea of casual outdoor matchups, I don’t see it happening, because teams would lose money on logistics and lost concessions at their home arenas and such. (Currently, the league reimburses the home team for lost revenue.)

I do hope for more love to the Western Conference: It’s silly that certain East Coast teams (the Pens and the Flyers) have played in two marquee games, while franchises like the L.A. Kings are shut out. I’d be happy to see the event held in Colorado, which would certainly make for a siiiick alumni game. And I’m openly rooting for the Wild to get good enough that the league feels compelled to put a game in Minnesota, a rabid hockey locale that seems like a no-brainer to me. Hell, have them host Dallas up there: the old franchise versus the new, and the surest way to cross the Stars off the list and ensure that Jerry Jones presiding creepily over the event from up high in his Jerrydome suite can never upset your stomach.

I am a UCLA student and my parents are both Stanford alums. A couple weeks ago I went back up north for the annual game between the two teams, and naturally my parents wanted to bet on the game with me. After seeing Slick Rick teach UCLA how to shoot itself in the foot with the pistol offense in the previous weeks (pun completely intended) and seeing Stanford’s dominance, I told my parents I would only bet on the spread. They said I wasn’t being true to my school and that I had to bet them straight up.

In a situation like this, who’s in the right? For the record, no bet was made and Stanford beat the spread.

— David G.

Given my performance in any and all gambling situations — I think the only thing I’ve ever won money on are those Super Bowl “boxes” — I’m in no position to answer this question. So I turned to Grantland’s resident Las Vegas guru, Bill Barnwell, for his wise advice. Here’s what he had to say:

Of course your parents acted like you weren’t being “true to your school” by asking for a spread! People with significant advantages disingenuously like to pretend that handicaps shouldn’t exist. When I have a significant advantage in something one day, I will be very excited to display that very same disingenuousness!

To me, a fun bet is one that really isn’t weighted in any direction. At the Las Vegas Hilton, a straight up bet on Stanford to win (the “moneyline” bet) was listed at -1800. A bet on UCLA to win had +1300 odds. That market suggests that UCLA’s chances of winning were 7 percent. Seven! And your parents wanted you to bet on them at even money! Is there a “hustling” major at Stanford?

While the bet was never made, David, I’d recommend that you get back at your parents by offering them a string of bets with similar odds, this time weighted in your favor. Challenge them to a 100-yard dash and tell them that they’re not being “true to their feet” when they insist upon a head start. Play a game of “Identify That UCLA Campus Landmark!” or “Know Your Katy Perry Lyrics!”

Hey, speaking of Katy Perry

Where does California Dreams rank in the pantheon of Saturday morning TV? Its almost Saved By The Bell-lite; however the theme song is catchy and Brandon Tartikoff (of “There’s No Hope With Dope fame) must be a master: because he essentially plugged the same show in as SBTB was frolicking in Hawaii, the Malibu Sands, and other places.

If you’re someone who remembers California Dreams, or the original run of Saved by the Bell, then you may identify with this recent Slate piece about the poor, forgotten generation wedged between Gen X and Millennials. (I know I do. I’m no Millennial, dammit!)

Anyway, did you know the California Dreams cast had a reunion on Jimmy Fallon and even sang the theme song??? You mention Brandon Tartikoff (who went to my high school — holler, Big Red!), but the real mastermind behind this almost cultish early ’90s programming was Peter Engel, the producer to credit/blame for not only Saved by the Bell and California Dreams but also the Saturday-morning “Teen NBC” shows Hang Time, which was oddly my favorite, and City Guys. (My most vivid memory of TNBC might be how it transitioned straight to Ahmad Rashad and NBA Inside Stuff.)

I’m kind of fascinated by Engel: After leaving NBC he worked for the Christian Broadcasting Network, and after getting a message from the Lord became the dean of the School of Communication & the Arts at Pat Robertson’s Regent University. So if you ever wondered why those Saturday-morning shows were so goody-goody, maybe that’s why. The antidote to those shows, of course, was the criminally underappreciated show Fifteen (née Hillside) on Nickelodeon that included a young Ryan Reynolds, a blond girl named Ashley whose haircut I legitimately tried to emulate, and an alcoholic BMOC named Matt. What I remember most about Fifteen was (a) being obsessed with it, and (b) being confused as to why everyone on the show pronounced it “aboot” — more than leaving me with questions about Important Teen Issues, it left me with my first exposure to a Canadian accent.

Stranded on an island with only one Chris Russo-ism?

1) “good job by you, _____”
2) “_____ is a disGRACE”
3) “I don’t trust ______ in a big SPAHT”

— Adam M.

Has to be the first one. HAS TO, MIKEY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I love how in Chris Russo’s world, there are only three possible descriptors of jobs done: “terrible,” “bad,” or, in highest praise, “good.” Anyway, regardless of which Russo-ism I got stranded on an island with — no. 2 is a close second, although you misspelled “disGWACE” — I would just hope that it would be dressed as The Marquis:

(Best part of that video, as several YouTube commenters point out, is Francesa saying, about a trivia question: “If you know the person, it is very gettable.”)

Thanks a lot, Adam M. … I’m now going to be sitting here for the rest of the day trawling the Internet for Mike and the Angry Puppy clips and weeping silently. They’re like Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham: They’re just so much better together, even as they’re tearing each other apart. Mike’d Up isn’t the same, live play-by-plays of car chases aside, and I don’t get Sirius so I can’t listen to Mad Dog Unleashed, although his Twitter does make for a decent substitute:

CC is so fat. how is that an athlete? cc- its called salad, throw in a yogurt. let’s lay off the capn crunch and the late night mcdonalds.
just so you all know, i was so sick of all this hoopla around the womens soccer team, i was rooting for japan.
missed a lot of mcilroys round today because i was at my daughters 4th grade ‘graduation.’ they’ll do a ceremony for everything nowadays.
i don’t know how any jurors from the casey anthony trial can sleep at night. how do you live with yourself? how do you decide not guilty?

He’s right. That’s a bad job by them. A BAD JOB!

Do you think there’s an actual chance of having an NHL team in Seattle? I know there was some talk earlier in the summer about a group interested in bringing it here but can it really happen? I’ve heard that Bettman and David Stern are tight and Stern hates Seattle but we do love our hockey here. There are 2 teams (Everett and Seattle) that play in Canada’s WHL and people always show up for those games. Also, do you find it weird like I do sometimes that these new crop of players were born in the 90s?

— Adrian R.

To answer your second question first: Oh, it’s totally unsettling, especially how some players are starting to pick jersey numbers with their birth year and those jersey numbers are 92 or 93. Having athletes be so much younger is weird — they’re no longer heroes, they’re “that kid is ridiculous.” It changes the whole dynamic, kind of like the movie Fear: The first several times I saw it, usually at middle school sleepovers when we watched wide-eyed during the roller-coaster scene, Reese Witherspoon was a bunch of years older than me. Recently I watched it and was tooooootally creeped out, because now her character is so much younger than me — I wanted to have Marky Mark arrested just for agreeing to play that role.

As for Seattle (oh, to be a fly on the wall for a bro sesh between Bettman and Stern): The biggest hitch right now is KeyArena, which isn’t suitable for NHL hockey. (For one thing, the scoreboard would hang at one team’s blue line.) Someone would need to step up and be willing to finance a new building, which isn’t out of the realm of possibility: Don Levin, who owns the Vancouver Canucks’ AHL affiliate Chicago Wolves, has expressed interest in getting a team in Seattle — his movie-production company has worked with Gordon Bombay, so that’s good — and, more recently, Rep. Mike Hope floated legislation that would help put the wheels in motion for a new NBA- and NHL-ready arena. (Take that with a grain of salt, though: Part of the proposal includes “specialty license plates for Sonic fans, generating another $10 million for bonds.”) But as Kansas City knows all too well, building an arena doesn’t make getting a team an immediate sure thing. Still, I see Seattle (along with places such as Kansas City, Quebec, Portland, and, if “Janet Gretzky” has “her” way, Las Vegas) as part of any NHL shortlist, for whatever little that’s worth.

With 2 neutral teams playing in all of these games (so no NY teams for you), how would you rank attending Game 7 of the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup, World Series and going to the Super Bowl?

From worst to first, and assuming that I’d have mediocre to quite-mediocre seats for each of the games that I’d have to commit to before the season began (i.e., I’d have no way of knowing whether it would be an “interesting” matchup or not):

4. The World Series. If the Mets weren’t playing, I’m not sure my interest level would be entirely there. Sorry, baseball, I sometimes am moderately attracted to you, but I also agree that“Nothing sums up baseball more than the outcome of the most important game of the year and on the biggest stage being decided partly by two old white guys not being able to hear each other on a landline.” (Although maybe that’s a little unfair, given that hockey had the case of the old white guys not being able to read a “smudged fax.”)

3. The Super Bowl. This one just seems to have the most embedded volatility: The potential for an all-time classic is outweighed by the worry that I’d witness an absolute dud. The lack of true home-court/field/ice advantage means you don’t get the spectacle of all the ebbs and flows of a passionate fan base, whether that be giddy celebration or flipping-cars-over anger. Not to sound like a glazed-eyed slave to consumerism, but you’d miss all the commercials, which would make having to read and hear about them for days after that much more irritating. There’s sky-high potential for “pre-parties you aren’t on the list for.” If you had shitty seats, which I would, and expensive food, which I would, you’d kind of find yourself wishing you were back at some friend’s bonkers and well-appointed Super Bowl party, the kind where the price of admission is a six-pack and “bring your hot friends!!!!”

2. The NBA Finals. The crowd would most likely be going berserk, and even if it were a blowout you’d have a 50 percent chance of it being a blowout for the home fans. Even mediocre seats in a basketball arena are pretty damn good. The postgame speeches would be great. And you’d feel like a part of something special: I went and looked at Game 7s in the NBA Finals throughout history (imagine me whispering “hisssstory” like Will Ferrell as James Lipton) and there are surprisingly few — only five in the past 30-plus years, probably because of the league’s brutal 2-3-2 format that I absolutely despise. (I really hope that someone can sneak 2-2-1-1-1 back into the new CBA, whenever it gets sorted out, the way congressmen hide weird clauses in sweeping reform bills.)

1. The Stanley Cup. In contrast to basketball, the Stanley Cup Finals has gone to a seven-game series six times in the past 10 years alone. This is great news for fans, because there’s no better sport for a seventh game than hockey. I’m probably biased, but hear me out: One team could score a few goals early on and it still wouldn’t necessarily take the crowd out of it. Hockey is such a momentum sport that no lead is ever really safe. If there’s one thing more abruptly exciting than a hockey goal, it’s a Stanley Cup Game 7 hockey goal. Even a bad seat is a decent seat. Unlike some other sports, TV doesn’t add quite as much to a hockey game, save for the tight shots of the looks on coaches’ faces, since it’s hard to see the players under their helmets and playoff beards anyway. Most important, you’d have a 100 percent certainty of seeing the Cup presentation, the goose-bumpsiest moment in sports.

What do you think will happen first: The human species dies out or the sun expires (here’s a rather chipper article about the latter)? Either way, what’s the point of getting up for work tomorrow?

Just following up on my previous question regarding the end of the human race and the sun dying, I just thought you should know that when you type “when will the” into google search, “the sun burn out” is the fourth suggested choice. It’s what folks are thinking about! Have a nice day.

— Noah C.

I particularly like this 1997 article about the end of the world: “The good news is that the end is not near. The bad news is that when it does come, it’s not going to be pretty.” Worst game of “Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” ever! Anyway, I have to think that the human species will be long gone before the sun finally burns out — I’ve seen Contagion and The Walking Dead; I know how this goes.

Thinking about it is actually calming: Do what you love, children! Take a sick day! Move to Bali! Next time some non-sports fan ridicules you for your obsession, remind them that their commitment to and obsession with, say, organic, locally sourced food is just as silly: Their precious Earth will one day kill us all! Speaking of organic and locally sourced, smoke lots of pot! Splurge on pedicures! Sure, the end might not come as soon as you think, and you might end up drug-ravaged and penniless, but come on, those years are but a blip in the cosmic radar anyway.

By the way, the first result in Google search is “when will the iphone 5 come out” and the third is “when will the iphone 5 be released,” so either way, I think we as humans deserve our grim fate. Namaste.

Katie Baker is a staff writer for Grantland.

Previously from Katie Baker:
The Endless Battle Over Hockey Fights
Week 1 in the NHL
How to Pick an NHL Team
Coldhearted: Our Weekly Hockey Column Debuts
Wedded Blitz!: A sabermetric analysis of the September New York Times wedding announcements
The Timetable: Sidney Crosby’s Lost Year
Bake Shop: Advice for Dads With Daughters

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Filed Under: Bake Shop, Gambling, Katie Baker, NHL, NHL Playoffs, NHL Viewing Guide, People, Series, Sports

Katie Baker is a staff writer at Grantland.

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