I just love what you learn from traveling!
Like I had a fantastic time in Boston last October doing all kinds of terrific touristy things. But the big surprise? Despite all my U.S. history knowledge, it took going to this storied city to learn that George Washington – the father of our country – was a serious Red Sox fan. Who knew?!
Since he brought Boston luck in the World Series – and since my L.A. Kings are in a Game 7 tonight in the Stanley Cup Playoffs – I’m kind of hoping old George was a Kings fan as well.
Hm. My L.A. Kings? My Kings? Well, whenever the players take the ice at Staples Center, the announcer says they’re mine and, hey – I’m not going to argue. Everyone knows there’s no “I” in “team.” But there’s something compelling about taking that next step in a sports team relationship and becoming a “we.”
I’m comfortable considering myself a “we” with the Kings – we’ve been solid for over 20 years and it’s one of the only relationships I’ve been in that inspires me to laugh, cry and high-five people I’ve never met before. But not everyone is ready for that level of commitment. Some sports relationships never get beyond the casual or are only owned when a team is successful. (We won. They lost.) I get it – we’ve all been hurt before.
But the relationships can also run much deeper. For my pal Dedrie, passion for the Kings runs very deep indeed – and she backs it up. Once, while performing her duties as carpool mom, Dedrie refused to let a girl into the car until the kid removed the Anaheim Ducks jersey she had on. And regardless of your age or the cuteness of your Halloween costume, if you have the audacity to stand on Dedrie’s front porch and disrespect her Kings, don’t even think about getting candy.
I totally get that too.
My friend Judy’s relationship with the Buffalo Sabres went all the way back to childhood. By day, she’d bake cookies and write letters for her two favorite players (“Dear Mr. Foligno and Mr. Ramsey”), then at night, she’d snuggle deep under the covers to muffle the sound of the little radio she’d use to follow games that took place after official bedtime.
My first sports relationship goes back as far as I can remember. Before jumping on the Kings bandwagon during their 1993 Cup run, I was strictly a Cal Bears Basketball fan, attending games with my folks and brothers from the age of two right up through my years as a U.C. Berkeley student in the 80’s. Being a Cal fan had its thrills in the old Pac 8 days, but there were lean times too. Mum will say that back in the day, she saw some of the finest college basketball teams ever assembled – it’s just they always seemed to be the visiting ones. But that didn’t matter to the professors and their families in our section of the stands who remained dedicated to their Bears through thick and thin.
My heart will always belong to Cal hoops – but these days it’s shared by the Kings. My big brother Rich was also a multi-team fan whose fierce allegiances included the Chicago Blackhawks and Seattle Seahawks. Rich harbored the same deep-seated love for Cal – but when he moved north to attend Oregon State University, the Bears had to take a back deep-seat.
Rich always made sure the relationship with his Beavs was clear to all. During my Cal days, I’d visit him when the Bears made their basketball swing through Oregon, and Rich would mercilessly get in my face – and anyone’s for that matter – in support of his alma mater. On one occasion, he sewed a toy beaver onto a cap, completing the look with a little stuffed bear that the much bigger mascot seemed to have decapitated and (guh…) be consuming – again, just so there was no confusion.
Sibling harmony was always restored, though, when Rich and I joined forces to root against the Oregon Ducks (I seem destined never to back teams represented by anything with wings). Although eight years and many miles apart, basketball (and later, hockey) became our connection.
In case such behavior appears odd or eccentric, I’ll announce again my belief that our genes are entirely to blame. After all, the branches of the family tree from which I didn’t fall far include: Mum, an avid Blackhawk fan for over 75 years; her dad, who helped instill that Blackhawk passion; her mom, who favored the Lakers; and last, but definitely not least, Mum’s baseball-lovin’ aunt Martha.
Great Aunt Martha had a lovely spirit and huge devotion to the San Francisco Giants. Into her 70’s, she and her husband Bill attended games in Candlestick Park and road tripped to out-of-town ones with the booster club. If we accidentally stopped by on a game day, we could still count on her hospitality – just not on her attention.
In the final months of what had been a long and active life, Aunt Martha was pretty much confined to her bed and, when I visited, I’d try to bring her news of the outside world. On one visit (back in the 90’s), after my customary wait in the living room while she put on a little lipstick, I took a seat beside her and, after a little small talk, broke the important news that the Giants had just acquired Darryl Strawberry.
“Oh, I know,” Aunt Martha promptly replied. “It will be a good deal if they can just keep him clean.”
I should have known. Although no longer able to cheer them on in person, or even make it down the stairs, she was still keeping an eye on her Giants. For Aunt Martha, the relationship was lifelong.
Recently, Mum, my nephew Rich (another rabid Blackhawk hockey fan) and I got together to watch their Hawks play the Sharks in San Jose. There, amid a vast sea of teal, sat three generations of Parmeters, each choosing to mark the event in a different sartorial way: Rich represented for Chicago; Mum decided to be diplomatic and sport a jersey touting her Finnish roots (not to mention those of a ridiculous number of NHL goalies); and, back in the Bay Area but in the absence of my team, I opted for the jersey of my friend Chris who played hockey for Cal.
It all comes around.
I do step back sometimes and think how crazy it is to become so invested in bunches of people playing games. And how are these teams really mine? I’m not the owner. I’ve never been a point guard for Cal or a defenseman for the Kings. But it’s not about ownership for me – it’s about membership. It’s about sharing a common history and goal with family, friends and whole tribes of kindred spirits, and creating lasting bonds.
Having a relationship with a team can provide everything from heartache to joy, sorrow to solace – and sometimes even salvation. For Dedrie, Judy and Martha, for those who are Boston Strong, and for all those who’ve followed teams and forged those bonds – in my case, while on the benches of old Harmon Gym, hanging from the rafters of McArthur Court, in the cheap seats at the Great Western Forum, and sitting kitty-corner to one of the goals in Staples – I don’t have to explain how rewarding it can be to embrace the “we” in “team.”
P.S. **Hockey Spoiler Alert** The Kings just performed their improbable reverse sweep of the Sharks to advance to Round 2! Guess President Washington’s a fan after all!
P.P.S. (6/17/14) Can’t help adding weeks after writing this that my Kings went on to capture the Stanley Cup! The awe and admiration of this feat are mine – but the hard-won right to hold aloft that glorious piece of hardware in a parade? It all belongs to them!