Cabe column: Understanding how sports excite and bind
While the rest of the state (and, let’s face it, the country) is ebullient over the return of football, I’m counting the days until the NHL preseason begins.
Being from Rockford, Illinois, I’m a Chicago Blackhawks fan. But funnily enough, I didn’t become a fan until I moved to Colorado.
In fact, for the majority of my life, I would stubbornly proclaim, “I think sports are boring” when anyone brought the topic up. I didn’t even sit through a full Hawks game until I was 18, and even then I only did because my boyfriend at the time wanted to watch them in the playoffs.
That was in 2010, when they won the Stanley Cup for the first time in 49 years. I was still living in Illinois, attending community college and slowly, sadly losing touch with the friends I’d graduated high school with the year before.
To be honest, watching that win in 2010, I felt nothing. But I remember my Facebook feed that night was filled with friends who felt the opposite of nothing. It was the best day of their lives, according to some of them. And even though I had no emotional attachment to the win, I did start to appreciate what sports can do. That win brought my friends together, even if it was only on social media.
Fast-forward to 2014, when I moved to Colorado. I spent half of the year settling in, getting adjusted and falling in love with the area. I had the perfect apartment and the perfect job, and I was making new friends. But I missed home. Once the NHL playoffs rolled around, I started noticing my Facebook feed again being overtaken by Blackhawks talk.
This time, something clicked. I saw all my friends from back home — Democrats and Republicans, socialists and libertarians, religious and non-believers — coming together to root for the same outcome. That doesn’t happen very often. It felt a little magical, and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted to feel that connection to home, and the Blackhawks provided the clearest way.
So I started watching the playoffs. And in addition to having something to add to the Facebook conversation, I started meeting other northern Illinois transplants. I would go to bars by myself to watch a game and leave feeling like I’d made a special connection after talking and laughing all night with other Hawks fans. And I was shocked to discover that I actually really enjoy hockey.
I’m fascinated by the fact that the game is conducted on ice, first of all. How are they so fast, so precise, on such a slippery, treacherous surface? I never quite mastered ice skates, if you couldn’t tell.
Also, the pace of the game is perfect for me. Everything happens so fast, and the game can change out of nowhere. Last year, I watched the Blackhawks score two goals in the last minute and a half to tie a game, and then they won in overtime. I lost it, and so did my Facebook friends.
I know I genuinely enjoy hockey in and of itself because I now happily watch Boston Bruins games with my Massachusetts-hailing boyfriend. But I don’t think I would be such an avid Blackhawks fan if it weren’t for this connection to home the team gives me. There are people I went to high school with whom I now only text about hockey. Going to White House in my Toews jersey might garner some dirty looks from locals, but it makes me feel good to rep my home state. It makes me feel like everyone I love is with me.
It sounds so hokey, but it’s true. And now, I “get” sports. I might not want to sit through the next Broncos game, but I understand why it matters. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about moving away from Illinois, it’s that community is everything. I don’t just love the Blackhawks because I love hockey; I love the Blackhawks because they represent home.
Jessica Cabe roots for the Avalanche when she can. She can be reached at email@example.com.
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That sideline parent is me, parading to the field with a foldable chair, carrying an iced-coffee, armed with a bag of band-aids and a salty vocabulary ready to slay the referee or opponent that meddles…