The Kings of disbeliefPosted: June 12, 2012
My Dad would never believe this.
The Los Angeles Kings just won the Stanley Cup.
I have followed exactly one sports team religiously (perhaps stupidly) since I was six years old – the Kings. And for more than 36 years, I’ve shaken my head and had my heart ripped out like a bad Indiana Jones movie – all because I followed a team few cared about.
Now I’m crying tears of joy. Or, if they exist, tears of disbelief. They won it. Improbably, the Kings won it.
And –damn—my Dad missed it.
Just as he had to leave the “Miracle on Manchester” to relieve our babysitter and left the “Frenzy on Figueroa” before the improbable ending, he also left this earth too soon to see Dustin Brown hoist the Stanley Cup.
Like lots of fathers and sons, my Dad and I bonded over sports. But especially hockey. We’re both from California and neither of us ever played but, in the case of the Kings, misery loves company.
My Dad had Kings season tickets throughout my childhood. He took me to my first hockey game on October 17, 1976. They played the St. Louis Blues. I remember the score was 6-2 Kings. There were fights. I remember three or four Blues in the penalty box at one time. I brought home a Rogie Vachon poster and hung it up in my room – before Jason made it scary.
But that 6-2 score belies the fact that in a typical year the Kings sucked. And in a promising year, they’d suck the life out of you, never getting out of the first round of the Playoffs.
Catching games with my Dad as a kid, we followed a routine: an early dinner at the Sizzler across from the Forum, holding his hand and crossing streets named after Lakers – not Kings – to catch the warm ups. Then, win or lose, listening to the post-game with the great Bob Miller – and later Nick Nickson on the ride home.
Despite its best efforts, the franchise has been the portrait of mediocrity on the ice, constantly in the early years of a rebuilding process. Often exciting, but never great — usually just good enough to crush your spirit at the end of the season.
Forever touting new saviors who never would save us, the Kings were like a favorite alcoholic uncle, easy to love, but with something inside keeping themselves from true success – wanting to win so bad that they always lose. Team genetics. Hockey hell.
So, I understand you Chicago Cubs fans. At least a little.
Until tonight, the Kings had never won the Cup. Even the upstart Mighty Ducks of Anaheim — a team Kings fans hate like Eddie Haskell — won the Cup and almost did it a second time. But not the Kings. Never the Kings.
And up 3-0 this year in the Finals, I still expected them to blow it. That is what they did to you. It completely would have been in the franchise’s character to blow it. And to lose four in a row to do it.
When they were cruising toward a Stanley Cup with Wayne Gretzky in 1993, the Kings ran into the NHL equivalent of the George Brett “pine tar incident” – an illegal stick penalty sent the team on a death spiral – and they lost. Of course they did. They’re the Kings.
In 45 years, they’ve won their division exactly once. They did it so long ago (1990-91), it’s not even called the Smythe Division anymore. This year, they underachieved, changed coaches mid-season but then led the Pacific Division with a few games left, ultimately losing the lead and limping into the 8th seed, one point away from missing the playoffs entirely. Typical Kings.
But, I remained in love with a team that was always less Kingly and more Don Quixote.
There is no faster, more intense or exciting sport than hockey — especially in the Playoffs. Best of all, it is a sport where there is always hope. Where the action can turn quickly and drastically on a dime.
With a good hockey goal, you know it’s a goal a split second before it goes in and instinctively begin leaping out of your seat, screaming. In no other sport does a “power play” put the crowd collectively on the edge of its seat, gasping and groaning as one.
I have spent thousands of dollars and literally weeks out of my life chasing hope – listening to, watching and cheering for the Kings. I went to games with my Dad — at least once a year as a kid. I sneaked into games during college (getting tickets from fans leaving the building — they were always leaving). I got season tickets of my own after college until I moved to Phoenix eight years ago. Since then, I attended Kings road games vs. the Coyotes in Glendale and even caught one this season at Staples Center.
People have asked me, “Why not follow the Phoenix Coyotes?” After all, I am an Arizona Diamondbacks fan. I love the Arizona Cardinals and the Phoenix Suns. I root for my alma maters USC and ASU.
But (sorry Coyotes) I couldn’t give up (on) the Kings. It’s been too long, too much suffering, too personal. Part of the relationship I had with my Dad.
Now finally they’ve gone the distance. Best of all, they did it in a way that honors what Dads tell their sons. Play as a team. Play hard. Stay disciplined. Never quit on a play. Leave everything on the field (ice).
The Kings did that for 20 magical games. They’ve forever shaken off mediocrity. They’ve won the Cup. Hockey Heaven. Where my Dad is.