Monday, May 3, 2010

By Way of Explanation, re: "Conspiracy Theories" and Why I'm Always So Angry

OK, so listen. Sometime over this weekend, a good friend of mine who is also unfortunately a Penguins fan posted some link on The Face-Books to a Yahoo! Sports article. I'm not linking to the article here because it has nothing to do with the story, but for the curious, its thesis was basically "Pittsburghers, despairing in a quarterback whose off-season training regimen consists pretty much exclusively of rape, have started to turn to Sidney Crosby as a true sports hero, because it's much easier to wear a T-shirt bearing the face of a man who didn't rape anybody." Another Pens fan friend of mine posted some comment about how I, upon reading the article, would probably find some conspiracy theory about some scandal Sid had been involved in, too.

Huh. It appears as if I'm gaining something of an anti-Penguin reputation. Weird.

Then, later this weekend, my girlfriend, who, as you'll recall, was born and raised in Broadway Blue, asked me why it was I hated the Pens so much. After getting over my initial reaction ("What?!? How dare you even ask? Fuck the Pens! What the hell, Delilah?" and so on), I gave her four loosely-thought-out reasons: I live in Pittsburgh so I'm surrounded by them, they're our division rivals, they're the prototypical representatives of the whole bullshit Gary Bettman regime, and Sidney Crosby just fucking bothers me.

Okay, so I'll admit: that's not exactly an ideal college-writing-class thesis statement. And it occurs to me that I should probably clarify my position on the Pittsburgh Penguins, for my Pens fan friends, my girlfriend, and myself (you know, to make sure I'm still right about everything). Surely if I lived in, say, DC, I would hate the Caps more and the Pens less, but would I be as vehemently anti-Capital as I currently am anti-Penguin? It's clear to me that I wouldn't, and that's not just because the Pens are in the Atlantic Division and the Caps are in the Southeast. So I want to clarify my position, here.

The Penguins used to be the only other team in the division I didn't hate. Not that that's hard, given the competition, but still - it was the case. Even in the early 90s, when they won the Cup those years before we did, I liked them and not the other teams in the Atlantic (admittedly, I was 8). I still think Mario Lemieux is one of the greatest people ever to happen to hockey, and we all know I loves me some Jaromir Jagr (he's still on the roster I may ever get around to posting, "what the Rangers would look like right now if I'd been GM since the lockout"). So what the hell is my issue? Am I just bitter, now that I live here and they're winning?

First, let's talk about Sidney Crosby. I didn't always hate Sidney Crosby. In fact, I have Internet Evidence that when he first came into the league, I was excited to watch him play, but I was annoyed that the media had seemingly already anointed him The One. (Please don't read too much of this embarrassing old LiveJournal I used to keep. Seriously. I'll admit I off-handedly refer to Marcel Hossa as the "younger brother of some other Hossa who's good and on the Thrashers," but it's pretty much all downhill from there.)

When Crosby came into the league, through no fault of his own, he was placed on a pedestal. Everything he did was "Gretzkyesque" and every move he made was replayed on highlight reels. And, yes, lest I be misunderstood here, he was very fucking talented at hockey. But you'll forgive me for getting annoyed at a fan base that calls a rookie "the Next One." There will never be another Wayne Gretzky. Ever. The end.

Do you remember Crosby's rookie and sophomore seasons? He had already been anointed "the Face of the League," and, aided by a total lack of reasonable instruction by coach Michel Therrien, he began to learn that he could get away with a little more than other people could. This quickly grew into Crosby whining to the officials about every little thing that happened, taking cheap shots whenever he could, and generally behaving like the royalty he had been taught he was. Again, note: I'm not saying his success stemmed from this. As previously mentioned, he was very fucking talented at hockey. But my being impressed with him was rather diminished by his attitude of "hit from behind, run away instead of getting hit back, complain about absolutely everything to the officials". One can scarcely blame Crosby for this attitude - let's be honest, it fucking worked, and that's the league's fault, not his - but it was still there.

And let's be honest, here, for a minute: I'm not just inventing this. There's a reason he was given the nickname "Crosbaby" throughout the league. There's a reason he was getting booed in every arena he went to by the time he turned 20. I mean, what major superstar gets booed like that? Do you think that young Wayne Gretzky was booed in 1981 every time he touched the puck when the Oilers visited Boston? The reason this league-wide hatred arose was Crosby's shitty, self-important attitude. That hatred exists, and it's not arbitrary.

But, as many of my Pens fan friends have pointed out, that has somewhat diminished of late. Crosby is no longer the whiny piece of bullshit he was as a child. He's kinda bulked up, and I have totally seen him throw good, hard checks this season (I'm not convinced the beard will ever come). Fair is fair. And, as such, there's less of a reason to hate the guy. The sentiment is propagated by the media and league, which still treat him like Elijah the fucking Prophet, though, and that helps us stay bitter.

The other thing that helps us stay bitter is the ridiculous hatred Penguin fans have for Alex Ovechkin. It seems to fall in line with the bullshit racist face the entire league puts on, and I've already posted in great detail how Ovechkin is fantastic and it's insane that the league doesn't treat him they way they treat Crosby. The fact that Pens fans all seem to follow that and hate Ovechkin as well is significantly disturbing to those of us who just like good hockey. It's weird and unsettling and bad for the sport, and it all seems to bizarrely orbit around Sidney Crosby. So, that's another reason "The Kid" is off-putting.

I watched the last 5 minutes of yesterday's Pens-Habs Game 2. I don't usually watch a lot of the second round. It's weird, but it happens every season (whether the Rangers are pathetically losing in the first round or not even bothering). The Playoffs start and I get crazy excited and watch as much of every series as I possibly can. Then the first round resolves and it starts to become clearer who is going to go deep, and my Rangers are almost certainly gone, and I get a little hockeyed out, and I don't watch much. Then, by the third round, I'm panicking, going "Oh God, there are only three best-of-seven series left, at all, before hockey goes away for the summer! Must watch as much as possible!" Don't it always seem to go: that you don't know what you got, 'til it's gone?

Anyway, the point is, despite not watching a lot of the second round, I did tune in (taking a break from navigating Jabu-Jabu's Belly in Ocarina of Time) for the last five minutes of Game 2 yesterday. And yes, I saw the Penguins at the end of a game it looked like they hadn't played terribly well to begin with, down 2-1, and I saw Mike Cammalleri put the game away with under 3 minutes left to play. But then, 30 seconds later, I saw this:

And this one really got me thinking. I've railed in the past about the Penguins getting special dispensation from officials, and I've railed against people like Matt Cooke. (Matt Cooke, for those of you who aren't clear on this point, is a fuck.) But this one struck me differently, somehow. I mean, Craig Adams, right? He's just some bullshit 33-year-old middle-weight right wing. He sometimes fights, he sometimes takes penalties, he sometimes shoots, he sometimes scores. He played almost a decade with the 'Canes, winning the Cup there, then came to Pittsburgh and won it here. He's just Craig Adams. He's fine at his job, and of all the Penguins I've been angry about in the past (including even Evgeni Malkin, whom I generally fucking love), I've never seen fit to be angry about Craig "Some Guy" Adams.

See, the thing is, Craig Adams isn't dirty. I mean, he's not a guy who attempts to injure people, to my knowledge. This isn't habitual with him, it's just a thing he did. And that reminds me of a larger culture. Historically, the Penguins aren't dirty. I mean, Jarkko Ruutu was a fuck, and Matt Cooke is a fuck, but those aren't the guys the Pens form(ed) their identity around. These aren't the Flyers. So why does this shit, like Craig Adams carelessly and callously throwing Marc-Andre Bergeron's face at the boards with less than three minutes left in a 2-goal deficit playoff game, happen? This doesn't send the right kind of message, and it doesn't put your team, known for its ability to score goals surprisingly quickly, in a very good position to recover a couple at the end of the game. So what gives, Craig Adams?

Here's what I think: I'm not paranoid enough to say Gary Bettman is a Penguins fan. But I'm also not naïve enough to ignore that he called the Pens his "model franchise." Bettman doesn't actively, intentionally do everything in his power to make sure the Pens win as often as possible. That's stupid. I do think he and Campbell are a little more predisposed to let things out of Pittsburgh slide, but I also think, more importantly, they're idiots. They don't know what they're doing, and they don't know what's good for hockey.

And the inconsistency in calls that is bred by that ignorance, coupled with a little bit of bias whereby things Matt Cooke does seem more "okay" than things Alex Ovechkin does, have set up a situation in which the Penguins themselves subconsciously perceive that they can get away with a little more.

Again, none of this is intentional, and it doesn't in any way take away from the success the Pens have seen recently. Make no mistake: the Penguins have won the games they have won because they are, once again, very fucking talented at hockey. But I see a hit like Adams's last night, and I don't see a douchebag thinking "if I do this, maybe I can hurt Bergeron in the head." Nor do I see a wily player thinking "heh-heh-heh, my team gets a free pass, so I can do...THIS!" What I see is: a dumbass mistake. I see a guy who had no intention of doing anything wrong, who got a little frustrated because he was losing, and, more importantly, who had just no idea where to draw the line.

This is a product of a league that has no idea how to teach where the line is. It's becoming increasingly harder to blame the individual as more and more cases keep cropping up. And I don't think this problem is specific to the Penguins, at all: it's league-wide, and it's going to keep getting worse until we get a Colectomy and officiating gets better again. However, I think it manifests itself more often and more obviously in cases that involve the Penguins, and that makes it impossible not to harbor some sort of resentment towards them.

It makes them seem, as a team, somehow representative of the whole mess the NHL is in right now, and it seems like victories over the Penguins are victories for old school hockey, when "hooking" wasn't "skating near a superstar on a breakaway", fighting was done for a reason, and overtime was settled sudden death, as a team, not with a skills competition. Resenting the Penguins for some of that is fair, resenting them for all of it certainly isn't - but that's the way it is, and that's why I hate the Penguins so much right now.

I imagine it will diminish with time, as the league heals itself and Crosby starts mattering less and less. But for now: let's go Habs.

1 comment:

  1. Re: Your label: Totally. I'm pushing for Vancouver and San Jose in their respective series, but if the final four were Montreal, Boston, Chicago, and Detroit, it would be a boo-ya moment of Original Six ecstasy.
    (Sorry, other teams.)