Equally informative as the terms of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement which ended the 111 day NHL lockout, were fans reactions to the news, and reaction to those reactions. Outside of the NHL Network, most of the reporting occurred online. because it was NFL Wild Card Sunday. These entertaining matchups monopolized live TV. The highlights and details from online and TV really stuck with me on this NHL Wild Card Sunday Agreement.
The already hobbled RG III with under 7 minutes remaining couldn’t handle a low-ball offer from Gary Bettman. The result was tragic. The offer was fumbled by the NHL Players Association, only to be recovered by Bill Daly, whose final stat line also included capping team salaries at $64.3 million. Upset and in tremendous pain at this loss, and loss of all the cartilage in his right knee RGIII laid face down inside the 10-yard line of the negotiating table. Furious, Donald Fehr ate Skittles and went Beast-Mode in the waning hours of negotiations getting salary “variance” to as high as 35% from year to year—and then rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown.
For what he determined to be the final time, Ray Lewis came out of his home stadium tunnel to do his pre-game dance. Also determined to make Sunday his last time in a particular building, Kevin Westgarth of the Kings burst through the doorway to perform the signature pre-game dance. This energized the NHLPA to drop the gloves, and win a $60 million “growth fund” added to the settled $200 million for revenue sharing. Unintimidated, Gary Bettman fired back that both he and Joe Flacco were both elite at each of their jobs. And for good measure, the max contract length of any resigning player is 8 years. To avoid the cavalcade of boos surely following him and these facts, Andrew Luck switched to a hurry up offense to make up the deficit, only to be hurried even more by the relentless Ravens pass rush. In a small way like Chuckstrong, the NHLPA did not come away with what they wanted at the end of the day. The Ravens won the game. Beyond the deal, the players got one thing they wanted though. They get to play hockey.
Sunday’s results were a blur of highlights and Tweets, but the overwhelming reaction was rejoicing from hockey fans, and business as usual for non-hockey fans at the end of the day. The reaction to those reactions stood out too as ESPNs Darren Rovell (here) and The Daily News’ Tom Hoffarth (here) called out fans for being foolish, coming straight back to hockey. They are foolish for not holding a grudge.
It is a sacred tradition that Bettman is booed, loudly, at all public appearances. Simply, hockey fans are not fans of Bettman. Hockey fans are hockey fans though. They don’t watch hockey instead of something, they watch hockey. For most of them, Lakers fandom would not satisfy the same need.
It’s harsh to tell off fans for something that is part of their identity—being fans. They’ll boo Bettman, but regardless of which side got the better end of the deal, it’s hockey they want. Foolish is harsh, it’s their identity.
Think of it this way. Not everyone is strong enough (or misguided enough) to rebuke a former lover who returns. There were perfectly good and logical reasons to say “No,” and move on. But if you loved them once, it’s tempting and likely you’ll ignore those reasons. Even if it is foolish, even if it is only for a little bit, embracing that identity works for a lot of people.
Likewise fans love hockey. They have ignored Bettman and Fehr’s negotiating table squabbles and have what they want now to fill that missing part of their identity—hockey.