N.Y. Rangers Win the Stanley Cup!

North County 6/8/94


Mark MessierThe New York Rangers are not just a professional hockey team. To their fastidious and undying fandom, it is a way of life. Not even the nomadic Dead Heads could claim such maniacal allegiance. And now, with only mere days to erase 53 curse-filled years of treachery and despair, there will be no reining them in. That suck of air you hear is the collective buildup to the eventual outpouring of breath in a sigh of unified relief. The Broadway Blueshirts are about to win Lord’s Stanley Cup.

This phenomenon cannot be explained in a short newspaper column by a novice sports sufferer. But it is my folly to try.

“A way of life” for most people outside of the improbable world of sports is defined by the delicate attempt to understand their existence on earth. The Ranger fan never asks why their considerable hearts have been subjected to countless seasons on the brink. In some cases it is handed down through generations, or perhaps culled from a sense of empathy for the underdog. Some people root for the Rangers the same way we grew up rooting for Ralph Kramden to finally make his first million on one of his hair-brained schemes. It is a normal human condition to hope for the impossible. Pray for the improbable.

Eastern philosophies deal in the simplicity of nature, as in Taoism or Confucius. But there is nothing simple about being a fan of a team that has dropped more shoes than Buster Brown on his worst day. In fact, only the cynicism of Nietzsche could begin to contemplate the intricacies of the Ranger fan. But not even good ol’ Plato could grasp the ramblings of the guy I saw praying before a lit candle, while gripping Rosary beads, balancing himself atop an abandoned pool table during the first overtime of Game 7 against the feisty New Jersey Devils at the End Zone Sports Bar.

Mere seconds before a trip to the finals. Overtime for a chance at all the marbles. It had not been a series for the weak-kneed or faint of heart. There was a revolving door on the bandwagon throughout; and when the Rangers were down by two goals, trailing three games to two, the grim memory of play-off’s past began to surface. To the untrained eye, this was a minor annoyance on the road to greater things for the team with the best overall regular-season record. But to that guy, sequestered on the pool table with a fist full of beads, it was HERE WE GO AGAIN.

But captain, Mark Messier had promised a win and delivered. Shades of Joe Namath in Miami, he rang the bell in hat trick fashion and forced a final game. He was rightfully lauded as the hero of the moment, but only the moment. Messier was summoned from the cup-happy Edmonton Oilers for this very reason; bring home the hardware to Madison Square Garden. He’s been here for four years, but he might as well have been here a week; because a Ranger fan’s memory is long, and there have been false saviors before.

Suffering is not a right of passage or badge of honor for the Ranger fan, it’s about being there when the suffering stops.

For more than half a century there have been promises broken and miracles unfulfilled. Those who have spent any part of it have been reminded through song, story and signs displaying those four hollow digits that ring true and hollow: 1940. That was the last time the Rangers won a Stanley Cup. For those with a loose grip on history, that’s eleven presidents, a World War and a Baby Boomer generation ago. Hockey was not a big thing then. The Rangers played no home games in that series. The circus was in town.

In fact, the last time a New York hockey team from the island of Manhattan had gotten close to the elusive prize was in 1979. It was the year of the Fonz on the tube and John Davidson in goal. The Rangers lead the finals 1-0, and built a two goal lead in game two. Those faithful still able to muster the courage to recall say their heroes did not win another shift. The Montreal Canadiens won yet another Stanley Cup. For Ranger fans, the wait painfully continued.

But the fans kept plodding on, throughout several declines and rebuildings. Two years ago the Rangers had the best record in the NHL, and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in round two of the post season. The Penguins, like the ’79 Canadiens, or the ’72 Boston Bruins for that matter, were the better team; but this year’s model is the best chance this century can offer. After all, this is a team that quit down the stretch of last season and failed to even make the play-offs. However, when the hockey year commenced, the fans were cheering as if the future of mankind hung in the balance.

Baseball’s Boston Red Sox have not won a World Series in 76 years, but their fans seem to revel in the disappointment. There have been books and films exonerating the utter torment and resiliency of the Beantown faithful. No such fanfare surrounding Ranger fans. You get the feeling if the Red Sox ever win, their fans will no longer be on the map. Ranger fans would be happy to leave that map. Suffering is not a right of passage or badge of honor for the Ranger fan, it’s about being there when the suffering stops.

Perhaps this week it finally does. Maybe the demons under the ice are felled and sent crawling back to wherever they came from. It’s always been about the glory of BELIEF. It is the life blood of the Ranger fan; a whole separate way of life. I call it the Zen of the Puck; a combination of hockey and Buddhist philosophy centered around the enlightenment of intuition. Webster’s dictionary defines intuition as “ a direct perception of truth or fact, independent of any reasoning process.”

There is no reason to believe the improbable, except when you’re a Rangers fan with a dream of having your heroes sipping from the Stanley Cup. It’s been a long time between drinks. Fill it up for the faithful.

Reality Check | Pop Culture | Politics | Sports | Music


Social tagging:

Leave a Reply