Late last night I saw something I’d never before seen in all my years following sports. Members of a sports team, showered and nattily attired for travel home after a game, having spent the preceding 6 or so hours in a secure area, were being stopped by arena security personnel — interrogated, almost — and then individually inspected with hand-held metal detectors before being allowed to board their team bus in the bowels of an arena. The Tampa Bay Lightning defeated our Capitals again last night, but their exit from Washington almost certainly was unlike anything they’d ever before endured. Washington, joined by the rest of the civilized world, celebrated late last night, but Washington also went on high alert. That’s the world we live in. Although this morning it’s a much safer world.
The sting of potentially another sour spring for Washington’s hockey fans seemed so inconsequential late last night. And this was the way last night’s world-transforming news began to unfold for me: I spent about 5 minutes watching this peculiar inspection of hockey players before a bus ride. I thought: for some reason, Verizon Center security personnel thought it possible that members of the Lightning could pose a security breach in the nation’s capital. For nearly 5 years at Verizon Center I’d watched visiting hockey players stop to pose for photos with their fans in a small reception area before boarding the team bus, and it was all so routine. Until last night.
Minutes later, I walked into the press lounge and saw a mass of reporters who ought to have been filing to meet deadline huddled around a television screen. Breaking News, they were attuned to. World-transforming news, I would soon learn. Seriously putting a playoff hockey game’s outcome in perspective news, to be sure. Although, I was more than a little late at getting that perspective.
I spent the next 30 minutes chatting with bloggers and print and television reporters, all of us exchanging notes and reflections about another stunning sting for the Caps in spring. I discussed video shooting ideas with my bloggermate Andrew. I looked over quote sheets from postgame press conferences. I scanned the evening’s event summary and pointed out to my new media colleagues that Marcus Johansson took 15 draws on the night and won a grand total of 5 of them. In our country’s most important moment in 10 years, I was looking to lay blame for a game’s loss partially on a rookie hockey player from Sweden.
About 20 minutes later Andrew and I boarded a Metro train at Gallery Place and continued talking hockey. We trashed the Caps a good bit. We expressed disgust with the power play, the coaching, the team’s leadership. We wondered if Varly should start game 3 to try and change this series’ momentum. Andrew exited the train after a couple of stops, and alone with my thoughts I began forming an outline of post mortem on what sure looked like another postseason’s demise prematurely fast upon us.
When I got home I turned the TV on and realized, at last, that I didn’t need my game notes for the file I needed to pursue. I felt stupid and wretched for taking 90 minutes plus to realize that whatever the hell I felt about Sunday night’s outcome on the ice it mattered not in the least relative to what was going on in the world. And here’s rich irony: a good many reporters I call friends spread their talents covering multiple Washington team sports, and often they seem to me immersed in games — in sports journalism — rather myopically, to an unhealthy degree, so as to be, to me, deficiently briefed about what really matters in the world. I had this thought much of last week as media outlet after media outlet gorged on the NFL draft with coverage befitting President Kennedy’s assassination.
Sunday night, it was I who harbored a myopic view of the world — adhering to the meaningless world of sport when word of the arrival of a vastly better world was dawning.
I’m just beginning to realize why. Over the course of 10 years now I have gradually developed a tone deafness for news of conflict and military engagement overseas. Big money we’re spending over there, for big messes, costing precious American lives and — and! — look at the conditions in our airports for it all, my cynical sensibilities sneered. And so I turned to sport — our sport — for more than pleasant distraction, divergence.
On the TV late last night word arrived that at Sunday night’s Mets-Phillies baseball game the public address announcer shared word of Osama bin Laden’s death and residents in the birthplace of our democracy began chanting ‘USA! USA! USA!’
Of course they did. And none of them last night or this morning are much worried about the Flyers’ goaltending.
Tampa Bay coach Guy Boucher last night told the media that so desperate was his hockey team for rest that he didn’t believe they were literally physically capable of meeting the obligation of a second overtime session in last night’s game, had it been warranted. He then said that he told his team that he didn’t want to see them again until Tuesday, when the series resumes. I don’t think we love hockey — and our Capitals — any less if we take a page from the coach’s playbook, and turn our thoughts away from the rink for a day. This is a historic Monday in our republic. Let’s forget about hockey for a day, give thanks for the arrival at last of justice, remember the men and women who wear our uniform and the courage and sacrifice they daily make, and when next we meet at the rink and we are told to cast our gaze and appreciation at the members of the military then under spotlight, well, we’ll double our applause and the duration of our ovation, won’t we?