[the camera slightly rises to reveal a set of rugged old tires and then an equally rugged sedan, formerly sleek and currently rusted. Inside the car are four friends, empty tall boys of Coors Light tucked on their sides. The car rolls to a stop as the driver hands a wad of bills to the parking lot attendant on his left. The camera is set on the car's rear as it rolls slowly forward into a parking spot and the four doors each open suddenly. The tall boys are replaced by fresher versions from the trunk. Music plays over the idle chatter, revealing a certain atmosphere of hope as the friends don blue and gold jerseys.]
[cut to a startled Dubs, waking from a deep slumber in the embrace of a leather recliner, pretzels strewn across his torso and a dried mix of saliva and a Dogfish Head 90 minute IPA crusted on the right corner of his mouth. The look of disappointment washes over his face as he realizes that it is 2013 and the dream... distant.]
This is where we're at, Sabres fans. Our best memories of this team are forgotten and unreachable on the ass end of a half decade of ongoing disappointments. The 2013 joy of watching with friends and keeping up with the team ... largely dissipated after a horrid first month or so of hockey. With a 1.8% chance of making the playoffs, that time when we love our hockey the most, we can barely recall why we ever loved this team so much in the first place, other than an unrelenting commitment to our hometown, despite its many faults. Hockey used to be at the forefront of how we imagined Buffalo could be - social, excited, optimistic, fun - but now we struggle, especially when we do it from afar, to think much of anything good about what our hometown could be when one of its formerly superior products has failed so miserably. A future of incessant losing for our beloved home appears to be written in the stars.
#BecauseItsBuffalo appears to be a matter of divine providence.
I have a hard time discerning where it is I would like to place the heap of blame that I have stored up for this team. We always need to blame someone, of course, and even the act of placing blame becomes a competitive venture as we seek out a moment of triumph to fill that empty place left by a losing hockey team. Golisano. Small market economics. Those dickhead Rigas bitches. The media. Darcy. Lindy. European divers. Lazy Vanek. Derek Roy's STDs. Game presentation. The lack of fan noise. We can choose as many as we want, really, so long as we're willing to argue about it.
And then, when we're tired of deciding where the buck must stop, we revert to arguing about what manner of hope for the team is most appropriate. Hope for failure with the expectation of draft picks and a more solid and speedy rebuild? Or hope for winning now, draft position be damned, so that we may get small moments of triumph presently and may, if just for a night, revel in victory and forget the sordid history of defeat? We call each other bandwagoners and idiots and fools and callous pricks, and we bemoan how much we miss a hockey team that wins with some predictable regularity.
What I really miss, though, is arriving together at a point in time where we fans can all feel hope for this team again. Where it wouldn't sound like a terrible idea to hop in a car and head to some out-of-town arena just to see our boys battle for 60 minutes, win or lose. Where we can argue about which team and which team's fans we hate, rather than which part of our own fan base we hate, since we're all united in a shared devotion to Buffalo hockey.
We have none of that, now, at least not for more than a couple of weeks at any given time in any given season. Instead, pessimism (rightly, probably) rules and we're left to argue about the post mortem before the season is officially, mathematically dead. We're left with a "rational" part of our fan base wishing for the team to tank while the "fun" part of our fan base - the part that chooses joy at watching a team succeed, if only fleetingly - rails against the idea of ever cheering for your team to fail. We're left with many fans fitting into both of those warring factions from time to time as each of us struggles to find a mindset in which supporting this team is palatable again.
I wish I had a way to wrap this up with words of wisdom or some reprimand for being the kind of petty, stupid fans we have become, but this isn't that post. This is the post where I simply observe, commiserate, and quietly hope for some spark to bring us back to that place about which I so often dream.