Wednesday, April 20, 2011


I haven't lived in Western New York for almost six years, essentially the whole time I've been a serious hockey fan. This is, of course, unfortunate in a lot of ways. All told I have been able to see maybe a third of the games the Sabres have played over that time, and then not always with the best video quality or announcing team. I've had to sacrifice quite a bit, but what I hate missing out on the most is the connection between the team and the local community, which I think is stronger in Buffalo than just about anywhere else in the league. I was lucky enough to fully experience it briefly in 2007, when I made it home for the summer literally just in time for Drury's 7.7 second goal. I was also lucky (lucky?) enough to be one of thousands in the plaza to watch the Sabres eventually fall to the Senators in Round Three. Even though the series itself left a bad taste in my mouth, the pure electric atmosphere outside the arena on that day is something I will never forget. And it kills me to know that something like that is going on right now and I'm missing it. It's even worth putting up with snow in April if you ask me. (Especially since Minnesota seems intent on making me put up with snow in April either way.)

The problem with a community that cares as much about its sports teams as Buffalo does is that it really cares, and if there's one way in which my long distance relationship with the Sabres has been an advantage, it's this: It's been undoubtedly easier to remain positive--or at least not drown in my negative feelings. The collective voice of the Buffalo sports fan is famously one of bitterness. Our championship void somehow makes us more prone to criticize everything, whether that means nitpicking a win or overreacting to a loss. It's like we're afraid that someone will try to blame us for our teams' persistent lack of success, and so pass up no opportunity to point the finger at anyone and everyone else. I say "we," because whether he accepts or rejects it, every Buffalo sports fan (and probably every regular Buffalonian, too, for that matter) is aware of and implicated in this mentality. Not all fans react this way, but those that do somehow always find a way to make themselves heard, usually on sports talk radio, and that affects and reflects on the rest of us. This narrative is so pervasive, in fact, that even those in the "objective" local media seem to think that being relentlessly negative is telling us what we want to hear.

Which is why I'm sometimes glad that I only interact with the Sabres fanbase through blogs. For the past few years, blogs--typically written by those among the silent, sane majority--have been creating a kind of fan counterculture on the internet. Maybe it's because those are the fans who feel underrepresented in the mainstream media narrative, or because they just realize that with a whole website's worth of cyberspace at their disposal, instead of the limitations of a YouTube comment or a couple of seconds on WGR, they can afford to think through things a little more. Either way, my exposure to the irrational, pessimistic, once-bitten-twice-shy Fanus Sabreus over the last few years has been minimal, and I believe I am less susceptible to its sting of insanity because of it. I admit I felt myself spiraling after the clock ran down Monday night, but instead of dwelling on it, I decided to watch some of The West Wing, go to sleep, and try to make sense of it all in the morning. Good choice. The next day I visited some blogs I had never been to before, and was greeted by some classic over-reactions. Instead of making me panic, they just made me smile. It had been so long since I had heard from the type of fan who declares Game Three in a 1-1 series a "must win," or a 2-1 series officially lost, that all I could do was chuckle and shake my head at the predictability. I expect if I encountered opinions like this everyday I would find them less amusing than annoying, but I live in Minnesota, so thankfully I don't have to. As a result, the odd over-reaction in my blog rounds just makes it easier for me to under-react.

That loss was tough, but this series is far from over. Bring on Game Four.

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