I woke up this morning to a mourning dove cooing on my windowsill, the soft rain tapering off, and strands of quiet television wafting in from the living room. I sighed when I remembered that yes, it's finally Saturday, yes, I can keep sleeping, yes...
Yes the Caps really did win last night!
My heart is pounding with happiness and I'm wishing I could still be screaming with excitement and winning.
I've been a Caps fan for ten years. It all started when I went to a game with my BFF, and I fell in love with Robert Lang, and I immersed myself in learning a new sport for the next two years. Then, I moved away. Between New York and then Delaware, I wasn't able to watch or celebrate with my favorite -- my only --hockey team anymore. Even after I moved back to Virginia, I kept up with the stats but I kept my fandom hidden away. On the rare chance that I caught a game on TV, I didn't have anyone with me to watch, to celebrate.
That started to change, finally, during the playoffs last year. Mike and I worked on bikes, cars, dinners, at Matt's house, and Matt was a hockey fan. Some nights I'd rely on GameCenter to update me, swiping at my phone with a grease-covered finger; other nights I'd make the difficult call to go into the house, switch on the TV, and call updates out to the garage. I had hockey again, and someone with whom I could share it, even just a little. I was waking up.
If you follow me on Twitter, you know I tweet about hockey a lot. A solid portion of my appearance on #thepetecast was about hockey. My conversations with friends always go there. This year, this season, something's clicked. It started on the periphery with Twitter-folk (especially a certain saucy Canadian we all know), and it strengthened when I met Danny, then Ben, then started going to Lucky's for the games. It manifested itself in superstitions and statistics, trash-talk and tall Miller Lites on game nights. It showed its playful side when I was approached by the Rangers fans in my family, friends, strangers, with questions and jokes. It became tickets to the 400s, standings checks, Braden Holtby on my phone background, Matty P's hilarious celebration GIFs, obsessive readings of RMNB, DC Sports Bog, Vogel, and DistrictSports.
We lost the first game that Ben and I attended together, an early match against Toronto; we won the second, the ECQF clincher. We took smiling pictures, screamed, bounded down the arena stairs and into the street in a sea of red, cheering and chanting. Those chants -- C-A-P-S CAPS CAPS CAPS! -- followed us down the street to Ben's car, in gatherings on street corners and cars honking their horns in traffic. The permasmile remained on our faces for days.
I was at Lucky's for the first game, surrounded by some of the best Caps fans I know, my regular hockey crew. We screamed and cheered, high fives all around, when we won. I was in New York for the second game, by myself on the sofa, furiously texting back home. I cheered quietly to myself when we won, raising my hands in the air and getting a matter-of-fact "Oh, fuck you." from my uncle, my Godfather, not so much a hockey fan but a New York fan.
That's a big part of what I love about this -- sports in general, really, but hockey has a particular lifeblood to it -- the trash-talk. The "fuck you and the horse you came in on," attitude, said to family and friends, meant wholeheartedly in the moment of chaos on ice, and not ruining any type of established kinship.
We lost the next two games; all of us sitting together at Lucky's, spread across a couple tables or grouped at one, the cheers fading to disappointment and quiet sips of beer as the clock ticked. But still, even in those moments, I felt companionship and pride, love for my team, appreciation for people who aren't afraid to trash-talk me into the ground after their team plays better than mine.
I wasn't supposed to be home for the game. I was supposed to be in New York, sad, with family, likely not watching. When Mom told me not to come up for the funeral, not to drive all the way at night by myself for a Mass, that she'd worry, I cried for the first time all week. I rested, worked, rested, cried; and finally I woke up, at home seventeen miles from the bar, seven minutes before the puck was set to drop. I checked GameCenter at stoplights, screaming too loudly at the early Rags goal, asking for updates via text. I rallied into the bar, curled up on a seat, and realized that I'd relaxed for the first time all week.
That there, even with how tired I was, even with all the excitement and stress of Game 5, I was fully present and absolutely in love: with the game, the stakes, the incredible people around me, the smoky bar that had become my second home throughout the season, the all-caps trash-talk text messages, the witty banter on Twitter, the experience as a whole.
I can't recall the number of times I buried my face in my hands or into Ben's shoulder. I think I was kind and polite when I asked the guys next to us to sit down so I could see the screen. I know I went into shock when the bar lost its satellite signals for forty seconds. I bit my nails, swilled beer, threw high-fives, and screamed my head off.
When we won -- when Perreault sent that puck flying and my heart stopped for the longest second of my life -- the bar went insane. There were people standing on barstools. The din was almost unbearable. The boys high-fived each other, the guy who'd earlier yelled "Let's go Rangers!" to taunt our table came over cheering and slapping backs, a man in a blue suit appeared behind me and hugged all of us. The smile on Danny's face was incredible. Bren was screaming like a crazy man. Adam wondered how the hell he didn't knock over his chair. Ben and I high-fived and fell into a big hug. I kept screaming for five minutes.
I can't stop smiling. I've watched replays over and over, found the GIFs of celebrations and disappointment, taunted a Rangers fan, and I can hardly even believe it still, this simple Game 5 victory of ours.
My heart hasn't stopped pounding and I don't think it will for the rest of this series.
This is what it's all about.