I'm writing this an hour and a half before the puck is to drop on Game 3 of the Canadiens-Penguins series. I'm sitting in the middle of the FanJam 2010 street festival happening in front of the Bell Center, where the Habs play their home games.
The energy isn't quite as as it was two years ago during the Canadiens-Bruins playoffs — the year when we placed our hopes for the Stanley Cup on rookie Carey Price. But it's still quite electric. How can it not be? This is, after all, Montreal.
It's nice how a simple game can bring people together. In this morning's commute, the driver let us out at the terminal with a cheerful "Go Habs, go!" People dressed in Habs shirts and jerseys, sporting earrings, rings and pins all with the blue, white and red logo emblazoned on smiled at me throughout the day (although I'm sure the afternoon sunshine helped). I went out for lunch and got to see a bunch of men dressed in business suit kicking around a can in what they hoped would be 2010's Stanley Cup goal for the Canadiens, with the typical cry of "Et c'est le buuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuut!" (loosely translated as "Goooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!")
We're quite the dreamers, les Québécois.
But there is also a dark side to all of this. Amidst the revelers at FanJam 2010 are scalpers driving up the price of tickets to head spinning heights. I asked a couple for the price of a pair of tickets in the nosebleed section; the lower offer I got (for nosebleed seats) was $200. Each. For nosebleeds.
Did I mentioned they were nosebleeds?
If you want something to drink or a bite to eat, you have to spend more than double the normal price for a glass of beer or for snacks; nearby restaurants are known to jack up their prices during playoff season. And don't get me started on the price of memorabilia, which suddenly cost 10 to 50% more (especially if the name "Halak" appears on it). I can't help but roll my eyes at the booth sitting right across from me. Hopefully no one working there can see me.
Then there are the insults. A live concert is going on at the moment with a band covering many classic rock pieces. In between sets, the lead singer revs up the crowd and jeers the Pittsburgh Penguins. How odd, as they a fantastic team who won the Cup last year. Plus, the team boasts some amazing players, including Canada's own Sidney Crosby, whose name was being chanted in a different light two months ago when he scored the goal that secured Team Canada a gold medal. And yet, you wouldn't have known that listening to some people out here.
Just a few minutes ago, a journalist was interviewing a bunch of hyper fans. "How much are you looking forward to the game tonight?" he asked them. "I only hope we beat the f*** out of them!" yelled one. And I know for a fact that this is quite a mild insult compared to some I heard about, say, the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Boston Bruins.
Have we taken the game too far? How can someone like me, who loves her city, loves the game and loves going to matches manage to balance it out?
The answer isn't to eliminate competitive sport. It's an extreme solution that might take care of the superficial problems of hockey madness (including riots) without taking care of its source. After all, isn't an almost fanatical devotion to games and sport a sign that perhaps we are trying to fill some kind of void with the joy and excitement of, say, hockey?
On top of that, professional sports encourage youngsters to start playing, too, and encourages adults to keep playing. And one cannot discount the countless positive effects of this hobby, both on the level of the individual and that of the society in which he lives. Playing sport is a great way of keeping one's body in shape (less healthcare costs); it's a great way of developing discipline, dedication and perseverance (individuals who will be able to contribute systematically to the advancement of society); it's a great way of learning to work as part of a team (increased capacity to cooperate); it's a great way of meeting new people and expanding one's horizons (individuals will be able to start and maintain healthy relationships). Many of my close friends are athletes, and they are shining examples of dedication, perseverance and discipline.
But the way we perceive sports as an all-important — nay, vital — part of our lives might have to be examined, and thoroughly so. We should also think about examining the importance that we ourselves give it. As a Habs fan, yes, I want the Cup to return to Montreal. But is it worth the hours of stressful game watching, the passionate arguments, the insults, the sometimes insane amounts of money spent?
It's not the prerogative of either the NHL or even the city of Montreal to bring this up; they make so much money off our frenetic devotion that to ask these questions would not serve their interest. Rather it's up to us fans to reflect on our own zeal. More and more older Habs fans I talk to regret the old days, when devotion to the game was just as high (if not more because of its political ramifications in La Belle Province), but it wasn't as frenetic, nor was it as all-important. An older friend of mine is still in shock as to the amount of money tickets now cost. "I wonder what the old hockey greats would have to say about this," he once mused.
Sports is a beautiful demonstration of physical prouesse; it's a great way to bring people together (I for one am looking forward to Little League baseball starting up again to spend a Sunday afternoon or two outside, in the sun, eating hot dogs, watching the game while yakking it up with old and new friends). It should be an integral part of our lives, either as participants or observers, but I don't think it should be life.
I'm heading home now. I'm not going to watch the game tonight; but I definitely will check the score before heading to bed. Hopefully we will win; but, more importantly, hopefully we will win without losing ourselves.