I’ll come right out and say it: I’m not a hockey fan. I’ve followed the Bruins from a safe distance and could barely tell you half the players’ names let alone the positions they play. And I still don’t understand “icing.”
That’s why I woke up this morning feeling fine. No bruised knuckles. No churning abdominal pains. No hangover like thunder cracking across my head. No bloodshot eyes. No tear-stained cheeks. No dried vomit in my beard or on the floor. No bullet holes in the wall. No punched-out holes in the ceiling. No glass shards. No search warrants. No dirty looks from the neighbors. No leg-buckling torment threatening to pull me into the earth’s core. I feel quite fucking awesome, to be perfectly frank, at peace with the world and my place in it.
But for those Bruins fans who are suffering this morning: I feel your pain.
A few of my hockey-watching compadres have already declared last night’s game seven loss the single most devastating loss they’ve ever experienced. So it got me thinking. We’ve been blessed of late here in Boston. Racking up championships at a rate that most cities will never get to sniff. All of our major sports teams went to the playoffs this season, with the Sox and Patriots going all the way. Last night, we were one game away from three sports parades in an eight month span. Back when I was a kid, this was the stuff of fiction. Science fiction, even. Today, it’s become amazingly routine. But if you asked me to name the single most spirit-crushing playoff loss of my lifetime, that’s an easy one:
Game seven of the 2003 ALCS.
Most of you were there. You know how it felt. I happened to be on a business trip, in a crowded hotel bar in New Jersey, my insides literally burning as the Sox went up in the early half of game seven. When’s the other shoe gonna drop? I kept thinking. Because it had to. Because that’s the only way I knew these things could end.
Later in the game, when Wells came in and served a meatball to Ortiz, I scampered back to my room. I had to be alone for the last few innings. I kept the lights off, the TV on, and called my dad, because I needed him to walk me through this. It was so close, I remember telling him, that it couldn’t be real. It couldn’t be happening. And a few Grady Little non-maneuvers later, it wasn’t. When Wakefield came in, I felt physically ill. I knew we couldn’t hold them off forever. And I slipped under the covers and watched it slowly fade to black.
But I couldn’t sleep. Tossed and turned all night, waking up, pacing, chugging water, staring out the window onto the Jersey turnpike. In enemy territory, I couldn’t escape it. The headlines, the street talk, it had my head spinning. The four hour train ride back to Boston felt like six weeks in a box car with a dozen naked hobos. My head against the glass. Eyes glazed over. Stomach knotted. Head burning furiously with what might have been.
It was a game, I kept telling myself. A fucking game. But I was sick over it. And it went on for days. Weeks. I didn’t want to eat or sleep. I just kept thinking of how close we came. And it’s all we talked about in the bars and offices and on talk radio, because we needed to talk about it to keep ourselves from jumping off the roof. My Dad, God rest his soul, even went so far as attempting an intervention on my behalf, calling me night after night to make sure I was still alive, that I hadn’t taken a busload of hostages, reminding me, “Son, the players have all gone back home to their mansions. No need to give yourself an ulcer over this.”
Hard to believe that just one year later, after being pushed to the brink of therapy and full mental collapse, everything changed. The whole world flipped upside-down. All of a sudden, “wait ’til next year” wasn’t some half-assed thing you said to talk yourself down from the Longfellow Bridge. It really meant something. That they weren’t always gonna break your heart. That some times, when the stars aligned and everything clicked into place, some truly amazing shit could happen.
The fact that it has happened again three times since then? That’s insane. So insane that in 2008, when the Sox dropped another game seven in the ALCS, I simply shut off the TV, finished off a glass of bourbon, read a few pages of a book, then shut off the light and went to bed. Disappointed? Hell, yes. But no screaming, no fists flailing, no sirens blazing down the street to see just what the fuck I’d done this time.
No reason to, really. Because I knew that next year, it really could be us heading off to the World Series. Again.
That’s the only solace I can offer Bruins fans today. I hope it helps.