I never dreamed of playing pro hockey as a youngster, but enjoyed playing the game. I discovered I was a lousy skater and didn’t like waking up early on Saturdays. Eventually, I played street hockey with friends until my mid-teens. I’ve followed the Montreal Canadiens (or Habs as they are called informally) ever since I was a kid, even while my interest in actually playing hockey eroded. There is nothing very unusual about this, and likely its occurred to many fans of other sports. What intrigues me about watching and following sports is that it different from any other pasttime, it isn’t like being a fan of our favourite TV show. We can get euphoric and depressed when our favourite team wins or loses, my uncle used to literally cry when his pet soccer team lost some “important” game. In Montreal, hockey is a religion, and there is even a university course exploring such themes . Some goalies, past and present are often given nicknames alluding divinity (“Jesus” Price, St. Patrick). Some didn’t even wait for a championship to riot , just after a first round win.
Don’t get me wrong, watching hockey is a fine diversion during these frigid months of winter, yet recently Montreal has caught Habs fever, even former GM and player Serge Savard has opined that they are currently more popular than when they had won the four Stanley Cups. I often found the “Habs as religion” premise as fun hyperbole, something Hab fans tell one another to exaggerate the devotion to the team, and the craziness that surrounds the Canadiens, especially in the media. But I got a glimpse of it one night when we made plans to watch a game with some friends. I haven’t been to a sports bar for a few years and I thought it would be fun. It was a very cold night (under -20C), so we didn’t expect a large crowd at this particular bar. We arrived late and the place was PACKED, and everyone looked at us like we walked in the middle of Sunday service. The audacity of us coming in late to the sacrament, the rambuncious church that every pub has become, worshipping the Holy Habs. How dare us be late and expect to find a seat??!! We bolted and had a very pleasant evening at a good Thai restaurant closeby, no screen showing the game, and I didn’t miss it.
Some curious thoughts about this pastime of mine often invade my mind. Why do I watch this? I can dismiss it easily as just entertainment, but I feel its more than that. Millionaire players payed by billionaire owners that often don’t even live here, playing for the highest bidder with specialized skills no one really needs. Do they represent us? People proudly wearing a team logo which is now just a corporate logo. Why aren’t I playing a game instead of watching others play? Isn’t that the way, not only in sports but in other endeavours, like the arts and music? We watch the skilled without developing our own skill, we are mesmerized by mastery too much to attempt competency. We cheer athletes, actors, musicians, politicians. We watch, but what to we do? We absorb media, but do we create it?
Oh, the game is on. I wonder what’s the score.