Has it sunk in for you yet?
It's getting there for me. Friday night faded away for me with a feeling of numb shock still firmly in place. I knew what had happened, but the finality of it didn't process. When I woke up yesterday, it was still there. It's pretty much gone now. It didn't just drop on me like an anvil all of a sudden, it just gradually seeped in until I finally acknowledged it: there are no more games. There is no game tomorrow. No game the next day. No parade. No championship t-shirts or hats. No celebration with awkward, foreign players speaking broken english and still conveying thanks to the fans.
No Stanley Cup.
We took it for granted, really. It's the most precious prize in sports, and we took it for granted. We assumed because it was here last year, it would never leave. Once we saw the Red Wings shake off their shaky regular season defense, we just assumed that at the end, Nicklas Lidstrom would be holding Stanley over his head again. Even I, the ultimate pessimist, the eternal cynic and naysayer, never envisioned such tragedy. There have been terrible moments involving the Red Wings; games and moments that we all remember that bring us sadness. But overall, they've always been the constant for us. They've always risen above everything. When all our other teams floundered at some point, the Red Wings were there for us, a rock for which we could all lean on and be assured that it would remain steady. Through all this, through four Stanley Cups since 1997, we forgot that while winning it is the greatest feeling there is...we forgot what losing it felt like.
Now we all know. Now we all remember. Stanley is gone. And it's such bitter heartbreak, sometimes I wonder how we deal with it. I have not watched video of the end and the proceedings afterward yet. Nor will I. As I went through some photo galleries from the Detroit News and Yahoo, the pain was almost too much for me to bear. Seeing the looks on the faces of the players and fans...complete and utter devastation. I'm spoiled as a Detroit fan. In my life, I've seen (keyword there) four Stanley Cups, an NBA title, a National Championship in football, and an improbable American League pennant. I was far too young to have any memories of Michigan's national title in basketball in 1989 and the Pistons' first two titles in 1989 and 1990. Nevertheless, I recognize how lucky I've been. And there will be more. The Red Wings will return to the Finals and win another Stanley Cup, possibly as soon as next year. And yet, as much as I remember the positives, the negatives are right there too. I remember the 1995 Finals. Well, the ending, anyway. I have precisely zero memories of any part of any of the games, or even any feeling or emotion. I was six years old. I just remember seeing the Red Wings standing there, in their red jerseys, dejected and defeated as the Devils went wild with the Stanley Cup. I remember Game 5 against Colorado in 2002, when Forsberg flipped the puck over Hasek's shoulder in overtime and peeled away from the net, his arms raising in celebration. I remember almost running from the room, unable to watch anymore. That Wings team was a team of destiny, and I remember thinking to myself then, "That's how this is going to end, isn't it?" Of course, it wasn't. But the scars remain. I remember the 2006 Michigan/Ohio State game. The buildup for basically two months. The ESPN promos. Bo's death. And the game itself, the pain it caused. That was the last time I actually cried. Not just because of the loss, but because of that entire 48 hour period, where we went from being so confident and sure of ourselves to not being sure of anything because our entire world as Michigan fans had collapsed around us. I remember screaming at the top of my lungs when Rasheed left Horry alone after the inbounds pass. I remember once again being unable to watch as Game 7 wound down in San Antonio, because I wasn't willing to see the heartbreak on the faces of those Pistons. I had never loved a team like I loved those Pistons. They went down just like these Red Wings down - fighting to the bitter end, but just not having enough left in the tank to remain champions. Heavy lies the crown.
Shortly after I left the dejected, deadpanned voice mail on my friend's phone minutes after the game ended the other night, he called back. I didn't feel it vibrate, so it went to voice mail, where he left me a similarly devastated message. He told me that he wished we would never have a "9/23" to share together. "9/23" being the date of the Michigan State/Notre Dame football game in 2006, one that hollowed out the hearts of a lot of Spartans. A lot of good, decent people. I understand the pain he felt that night now. I feel a tremendous weight of guilt. After Game 6 ended, I was absolutely convinced the Red Wings would win Game 7. This friend of mine was not. He feared the worst. And I spent the next three days convincing him that he was wrong, and the Wings wouldn't let this slip away. And then, well...that happened. And I couldn't help but feel responsible. To pump someone up with so much hope, so much bravado, only to see the rug get yanked out from under.
A bunch of the injuries these Red Wings were battling through came to light yesterday. When you take stock of them, you can't help but wonder if there were higher powers at work, determined to prevent a repeat. I mean, look at last year. Franzen missed six games with a concussion. Holmstrom missed one game. I think Stuart missed one. And that was it. And this year you get Datsyuk, Lidstrom, Rafalski, Ericsson, Draper, Kopecky, and Lilja missing games. Cleary, Holmstrom, Hossa, and Zetterberg, nursing wounds that would've kept them out in the regular season. I can't ever recall a team being stricken so badly with the injury bug. I suppose we could take some sort of twisted solace from that, knowing that despite being so ravaged with wounds, they still got to Game 7 of the Finals, but whatever. There are no moral victories. Just an empty place where the Stanley Cup used to be.
Just a lot of heartbreak. And a lot of pain that won't go away for a long, long time.