Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Slow Parade

Sharks 4, Red Wings 3 (OT); Western Semifinals, 0-3

A.A. Bondy - A Slow Parade .mp3

Found at bee mp3 search engine

I suppose I could just link to this post from exactly one year ago. It's essentially the exact same thing.

One of the biggest cliches in this world is "all good things must come to an end." And as is the case with almost all cliches, it's a cliche because it's true. There is nothing in our lives that has an infinite lifespan. When we encounter something good, or even decent, something we deem to be worthwhile, even if we resist it at first, we eventually come to rely upon it, and we subconsciously do whatever we can to preserve it. We try with all our might to keep the decency in our lives, clinging to whatever joy we find in an otherwise cold world.

But it's irrelevant. The passage of time inevitably brings with it the winds of change. Regardless of what we do, sooner or later, the things we cherish slip through our hands, in some way or another. The most tragic among us witness the greatness fading away, while the blissfully ignorant remain blind to it until they realize it's gone. Either way, the end result is the same: we all feel the same emptiness when we lose something we held dear. We all feel the same pain in our hearts that accompanies the void that was once filled. In the end, all we have left are the memories we forged, the images we burn into our minds, and the sounds of a lost paradise that we use to fill the silence that dominates the present after what we loved has faded into the clouds of history.

For Red Wings fans, the past 20 years have instilled in us a righteous sense of superiority. We acquired the feeling that not a team in hockey could match the skill of the Red Wings, and if the Wings played "their" game, their precise execution would win the day. We never acknowledged the possibility that another team was actually "better" than us. In 2006, Edmonton wasn't "better", they simply employed the trap to suffocate the Wings' offense, a crutch used by a clearly inferior team. In 2007, Anaheim wasn't better, they had to resort to goonery and thug tactics to muscle their way past the Wings in the West Finals. In 2009, the Penguins weren't better, they were simply able to drag their bodies across the finish line just ahead of ours, because we had to endure injuries upon injuries and terrible officiating and the brutality of the Western Conference playoffs. Detroit fans have this romantic notion that if the Wings were in the Eastern Conference, we would've won every Stanley Cup since 1996.

I'm (mostly) exaggerating, of course, but the base point remains the same. By and large, we've never accepted the possibility of a team being better at what we do than us. But now, as we stare own the barrel of another elimination from San Jose, as we swallow the bitter pill of a seventh loss in the last eight playoff games against the Sharks, the reality is as obvious as it is painful: they are truly and genuinely better than the Red Wings. They're not deploying some gimmicky defense, nor are they taking advantage of pussy ass referees and pulverizing the Red Wings after every whistle. No, they're doing what the Red Wings have done for the majority of the last 20 years. They're dominating in the faceoff circle. They're winning the battles in the corners. They're backchecking and forechecking with relentless vigor, and for the most part they are destroying us in the special teams department as the Red Wings' penalty kill swirls the drain for the third year in a row under the incompetent eye of Brad McCrimmon - while former Red Wings assistant Todd McLellan dominates the Wings in the areas he himself built to elite status while in Detroit. Our own weapons, used against us. Beaten at our own game.

The reality we all want to ignore but can't deny now lies ahead of us, plain as day and right out in the open. The days of overbearing dominance by the Red Wings in the West is over. The mystique is no longer there. These same Sharks wilted away like spineless cowards in the face of the Winged Wheel four years ago when Robert Lang scored in the final minute to tie Game 4, a game the Red Wings would win in overtime to tie the series. The Wings dominated the next two games to eliminate the Sharks. For Michigan fans, this is a familiar experience. For 40 years, Michigan occupied the minds of the other Big Ten programs, a phenomenon we sometimes refer to as "Winged Helmet Paranoia." In that same vein, "Winged Wheel Paranoia" has enjoyed a reign of nearly two decades. And it's gone now. Teams don't fear the Red Wings anymore. The Sharks and Penguins have shattered the aura of invincibility that surrounded Joe Louis Arena since the early 90s. The mind games are gone, just as the last three years (some would certainly argue more than that) saw the mystique fade from Michigan football. Teams no longer fear coming into the Big House; just the opposite, in fact. They see it as an opportunity to exact vengeance for years of tyranny under the oppressive thumb of the Wolverines; a chance to snatch a pound of flesh 40 years in the making.

But the thing is, as Brady Hoke and Greg Mattison have the grand opportunity to restore the mystique, as they plunder the state of Michigan and lay waste to Mark Dantonio's grand vision of "turning the state green", as they dare to encrouch on the evil empire's territory to the south of us, there exists much smaller chances for the Red Wings to fight off the wave of insurgency against their power. College football provides the luxury of a clean slate every few years as the entire roster turns over and the chance for younger, better players to step in presents itself. We're already seeing the beginning of it for Michigan football, as we can rest assured that greatness lies ahead with James Ross, and Royce Jenkins-Stone, and Joe Bolden, and Kaleb Ringer, and other stars in the making whose best days lie ahead. This isn't the case in pro sports. The usurpation of Detroit's throne in the West by teams like Chicago, and San Jose, and Vancouver - these are teams with nuclei much younger than ours. The future doesn't hold promise for the Red Wings as much as it holds uncertainty. Lidstrom and Rafalski are on their last legs; behind them resides unproven talent that will need to be proven lest an enormous hole in our already-shoddy defense be torn open. The Wings had great hope for Jonathan Ericsson, and instead we've been treated to three years of incompetence and utterly dreadful play. Up front, Datsyuk and Zetterberg and Franzen are on the wrong side of 30. Bertuzzi and Holmstrom are almost out of gas. The youth that exists in the system - players like Tatar and Nyquist and Pulkkinen and Kindl and Smith and Mursak - is completely and utterly unproven at the NHL level, and as the transition from old to young takes place over the next several years, we'll have to rely on these prospects to live up to their full potential, all while competing against teams that will have their young stars entering their prime.

A future that contains the unknown is a future to be feared. And for those of us who invest far too much emotion in trivial things like sports, the angst of the unknown is surpassed only by the agony of the present, as we watch the one thing we could always rely on be laid to waste. For me, the socially inept, self-loathing, clinically depressed jerk, what little energy I have left as I struggle to find a reason to get out of bed each day is zapped as the Red Wings fade away into the sunset. I get to watch them break apart and slip away, just as all good things in my life have already done so. My shattered existence just fractures more, the spider web of cracked glass growing each day, with things like hope and optimism being conspicuously absent, and worse, the concept of them becoming more and more foreign.

Three things in life are certain. Death, taxes, and the expiration of all things pleasant and comforting. Some of those things last longer than others. Some can last 20 years. Some can last 15 months. But they all end. Whether it's via a three minute phone conversation or an unexpected snap shot from the right circle, time always catches up.

And time brings everything to an often-unwanted conclusion.

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