Part I: LOST IN PARADISE
It was January 8th. I was one day into my annual retreat from the real world yet, like most vacations, I couldn't turn my brain entirely off like a switch from the matters of the day...like a Blue Jackets game, this one against the Mighty (chuckle) Ducks of Anaheim. The Jackets lost - not exactly a surprise - but they got shelled for (gasp!) seven goals en route to a 7-4 loss. Ugly begat ugly, but it just didn't hurt as bad when I was catching bits and pieces of the game via NHL GameCenter Live from my balcony overlooking the Caribbean Sea. In fact, I was so pleased with my game-watching experience that I snapped a photo:
|Little did I know at the time that this was a snapshot of the final minutes of|
Scott Arniel's Columbus Blue Jackets coaching career.
Is it that easy, though? Can a diehard (yet pragmatic) fan just accept his team Carrying The White Flag with half the season left, especially when hopes were so high for this roster and its slew of offseason acquisitions?
Nope, it's not...which left me 1,354 miles from home, virtually alone in my Blue Jackets fanhood, and grasping for answers that just weren't coming. I was lost.
On the evening of the 9th, the DBJ family went into town to grab a bite to eat and sample the local culture and nightlife as only a trio of wannabe-Cleavers can do. We passed by the taquerias, the silver jewelry stores that made me thrilled that Mrs. DBJ doesn't wear silver, the Italian eateries, the convenience stores carved out of the locals' living rooms, the overpriced "fusion" experiences, the countless gelato shoppes, the vendors selling colorful ponchos (with all sorts of pro sports teams logos on them - no Blue Jackets, though, as I would've grabbed one if they had it).
And then I saw it, stuffed behind the "I make your name bracelet in five minutes" sign at a streetside stand. Eight bucks ("But for you, señor, I sell it for six."). What was it, you ask?
Part II: CRACKING THE MAYAN CODE
|All prophecies in this blog post came directly|
from this text. Really. Verbatim.
We returned to our villa from a very satisfying dinner that, for yours truly, involved a terrific arrachera that was doused in a ridiculously good chimichurri topping. Upon putting the Dark Blue Toddler to bed and kissing a tired Mrs. DBJ good night, I opened up this accordion-shaped publication in the hopes of having the Mayans' secrets of the universe bestowed upon me.
Seven prophecies to announce the beginning of the sixth Sun cycle. And, like everything else, they surely had to relate to the NHL...and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
What? Huge cataclysms? Was Bettman prescient in pushing the NHL southward, somehow knowing that a shift in the Earth's axis would make the generation of ice in Florida a plausible idea when the Sunshine State is plunged into never-ending winter? Will Detroit finally implode? Would a self-respecting cataclysm even bother itself with Nashville? Guess we'll find out in December.
And what of the Blue Jackets? If Man will be faced with his behavior toward himself, his world and everything in between, do you think the Blue Jackets roster will face up to their underperforming selves? Will player leadership light a fire under the squad? Will that evolution in harmony with the Universe mean that we fans might actually witness the team developing some chemistry? Could the CBJ finally stop being scared of the Central Division? (We are still getting another year of the Central, right? With the NHLPA vetoing the realignment plan?)
Spiritually speaking...will the CBJ's resident demon, Derek Dorsett, find God?
Wait a minute: This "era of conflicts" started in 1999? And the CBJ took the ice in 2000? So this team has been in existence only through this era of Mayan-predicted upheaval? Well, that explains our 1,500 head coaches and zero playoff wins.
But here's the problem with the CBJ when it comes to this whole "Man facing fears" and stuff. The "man" who's supposed to change the attitude in the locker room, and by extension in the fanbase...I'm not sure he's human.
|I will kill John Connor by drafting|
him and starting him in goal!
Then we have the "events that will tear us apart" - well, that's clear as a bell...another coaching search. Even the "newbie" Blue Jacket fans who (like me) really jumped on the bandwagon after The Playoff Appearance of 2009 have been through this rodeo. We'll all take sides based upon lists of prospective coaches that we really don't know built off of rumor and innuendo and then tear each other to pieces while Howson proceeds to pick precisely the wrong guy from a list that in hindsight will be filled with right guys. Talk about clash of ideologies!
Ouch - guess we need to scratch that inference that hockey in Florida was a good idea. The notion of watching hockey in shorts, however, does sound nice! I suppose I could start recycling for that.
To this CBJ fan, that sure sounds like the "faith-based fanhood" that we know and embrace so well: Keep rooting like mad for the team despite the fact that their inner core is a white hot mess that melted down somewhere around the first third of the 2009-10 season and hasn't recovered since that point. Yet we keep the faith, rooting on, offering Calls to Arms (which, by the way, remains a masterwork of sports fan video) despite the cold slap of reality at every turn.
There's something in this that speaks to the state of the Blue Jackets locker room ("universe exists for him only"), but I'm not sure exactly where the Mayans were going. So let's jump to number six.
If this is taken literally, we're probably screwed and hockey will be the least of our issues.
Taken metaphorically, however, the hockey fan's mind turns to the upcoming labor negotiations and the potential for another lockout season - which is as close to a cataclysm as this sport gets. And while such negotiations are always darkest before the dawn, I would tend to agree that a swift and smooth agreement to keep the NHL machine humming along would be a major achievement.
A Blue Jackets fan might also take the more localized view and see this as the long-discussed roster shakeout. Might we actually see the theorized "nuclear option" and witness the Blue Jackets' roster core blow up and get scattered throughout the NHL, AHL and Europe?
Mind reading? Hot dang! Now we're onto something. Of course, we'll be mind reading in a world that's been hit by a meteorite and is suffering from melted ice caps, but what the heck...I'll play along.
Imagine what mind reading could do for this team, especially with coaching. We all know that Ken Hitchcock had some mad skills on this front - witness his ability to work miracles as "The Nash Whisperer," transforming the captain into a genuine two-way monster - but I'm not sure any other of the countless Blue Jackets coaches have shown the same ability. Should make the coaching search interesting, to be sure. ("If you were a tree, whose mind would you read?" No, that sounds stupid...)
The one thing that makes me nervous about this prophecy is the whole "transparency and light" thing being predicated on Man. As in, a Man has to be the one to be transparent, to bring light and take responsibility - to bring excellence to the organization. But what if the "man" responsible for building the roster...is not a Man but a T-2000 robot from the future?
|Yup. We're S.O.L.|
Part III: THE PILGRIMAGE
Tulum, perhaps the most significant oceanfront commercial point of entry into the pre-Spanish invasion Yucatan Peninsula.
Why not go inland to Chichen Itza, a site so massive and impressive that it's been labeled one of the New Seven Wonders of the World? Why not trek into the jungle to explore the still-largely unexcavated ruins of Coba, which features the tallest pyramid (I think) in the Yucatan? Two reasons: 1) It was close (meaning I wasn't going to blow an entire day of my vacation wandering through the wilderness), and 2) It was the cheapest trip. I'm on a pilgrimage, sure, but that doesn't mean I'm not on a budget.
|The Tulum tram - pulled by a farm tractor|
(Photo courtesy of the Dark Blue Toddler. Really.)
|One FUNNY book|
Neither, for that matter, did the strange, crystal-lugging hippies out of California, who cashed out their 401(k)'s, abandoned their overcrowded and smog-filled metropolises and moved east to Sedona. They imparted their unique brand of mysticism into Sedona's surrounding hills by labeling them "vortexes," or places where one can achieve a harmonic convergence with themselves, nature and whatever fine herbs they were smoking. In fact, hiking in Sedona was rather funny - our tour guide told us not to bother the meditative-chanting circles of vortex observers because, well, they were more scared of us than we were of them. But I digress.
Back to Tulum. I looked around at the grounds, saw all of these majestic temples to different Mayan gods, thought about those Fruits and Nuts in Sedona and figured, "What the heck. Why not try?" So I sat my oversized American butt down, crossed my legs, stretched my palms outward and...umm...hummed the Blue Jackets goal song. You know, the same song that seemingly every other team in the league (outside of Chicago - UGH) and even an insurance company are using.
|Whoa - Oh - Oh...Oh - Oh - Oh....|
On the bright side, those folks had no idea what I was doing either. So I picked myself up, dusted off my shorts and started walking around the site to look for signs, clues, inspiration. Anything to help explain why the Blue Jackets cannot extricate themselves from The Suck.
Indigineous, pre-European merchants pulled their canoes up to the rocky beach opening and brought their spices, gems, foodstuffs and other assorted items to the Mayan people It's an incredible thought to consider that a civilization that couldn't invent the wheel (or so I was told) figured out how to conduct commerce with other cultures deep into Central (and perhaps South) America. This was a culture that understood the value of wheeling and dealing, something that CBJ management just can't quite bring themselves to do if they had their druthers.
Perhaps that was it, the Mayan capacity for commerce. Genuinely shrewd operators - Roster Ninjas, if you will - could take the disparate pieces that fill the locker room, figure out what needs to stay/go and make the deals that improve the team not just on paper but on the ice and in the win column. I ran down to the cove and looked to the sea.
|Will the CBJ Savior come perhaps in trade? Or will they be the one making the trades? Do I see Craig Patrick?|
I walked from building to building, reading the displays and listening in on different guides' interpretations of what we were looking at. Yet no answers were revealing themselves. I tell you, it was more frustrating than watching Grant Clitsome get spun around on yet another Steve Mason softie. I was getting nowhere fast, it was getting hot and the DBT was running out of water on a freaking hot, sunny day in the Mayan Riviera.
|ARGH! What does a guy need to do to find peace in this hell of an NHL season?|
Part IV: ENLIGHTENMENT
I was tired. I was hot. I was frustrated. And I wasn't any closer to finding answers than I was when I started my little quest. So I tossed off my sweaty clothes, put on my beach gear and headed down to the sand for a little ocean breeze and a cold drink.
|Ho-lee jeez. Smoke 'em if you got 'em.|
And then I saw him. Yes, him.
There he was, under a palapa, with a fruity drink at his side. There was no mistaking what - or who - I saw.
I stood there, motionless, stunned and slack-jawed.
|And it wasn't even the All-Star break yet.|
"I...I...I...can't believe you're here!"
He laughed again.
"Why?" he responded as he leaned back into his chaise. "What's going on up there right now? The season's over, chump. Start thinking about the draft and free agency. Everything else is angst and window dressing, kiddo."
I tried my best to compose a coherent thought. "You...you can't be serious. There's almost half a season left! Shouldn't you be banging that silly drum or something right now? Your team needs you. The fans need you!"
"What am I supposed to do - fire up a crowd that is more inclined to lynch someone than cheer at this point? Forget that. I've been down here for a week, and I gotta tell you, these drinks are awesome. Cool and refreshing...really hits the spot on a sunny day."
Then his callous sneer melted away in the sub-tropical sun. "Tell you what," he said. "You obviously want to talk, and you're blocking my sun. C'mon over and grab a seat. Tell me what's on your mind. Of course, you'll need to rub a little more lotion on my wings. They're kinda thin and burn easily."
So that's what I did. I settled down into the sand next to his chaise and told him about my hopes and aspirations for the Blue Jackets and the City of Columbus, my sorrows and pains since the single playoff appearance of 2009, my head-first dive into Mayan mysticism and my pilgrimage to Tulum in the drive to find answers to why this team imploded like they did after that promising season. I don't think he was impressed. In fact, I think he thought I was somewhat silly. But he humored me.
"You really care, don't you?" he asked.
"Yeah," I replied. "I really do."
"Well, then, here's some advice. Just sit back, relax, and let the wind roll over you - just like the majority of the National Hockey League rolls over our team on most nights. Then take a few deep breaths. It'll get better. Definitely not this season, probably not next season, either, but it will get better. Either that, or I'll be banging that drum somewhere in Canada before you know it."
Was it what I wanted to hear? Of course not. However, I appreciated his candor and his honesty. Somehow, having my worst fears validated by someone in the know made it feel better. Our team was mired in The Suck, and he couldn't explain it any better than me. In our own ways, we both were lost.
So we sat back and watched the tide come in.
Minutes turned to hours, and neither of us spoke a word as we grew more and more entranced with the sun, the waves and perhaps the fact that we were so far from home with nary a care in the world. Especially about our dismal hockey team.
Yet despite this bliss, I just had to break the silence and ask one last question.
"Do you think Howson could be a robot from the future?"
If you will permit me, I'd like to offer my heartfelt appreciation to some incredible Columbus Blue Jackets fans whose work has graced the blog over the past 1,000 posts - Kirsi, Puckeye's Mom, Campbell, En4cer45 and Cody. Special mention goes to the current band of bloggers that have raised this little corner of the Internet to a completely new level: Gallos, Greg and Alison. And, of course, Rick is welcome to drop in an post any time he wants.
This blog started as a way for me to share my love of the CBJ and keep my sanity as a first-time father. It's clearly become much more than that, and I have all of my contributing friends to thank.
With all dues respect, however, no contributor comes close to you - the reader. Your readership drives us to produce more and better. Your feedback - here and elsewhere - keeps us honest and connects us to all of our friends out there. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.
Here's to another 1,000 posts!
Carry The Flag!