Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Notes on Mid-Western Fans

Would profanity laced invective make Nationwide Arena
a more competitive environment?
I've been mulling this post over for quite awhile.  A fairly longstanding discussion between Mrs. Gallos and myself is about the nature of the fans in CBJ land.  We are NICE people.  Its who we are.  We are not a terribly showy bunch of folks, preferring substance to show.  Its why, I think, DBJ reacted negatively to boo-gate, the booing of Jeff Carter.

I always felt that Detroit fan's continual booing of Sergei Fedorov was bush league.  One game yes, maybe two.  But years later?  I wouldn't agree with continual booing of Carter.  We got our point across.  Which is why, strangely, I found the booing rather refreshing.  That's not my normal persona.  And I didn't chime in, but once it started, I wasn't against it, in this season from heck.  It was fun, and it signified that although we are NICE, there are limits.  If you don't appreciate, or understand our NICEness, then we won't be NICE to you.  If, on the other hand, and you are JMFJ, and understand and embrace that, we will respond strongly.  If you betray us, we react strongly (see: Foote, Adam; Nash, Rick as opined by DBJ).  But we are NICE people, and you can work your way back into our good graces (see: Nash, Rick).  We also have a fairly tenacious streak, and don't give up easily (see: season ticket holders).

Anyone who was at Game 4 of the playoffs against Detroit knows what a NICE crowd can sound like with the bit in their teeth.  Some also found out how a NICE crowd will react when you try to throw an Octopus on our ice in a playoff game.  There is a classic picture of that beat down hanging in the R-Bar.  At the end of the day, we prefer to cheer in a positive manner.  'Let's go Jackets!!!'  We tend to save our booing for the referees, who of course, always deserve it in our barn.  But we want our players to play well, and we tend to be fond of them, and identify personally with them, unless they reject us (see Carter, Jeff).  In which case, you might get booed in our barn.

Yes, I know these are gross generalizations.  But I have been a season ticket holder for a long time, and have sat through a lot of games of 'playing out the string'.  In that regard, I'm a qualified observer.  And while DBJ addressed 'playing out the string' in this post, I'd like to suggest that really playing out the string in Nationwide Arena starts on December 1, rather than after the trade deadline.

There's nothing quite like sitting in your season seats, in December, watching your professional team ignore fundamentals that you wouldn't let a Peewee team get away with, with the sure knowledge that they have no chance of making the playoffs.  One of the first things that happen is you become emotionally detached.  There is no commitment by fans to come to work the next day with a sore throat from cheering if 'tape to boot' passes are the best the team can manage.  And that lack of emotional commitment is a means of protecting yourself.  And it leads to a 'county club environment'.  Its easy for a player to think "It doesn't matter how bad I suck, these people will still like me" (and I'm talking to you RJ.  Seriously!!).  Because as a group we are unlikely to boo their crappy performance.  AND, very importantly, we as fans are schooled to the notion that our team may play relatively well, yet lose.  Where did that schooling come from?  Playing out the string.

For a true look of playing out the string, by which I am defining as 'effectively out of the playoffs by December 1', any long time CBJ fan has seen a lot of it.  The following are the respective team records at the end of November for the CBJ history.

2000-01   7-16-2
2001-02   7-13-6
2002-03   9-11-4
2003-04   7-12-4
2005-06   7-18-0
2006-07   6-15-2
2007-08  11-10-4
2008-09  10-10-3
2009-10  13-9-4
2010-11  14-8-0
2011-12   6-16-2

If your team has only 6 or 7 wins by December 1, you are playing out the string, ESPECIALLY if you are an expansion team, without a long tradition of winning to overcome the hopelessness of that position.  So the fan base shuts down, into emotional protection mode, because it is difficult to muster any serious angst and hatred towards these hapless clowns.

Shockingly enough, this year was a pretty classic example of that.  The Scott Arniel CBJ went into December so dysfunctional that they couldn't even hit each other on a pass.  Notice that the Todd Richards CBJ are much better at passing  (well, except for RJ)?  I don't really have an answer for that, but the team is playing better.  It was very reminiscent of the 2006-07 season when Nickolai Zherdev was prowling Nationwide Arena.

At the end of the day, the average CBJ fan has had to adopt a somewhat philosophical and apologetic approach for rooting for the home team if you are engaged in conversation with other hockey fans.  But, at the end of the day, a decade of suckage is pretty much the lot of any expansion team, due to an overall lack of depth and talent.  We are near the end of that period, and it is to be hoped that better days are ahead.  After all, we're NICE people!


(Editor's note:  Good blogging protocol would call for me highlighting all the players names with links so you could refer back to the NHL site for a bio of the player.  Well, I feel emotionally detached these days, and didn't feel up to it.  Dang country club environment! G -)

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