I hear the Padres are looking good this year, at least from a talent standpoint. Too many games to go to be predicting anything.
I mention that because I am not in San Diego, I am in Prague, and last year the performance of the team tracked inversely with my proximity to the stadium. The same thing happened with the Chargers, who made the playoffs for the first time since the ice age.
I am in Prague, and the city has two of the most powerful teams in the hockey league. Sparta (rhymes with Yankees) and Slavia (rhymes with Mets, sort of). Both teams underperformed this year. I can’t take full credit for that though – despite fuego’s encouragement I just can’t root for the big-city team with a payroll that dwarfs most of the other teams in the league. Instead I came to root for Liberec Bilý Tigre (pronounced Leebehrets White Tigers) and Hamé Zlin (rhymes with lamé spleen).
Of the four teams to make the semis, Liberec was the only one with the team logo larger than the logo for their biggest corporate sponsor. Pardubice (rhymes with Atlanta Braves – big payroll and not in Prague) had a big telecom logo where you would expect the team logo to be. I watched several games with Pardubice before I figured out the mascot is a burning horse (it’s on the goalie’s helmet). I also like Liberec because I was there with fuego a couple of years ago and had a good time. There’s a really great brew pub there. Go White Tigers!
Then there’s Hamé Zlin. Why was I rooting for them? Hamé is a food products company. The team is named after a company. I would say roughly a third of the teams in the league are named after the corporations that sponsor them. That would make Hamé the antithesis of why I was pulling for Liberec.
The Hamé corporate logo includes a red bear, and the company makes spreadable meat products. I dubbed the team “Meat Bears”, a name I enjoyed using so much I became a fan of the team. The poetry was infectious; by the end fuego was a meat bear fan as well. There’s just something about chanting “Go, Meat Bears! Go!”
Liberec was, from a payroll standpoint, the overachieving team of the year. They got to the semis and played some really great hockey along the way. The Pardubice Moeller Telecoms (who, by not choking in the playoffs, differentiated themselves from the Braves) finally got the best of them. I was disappointed. Meanwhile the Meat Bears came from a one game to three deficit to overcome Vitkovice (rhymes with Pittsburgh). Heady times in Zlin!
All these teams had some pretty big guns from the NHL (rhymes with not-there hockey league), but the biggest player of all in the minds of the czechs, JaromÃr Jagr, who at least at one time wore the number 68 to commemorate the czech national team’s victory over russia not long after russian tanks rolled through Prague in 1968, and who (I’m told) grew up in Zlin, was not on any of the teams. He was playing for more money in Russia. Putz. It bothered me more until it occurred to me that it was in a way a counter-invasion — he went plunderin’ for rubles. Still he’s a jerk. The Meat Bears could have used him.
The Meat Bears were swept in the finals by the Moeller Telecom Burning Horses. I missed one of the games, one was painful to watch, and the other two were never really in doubt. Milan Hejduk got his championship, and in his own country, to boot. fuego and I watched the final game on the big screen at the Cheap Beer Place, and we agree that the officiating was awful, but in the end the bad guys had more points.
I can’t really say I cursed either the Meat Bears or the White Tigers, but I’m sure my presence here didn’t help.
Hats off to the Meat Bears, though, and hats on the ice for the White Tigers, who have no corporation in their name.
fuego’s working on scoring some tickets to the world hockey championships in Austria in May. Now’s the time to pay me to not root for your favorite team!