Posts Tagged ‘sports’

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Steroids in Entertainment

April 17th, 2014

There’s been a lot of talk in the last few years about the use of performance-enhancing drugs, and steroids in particular, in sports. But while two of the major sports in the US get most of the attention, what is carefully NOT said is that steroids permeate the entertainment industry.

This entire episode is really an aside for a thought I was developing a while back: Superman does ‘roids. As steroid abuse became prevalent in sports, we the couch potatoes began to form an entirely different idea of what ‘ripped’ was, and the bodies of superheroes naturally had to live up to that ideal. Our heroes, even the fictitious ones from other planets, have been sporting ever-more-sculpted bodies, keeping up with Schwarzenegger and Ferrigno and all the other ‘roided-up bodybuilders of the ’70′s.

Today, while sports-related PED use gets all the press, other branches of the entertainment industry are desperately clinging to a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. The entertainment press has no interest in exposing steroid use among actors; infidelity and coke are mainstays of scandal but let’s not talk about how Actor X got so buff for his last movie. Scandal sells, but only the sort of scandal that perpetuates the Hollywood Myth. In a land of smoke and mirrors, only the smoke and mirrors are sacred.

That’s not to say that the sports franchises have come clean.

This is where the picture of Elmer Fudd sitting on a powder keg, fuse almost burned away, with his fingers in his ears and his eyes shut tight would be if it were legal for me to put an image like that here, and/or if my searches for such an image had borne fruit.

Take the NBA, for example. The leadership of the league will tell you that steroids are not a problem in their league. This isn’t based on any sort of science, or on a rigorous testing policy (testing in the NBA is a joke), but rather on the assertion that steroids don’t enhance the type of activities that basketball players do.

Um… say what?

Let’s imagine for a moment that we could jump in a time machine and go back to the ’80′s, and have a chat with one of the greatest basketball players ever to have donned a pair of sneakers. We know Michael Jordan is motivated by winning and pretty much nothing else. So let’s imagine what his answer would be if we told him, “there’s a chemical you can take that will allow you to jump a tiny bit higher, last a little longer on the court, and to recover more quickly from the inevitable sprains and bruises that are part of your game. It’s not exactly within the rules of the game, but you definitely won’t get caught.”

Michael Jordan had that choice. Knowing how driven he is to win, which choice would surprise you more, that he did or did not use steroids?

What a potential nightmare for the NBA.

I have to assume that the use of PED’s is also rampant in hockey. Since an individual star has the least impact in hockey compared to the bigger three sports, the does-he-or-doesn’t-he discussions are less common. A hockey player could juice up until he turned into a minotaur and commenters would say “that line has had some great shifts lately.” Over 82 games the performance boost would be measurable, but wouldn’t stand out so flagrantly. So I think it’s safe to assume that ‘roids are in use, even though no one talks about it.

Then there’s the sport-like entertainment product brought to us by the WWE, called, euphemistically, “wrestling”. You want to see what max-boost steroid use will do to a human? Look no further. Image is what they sell. Back in the day some of the biggest names in the ring were also big tubs of goo. Strong men, and passable actors, but hardly ripped. Now, take a moment to look at the headliners for the next WWE event. Pretty crazy, right? Everyone knows these guys do steroids. As long as no one talks about it too loudly, all parties are allowed to let things continue this way.

So why are we OK with these guys using steroids, but not the athletes in ‘real’ sports? The generally agreed upon reason to ban these drugs is to protect the health of athletes. But is the health of a baseball player inherently more valuable than the health of a pro wrestler? If health were the real reason, then outrage would be consistent across the entertainment industry.

And, you know? I can get therapies for my sore knee that professional athletes can’t. Does that make sense?

If not health, then what is the reason? Is it fairness? I think mostly yes. As the system stands, people willing to break the rules have an advantage over those who behave ethically. Particularly in my favorite country, the United States, that rankles. It sure bothers me. So ‘real’ sports, where there’s actual competition, try with varying levels of success to catch the cheaters.

Unless you consider the NBA a real sport. (It’s borderline for me.) There’s really not much effort to enforce their drug policy. They do have random testing, sure, but they can only test a player four times each year. After the fourth test, a player is off to the races. Even before that, the tests are easy to beat.

Interestingly, this continued state of denial, of not doing anything meaningful to police the use of performance-enhancing drugs, puts the NBA in a position to bring about meaningful change. Were I king of that league, I’d pass the following edict: People pay to see the top performers in our sport. We will provide that product. To maintain fairness, we’ll allow all athletes in our league to take whatever PED’s are legal in this land, and we’ll even provide responsible medical supervision.

Bickety-bam, prohibition is over. And while there will still be cheaters who do unhealthy amounts of performance-enhancing drugs, the advantage they gain by doing so will be diminished. And when your favorite athlete comes back from an injury more quickly, everyone wins. Seriously, how can it be a bad thing when someone gets well more quickly? There are some big-name athletes with shadows over them because of ‘miraculous recoveries’. They must have cheated, right? What kind of messed-up system makes recovering from an injury too quickly a bad thing?

So let’s put on our Goggles of Reasonableness and question the assumptions behind the prohibition of performance-enhancing drugs in sports. And while we’re at it, lets recognize a simple truth: We want to watch enhanced performers.

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If I Ran the Sharks Tonight

January 20th, 2014

I’d tell Calgary beforehand, and I’d put my fourth line on the ice for the first shift, as a gesture of solidarity. Tortorella is the best thing to happen to the Canucks for a while, but sending his troops in for an all-out brawl before the puck had time to hit the ice is going a little too far. Sure, he has to protect the Sedin sisters, but I think he could have found some balance.

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Baseball Playoff Fever

October 2nd, 2013

As I type this, Cleveland and Tampa bay are playing a single game to see which team gets to be in the playoffs. (Technically this is a playoff game, but don’t be fooled; it is a contrived spectacle that rewards mediocrity.)

Out there somewhere is a Tampa Bay Rays fan on the edge of his seat, living and dying with each pitch, as his team battles for a spot in the postseason. But there’s only one. The networks are not rooting for Tampa Bay.

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Bitching About the Refs

September 6th, 2013
Soccer, this time.

Is it me, or are the refs in Columbia-Ecuador doing a really horrible job? I’m watching with the sound off, but it looks like there was a red card on a flop that was a complete travesty of justice, a goalkeeper ‘injury’ chewing up ten minutes of clock, and then a yellow card on a tackle where the defender was between the ball and the other guy, got kicked, and then was given a yellow card for his trouble.

Regarding the red card, I had vague hopes that at the half the officials would look at the play again and realize that the guy they’d tossed from the game was innocent, and the guy who flopped should be ejected, and all would be made right for the second 45 minutes. That’s not the way things work, however.

I don’t follow the sport closely enough to know whether this game has World Cup implications, but I suspect it does, and Ecuador has a right to be pissed off. Except… Columbia seems to be the better team, flopping and bad calls notwithstanding. Not all the terrible calls have been in their favor, either. So the outcome is looking like it should, but the process of getting there has been terrible.

The shitty calls go both ways. After I typed the above, I watched a play just outside the penalty box, where a Columbian beat the defender and was then tripped. “Now that’s a yellow card,” I said to myself. The ref jogged over, pulled the yellow card out of his pocket, and held it up in the face of the guy who got tripped. Obviously the ref was sensitive to dives after the previous tragedy, but in this case he called diving on a guy who would have had a shot on goal if he kept his feet.

Columbia probably should win, but they have no right to be proud of the way they did it.

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Original Six?

June 12th, 2013
A hockey pop quiz.

Many people are pointing out that this year’s hockey championship is especially cool because it’s between two of the Original Six teams. Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins. A battle of old-school heavyweights.

Questions to challenge the hockey faithful:

1) How many teams were in the NHL when it first formed? (Hint: it’s not six)
2) How many of the so-called ‘original’ teams in this championship series were part of the NHL when it first formed? (Hint: The ‘nation’ in NHL was not the United States of America).
3) How many of the REAL original teams are still skating? (Hint: the answer is two, Montreal and Toronto.)
4) Is there any hockey fan base anywhere who doesn’t hate the whiny bitches in Vancouver? (Hint: no. Everyone hates Vancouver.)

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Gonna Miss That Guy

March 28th, 2013
Saying goodbye to a favorite Shark

I’m watching Douglas Murray’s first game in a Penguin sweater tonight, and the Pittsburgh announcers are gushing. “Not many guys in the league like him anymore. He hits someone and they just look like a rag doll sometimes.”

He’s still wears his number 3, over there with the Pens, and has already reminded the east-coast fans of the Great Wall of Murray (my sweetie’s phrase). He’s a big hitter, but not a thug. His hits are clean and even the guy who just discovered himself abruptly on the ice rarely has a problem with it. For all the hard hits, there are no cheap shots; he just knocks his opponent down. Both skate away to collide another day. Murray doesn’t get into fights very often.

The Pittsburgh announcers are right, there aren’t many guys like him in hockey anymore. He’s not a great skater, but he gets to where he needs to be (well… usually). A lot of slapshots have bounced off his body over the years, but knowing it’s going to hurt hasn’t stopped him from throwing himself in front of the next hurtling puck.

For Murray, I don’t think hockey is a job. I think he fully appreciates that he’s playing a game he loves for some pretty sweet money. And the ladies love him.

The Sharks produced a video honoring the man they had just traded; fans came up with better ones. The Sharks traded Murray to Pittsburgh for some draft picks, a forward-looking move. Then Pittsburgh picked up a couple more of the best players in the league. No doubt about it, Pittsburgh is making a run for the cup this year.

Next year, the Penguins won’t be able to pay all these guys. Murray will be an unrestricted free agent. He could sign with… the Sharks. That sentimental no-hard-feelings video? Step one in getting Murray back and cackling over the almost-free draft picks.

Whether or not that comes to pass, I wish Douglas Murray well. He is proof that hockey can be tough without being dirty, that you can be a hitter without being a thug. He is what’s right about hockey, and I will be his fan no matter what sweater he’s wearing.

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Fight Fiercely, Harvard

March 21st, 2013

Were they playing any team other than New Mexico, I’d be happy for them now.

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Performance-Enhancing Drugs in Sports

February 7th, 2013

I’m not a good skier, but I’ve got my planks* on and I’m starting to slide down the slippery slope.

A week ago, the Sports Yak World was abuzz: Ray Lewis, football icon, about to play his last game, was implicated for using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Wait, no, that’s not quite it. The drugs are perfectly legal for you and me. They are against NFL rules, however.

There had already been whispers and speculation about Lewis. He’d had a severe injury, one that even his younger peers take months to recover from, and he was back on the field in a few weeks. Folks were looking at him with suspicious eyes even before a guy came out and said he’d sold Ray-Ray the stuff. The guy even has a tape of a phone conversation where Lewis asks for the substance.

The restricted product? Deer antler spray. Yep.

Quick chemistry lesson as I understand it (don’t be basing a thesis on this): Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is a chemical that is proving a valuable therapy for overcoming injuries, particularly in the elderly. In the body, HGH becomes IGF-1. Deer antler spray contains IGF-1. Snake oil salesmen have started selling deer antler spray to suckers and athletes. There’s no actual evidence that it works. (Ray-Ray also bought requested magic stickers. Seriously.) [Edit: I'm pretty sure Lewis got the stuff for free — the snake-oil salesman was hoping for an endorsement.]

But, given the slice of evidence presented to me, it’s pretty clear Ray Lewis (who denies everything) knowingly used a chemical specifically banned by the NFL to hasten his healing. That was cheating. Ray Lewis cheated, and he just won a Super Bowl.

Now, I’m not a Ray Lewis fan. Not at all. Weaseling out of a double-murder charge by testifying against your friends is not going to win your way into my heart. (He has been, since, a publicly stellar dude. If that’s the real Ray-Ray, if he really did learn from his past, then the God he talks about will welcome him.) I’m not a Ray Lewis fan, but I have to ask: Whom did he cheat?

He sure as hell didn’t cheat his fans. Remember, what we’re talking about here is that he used a safe method (well, a derivative of a safe method) to heal faster. Whom did he cheat?

I think we need to step back and look at why performance-enhancing drugs were banned in the first place. There are two arguments in favor of banning the use of PED’s: fairness and safety.

Let’s tackle the easy one first. Kids were (are) hurting themselves taking steroids. Athletes were (are) putting dangerous amounts of stuff into their bodies and paying for a couple of years of excellence with a lifetime of kidney failure. This is a very bad thing. For that reason I agree that anabolic steroids should be kept out of sports.

But what if the drug is safe? What if there’s no benefit to taking a crap-ton, but a little in the right place helps you heal faster? Isn’t healing good?

So then we get to fairness. In the cycling world there was (is) a practice of drawing blood from an athlete, spinning out the red cells, and on race day pumping that super-concentrate back into the rider’s system. This is quite obviously not something we have to worry about high school kids doing to get an edge at Saturday’s track meet. At least not yet. But safety isn’t an issue here (assuming proper procedures). The practice is banned on the grounds of fairness.

Presumably the fairness argument is based on finances; less-affluent bike riders can’t afford the expensive treatment. But I’ll tell you this, kids: in the races where blood doping happens, ALL the riders have the money to do it. And, probably, they all do it.

So, overall, I’m not buying the fairness argument, and that undercuts a lot of the current policies. An athlete should be able (encouraged!) to use all that science has to offer to recover from an injury faster, as long as the kids watching in the stands won’t be hurt trying to follow the example.

Free the Antlers!

One prominent athlete failed a steroid test after taking deer antler spray. Turns out his spray had methyltestosterone (or something like that) in there. My guess: the deer antler potion salesman decided to add a little something that actually worked into his version of the spray. If we free the antlers, athletes won’t have to buy the stuff from shady guys selling the antler juice out of the back of a van. They’ll be able to buy refined antlers from reputable sources. Sources with something to lose if their spray turns out to be tainted.

It’s a slippery slope, but here’s the thing: I WANT my favorite athletes to enhance their performance. I want them to practice, I want them to drill, and I want them to be in the best possible physical form. When they’re hurt, I want them to heal quickly, and if they use a therapy that is safe and legal for you and me, then I say go for it. It’s not FAIR to ask them to endure recovery times longer than necessary.

Ray Lewis broke the rules, but I don’t feel cheated.

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* Considering that skiers speak a different language, you’d think there’d be more ways to say ‘skis’.

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Mullets and Hockey

February 5th, 2013

I learned on an NPR quiz show long ago, that according to some book mullets came into fashion in medieval times so peasants working in the field could keep the elements off their necks while not impairing peripheral vision — so they could spot bandits and raiders. It makes sense, I guess, as far as it goes.

Tonight I was watching clips of hockey games before the helmet was required, and it was a mullet-fest. And you know? It makes sense, for exactly the same reason. It’s cold on the ice, but a hockey player without peripheral vision is going to have a hard time of it. In that environment a mullet is… sensible. There, I said it.

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Publicly Funded Stadiums and Labor Stoppages

January 20th, 2013
The wrong people are carrying the cost of labor strife.

I’m happy that hockey is back. There are others much happier than I am, however. The guys who sell nachos and beers at the Shark Tank were hurting much more than I was. The restaurant employees in downtown San Jose weren’t getting as many hours; their bosses were just hoping to make ends meet.

Yet still, around the country, cities are bankrolling new stadiums for sports teams. The politicians justify using tax dollars for sports venues citing the same vendors and restaurant employees feeling the hurt now, saying the arena will be a financial stimulus. Which isn’t completely false. Disingenuous, maybe, but not an outright lie.

Except when the team doesn’t actually play. In that case the community has dumped a shit-ton of money to make a sports owner richer, and has got nothing in return.

So here’s my humble suggestion. Every publicly-funded sports facility that enriches a privately-owned team, must come with a caveat. If the team doesn’t play, the owners are on the hook for the loss of local revenue. If the politicians selling the stadium brag, “One hundred thousand into the economy every game!” then if the team doesn’t play the game, the owner is on the hook for the $100K. I’ll build you the stadium, but I’m not taking the hit if you decide not to play.

Under Gary Betteman, Hockey has lost 10% of its games. That’s a big deal to cities like Glendale, AZ. I would love to see Glendale sue the NHL for breach of contract. “We did all these things, and you didn’t play the games.” Had Glendale pressed a suit, might the lockout have ended sooner?

Because here’s the thing. Fans form unions and whatnot, hoping to influence the petty bickering between rich men over how to divide the fans’ money. The fans’ unions (my favorite: NHLFU) have no power. But there is one place where the regular joe can be heard: Voting for a new stadium. Joe’s not so enthusiastic about paying for a stadium anymore. Can you blame him? Turns out when the stadium is complete, he can’t afford a ticket.

And then the league has the nerve to not play, leaving Joe with a mortgage payment on a billion-dollar complex, and nothing to show for it.

There should not be a stadium deal anywhere in this country, for any sport, that does not include a performance clause. To the owners: you can stop play if you want, but we’re not paying for it. You want to shut things down, you owe every vendor, every waitress nearby, every bartender in the city. I’m a fan, and I’m voting NO on any new stadium in my neighborhood that doesn’t have that provision.

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What I Didn’t Say

January 14th, 2013

I’m at Shark’s Ice right now, enjoying a fine local microbrew (21st Amendment IPA), and watching tykes skate. There’s a family at the table next to mine, watching the action, and they have a kid maybe 6 years old who is wearing a D SEDIN Canucks t-shirt. He wants to play. Right now.

“Gotta like the attitude,” I said to his dad. “Put me in, coach!”

Dad laughed and agreed.

“His beard is better than Daniel Sedin’s, too,” I didn’t say. Barely.

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Looking for my New Team

December 20th, 2012

Since the KHL seems to be the preeminent hockey league these days, I need to adjust. My dilemma right now: Do I pull for Lev Praha, the team from Prague? It seemed automatic until I saw Slovan Bratislava in the standings. Slovakia’s pretty cool; it wouldn’t be hard to root for them.

The Slovak team has way more history; Lev Praha was founded this year, Slovan dates back to 1921. Not a lot of names I recognize on either roster (Why the hell is Zdeno Chara playing for the Czechs rather than the Slovaks?), and should the NHL start playing before the KHL completely eats its lunch, those names I do know will be back here in North America.

But if I were an enterprising sports network, or a desperate one, I’d consider banging out a contract with the KHL, and bringing more than just a token couple of games over here. It might be too late to really make bank on this labor stoppage, but it seems a safe bet that another will come along soon enough.

I looked in the KHL shop, and you know what you can get with Slovan’s logo on it? Nothing. A big, fat, zip. Which makes me really want a Miroslav Satan sweater. (He’s the only name I recognized at first glance, and he’s also the only player on that team’s injured list.) Anyone in Bratislava who can hook me up?

Edited to add: The league does have a Che Guevara hockey shirt, which appeals to me most because it’s their best effort at capitalist exploitation to date — but we can’t underestimate the impact of Che in a hockey helmet. Viva La Hockey!

Yet one more addition: I might have to root for Kazakhstan! Because it’s Kazakhstan! The only thing that cools my enthusiasm is that less than half the team is actually from there.

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Instant Replay Sucks

November 29th, 2012
The game stops enough without it.

There’s Professional American Football going on on screens all around me, and once more I’m reminded that the modern instant replay rules are terrible. Theoretically refs have 90 seconds to review close plays and get the call right.

It’s never 90 seconds before the game starts again. Never. The other night there was a delay of almost thirteen minutes to move the ball one foot but otherwise have no effect. Tonight we sat through a long review to determine that it didn’t matter what the review showed, the whistle had blown. That took about five minutes, during which I was treated to images of SUV’s with big red bows on them.

When a coach throws out a flag to appeal an inconsequential play, that coach instantly earns an extra hate point in my book.

Lexus, I think, is pretty much in favor of the rules as they stand. By extension, the people Lexus gives lots of money to also like things the way they are. Pretty much everyone except the people who watch the game like things the way they are.

An aside… There’s a guy on the sidelines of every NFL game who wears a pair of optic orange oven mitts. His entire job: Hold a mitt up while the network is showing a commercial, so the refs don’t accidentally start the game.

If I was king of the NFL, I’d suspend all the instant replay bullshit until we could get down to this: Overturn the call on the field in thirty seconds or the play stands. The league can go to a minute if they pay every fan in the country a dollar.

Extra Bonus Rant: Speaking of keeping the clock moving, spiking the ball at the line of scrimmage to stop the clock is intentional grounding, and time should be run off the clock.

Man I miss hockey.

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Pee Wee Hockey Practice!

October 15th, 2012
I'm pretty sure I know which kid down there is the next Joe Thornton.

I’m at Stanley’s right now. It’s a bar that sits high above three of the four rinks at Sharks Ice, where as you might guess the local NHL team would be practicing right now were it not busy not playing.

I came here to get some writing done, but that’s proven difficult. Below me the ice is filled with tykes in hockey gear, skating, falling, getting back up, and moving pucks around. It’s awesome!

Truth be told, those six-year-olds are better hockey players than I am. There’s an odd combination of clumsiness and grace, where a kid will lose the puck, spin, reach and collect the puck, and once on his way again fall over for no reason. Right now the bunch of kids directly below where I sit is running a drill that involves carrying the puck around obstacles, turning back and putting a shot on goal. The coaches provide very light resistance to those ready for it. One kid put a shot on goal, the coach deflected it, and that kid dove after the rebound like it was game seven of the Stanley Cup. Get that kid’s number — he’s going places!

A whistle just blew four times, and all the kids shifted to the next station. There’s a new guy below me who may be the smallest dude on the ice (assuming it’s not a dudette — no telling with all that gear). He is not graceful with the puck. But here’s the thing — Little Guy falls down a lot, but he gets back up. This is probably the best lesson Pee Wee Hockey teaches a kid. (As I typed that he had a harder time than usual getting up, and a coach came over and helped him until he was steady over his skates. His shot went just wide of the goal, which bummed me.)

But back to the falling down/getting up thing. I’m not a parent, but if I were I think this is a lesson I’d want to teach my kids. For my hypothetical daughters soccer would be an option (those kids are tough), but for the boys there’s no alternative at that age. Honestly, I’d prefer that my daughters played hockey as well; it’s safer. And none of the alternatives have ice. You might get knocked down in soccer, but in hockey you will fall, without any help from anyone, over and over. There’s no making excuses, no blaming someone else. Nothing to do but get back up. You’ll fall again, but that’s all right. You’ll get up again. That’s what I’d want my kids to learn.

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As Long as They’re Skating

September 30th, 2012
This is an old story, but I don't think I've told it here.

As the squabbling between millionaires and billionaires continues to threaten the hockey season, I’d like to share a little hockey anecdote from years gone by. Once upon a time, a long time ago, I was sitting at the bar at Callahan’s, across from Rose, the best bartender in the world. She’s a Pittsburgh girl. The Penguins were skating against… um… I don’t rightly recall. The game went into overtime. Some of the rest is a little fuzzy in my memory.

“Another beer?” Rose asked me as the teams took the ice.

“As long as they’re skating, I’m drinking,” I replied. During the second overtime period, I decided that out of solidarity I should drink one beer per period. Solidarity, brother! It brought down the commies in Poland, after all. Rose just shook her head and poured the next beer.

Ah, pride. I actually considered going home during the fourth overtime, but I had made a sacred pact with the hockey gods.

The game went into a sixth overtime. At this point, the guys had played nearly three entire hockey games. Things were getting sloppy, but there are no ties, and (thank God) no shootouts in playoff hockey. Puck hit net, we rejoiced with what little we had left, and I walked home.

fuego has his own story about that game, a different experience in a distant time zone. That morning he had arrived on the set of some movie or other in the Czech Republic or thereabouts. One of the other people on the crew said, “They’re still playing!”