Just in from a very disheartening overtime loss to the hated Devils. It was my first ever overtime playoff game, and the only good news is that at least I didn’t have to wait several hours to see my team lose.
At the Garden shortly before the puck drop at the first home playoff game of the year, I stood, one of 18,200 there to cheer on the home team. (And you’re going to have to give me some artistic license here; there were a few Devils’ fans there, but not enough to matter.) As a fan of two marginalized sports, I’m used to caring about things that most people don’t, but at the Garden, everyone around me wanted the same thing. Their unity was evident in their garb, the ubiquitous blue jersey, and their behavior, the waving of the distributed white rally towel (a disappointing and recently adopted behavior—I thought New Yorkers were above such things. Yes, yes, bring on the superior New Yorker comments….).
It’s not like being at the track, where diversity, not unity, is encouraged and prized. At the track, the name of the game, right, is differing opinions and competition? I’m there to take your money. The more you bet on one horse, the more I stand to win on another. As my horse takes the lead in the stretch, you curse; when yours nips mine at the wire, I tear up my tickets while you cash yours. At the track, we have dozens of horses and jockeys from whom we choose to support; at the Garden, we are there for one team, and one team only. It’s about camaraderie, not competition.
The rhythm of the racing day ebbs and flows; moments of intensity in the stretch are followed by periods of relative inactivity. Even during the race, as we intently watch the horses move around the track, we really only get excited for the last few seconds. Sunday night, we were absorbed from the moment the puck was dropped. I was surrounded by friends and people I know well, and we barely spoke to each other for three hours, so attentive were we to what was happening on the ice. Yes, there were stoppages in play, but only for a few seconds, or at the most a minute or two—time to run frantically to the bathroom or the beer line, trying to get back before play resumed. If you took your eyes off the ice for a moment, you risked missing something—a penalty, a hit, a goal.
At the racetrack, no one cheers when someone gets hurt. Even if your horse wins, race fans are appropriately sober when a horse is pulled up or breaks down, or when a jockey is thrown. Sunday night, when Devils goalie Martin Brodeur went to the ice after another player ran into him, the Garden faithful taunted, “Maaaar-ty, Maaaar-ty,” as he lay on the ice, holding his head, until he got back up and play resumed.
At the end of a day at the races, you’ve got winners and losers. You congratulate your friends while counting your losses, and you’ve got at least nine chances a day to be a winner. There’s only one outcome at the Garden, especially during the playoffs, and we exult when we win, agonize when we don’t.
And on nights like tonight, or the day when you go 0 for 9, it’s a long, quiet walk out…walking down the stairs at the Garden, barely any of us talked, aside from a few comments about the refs, or the defense. It was eerily silent.
And on nights like tonight, or the day you go for 0 for 9, there’s only one way to begin to get over it: start to think about the next chance to win…Game 4, Wednesday night. Let’s go, Rangers!