Why do I do this to myself?
I know, deep down inside, that being a sports fan is inherently irrational. I know that focussing my attention on a group of players who are utterly indistinguishable, to the uninitiated, from other any other group of players makes no sense, unless you do it too. I know that attaching my hopes and dreams to a group of people I will likely never know personally, simply because they wear a certain shirt, amounts to nothing more than “cheering for laundry”. I know these things, and yet still I persist against logic and reason. There has yet to be a hockey season I have watched that has not ended in sadness, albeit temporary. Still though, it’s mostly fun. There are bright spots. Before every season, there’s always the hope that can only be found in the unknown. I guess that’s the main reason why I keep coming back; because it’s more good than bad, and you just never know...
For me, though, there’s another aspect to it. You interact with spectator sport, needless to say, visually. You can romanticize listening to Foster Hewitt on the radio all you want, but ultimately, sports are most rewarding when you’re watching them. The more you watch a sport, the more you get used to the patterns of play. The game, as you perceive it, becomes predictable, comfortable. You can see the angles; you know what each team is trying to do. You can see the play develop almost before it happens and you end up with this sort of uncanny sixth sense of the way the player interactions work. This is the second level of sporting pleasure for me. When I can watch something and understand it intuitively, it’s really quite rewarding.
However, the true reward occurs when someone comes along and blows it all away. You get used to standard play so much that when someone gifted athlete comes along and does something brilliant and unexpected, it’s like a blinding light. It’s like sporting nirvana. These are the moments in sports that make me the most happy. Whether it’s a sublime Roger Federer drop volley on set point, or a perfect Aaron Rodgers touchdown in the Super Bowl, or a Kevin Durant steal and long 3-ball, or Lionel Messi dribbling through an entire team en route to the goal, these rare moments of brilliance are special and it’s what keeps me coming back. It’s why I’ll get up at 3 AM to watch a tennis match from Australia, or leave work at 2:30 in the afternoon to watch a soccer game. I just never know when An Event or Something Special is going to happen, and I want to see that.
Erik Karlsson always looks like he is on the verge of doing Something Special. He belongs with those other athletes I linked to in the last paragraph. I truly believe that. At least four times a game, he does something remarkable, unexpected, something I’d never noticed any other defenseman in the league do. His speed, his puck control, his ability to separate players from the puck, then skate away from them as though they were nothing more than a minor nuisance, these are all unparalleled abilities. The fact he plays for my favorite team, that he’s wearing the right laundry, is a bonus, but really watching Erik Karlsson is an experience.
For me, the loss of Erik Karlsson cannot be measured in wins and losses. Obviously the Senators are a much worse hockey team without him, but there are levels of survival that I am prepared to accept. Bring on the lottery! We might not make the playoffs this year, but there’s always next year. Hope in the unknown, right?
What I’m losing with Erik Karlsson’s injury can’t be measured at all. You can’t measure something that will never happen. I’m missing out on watching a transcendent talent, and so are you. We’re missing out on potential. It’s not about the team so much as it’s about the experience. I haven’t lost hope in the Senators's ability to win hockey games. I’ve lost hope that I’m going to watch Something Special.
Now, everything is just...predictable.