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Sharks Gameday: Sudden Death

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A small piece about my dad and hockey.

The reason I care about any of this.
The reason I care about any of this.

I was born in Orange County in the mid-'70s and grew up in San Diego. The only reason I knew anything about hockey back then was because of my dad. He was born in Wyoming and moved to San Diego right before high school due to his mom's poor health. But when he went to San Diego State to study geology he and his friends would go watch the new minor-league team, the Gulls (Willie O'Ree played for them), and drink cheap beer. That's as good of a reason as any to get hooked on hockey, and my dad took the bait. Los Angeles got an NHL team in the 1967 expansion, beginning the process of turning California into a real hockey market. But in the late '60s and early '70s, hockey was somewhere between jai-alai and indoor soccer on the Southern California sports fan's radar.

My dad died unexpectedly midway through the 1st round against the Kings. He was 74. This feels, nowadays, too young, but he outlived his own dad by several decades and his mom by a year. They all died of heart problems. My aunt pointed out that everyone in their family went fast. My grandma died while at the sink, clutching a wooden spoon. My great-uncle was putting the key into a hotel room lock.

After we moved to San Diego, we got one of those giant satellite dishes because we lived a little outside of town in kind of a semi-rural part, and our street didn't have cable because the cable company would only run a line if everyone agreed to subscribe and some of our neighbors didn't want it. With the big ol' satellite dishes, to watch a certain channel, you had to set which satellite to connect to, and the entire dish would rotate until it was in position. It was incredibly cumbersome, and didn't encourage channel surfing. NBC was on one satellite, ABC on a totally different one. You didn't get commercials on the big networks because you were watching the raw satellite feeds that the local stations would rebroadcast and insert commercials into. If you were watching the nightly news, you'd see Tom Brokaw getting his makeup redone, or even better, hear Harrey Carrey drunkenly call his color guy an asshole and demand more booze.

Two of the satellites were Canadian, Northstar I and II. They had several CBC channels, and therefore a lot of hockey. We could watch Nordiques and Canadians games in French. We could usually find a game on the regional sports networks, like NESN. Something called Sportschannel did national broadcasts of NHL games, which is where I originally heard Doc Emerick's spastic calls. It took some digging, but most nights you could find a game. So my dad and I would watch a lot of hockey. We followed the Kings more than any other team, because they were the closest team, and we could read about them in the LA Times. The ritual of me finding a game, and my dad sitting down to watch it was how I came to really love the sport.

One thing about my dad was that, apart from some really specific teams, he was not a superfan. He cheered for the Aztecs, and cheered against USC (he called them the University of Spoiled Children). He was excited when Gretzky was sold to the Kings, which did wonders for us getting to see more Kings games on our clumsy, giant satellite dish. He liked it when the local teams did well, but mostly enjoyed watching the games. He bore no ill-will towards other teams, except for USC. The tribalism of modern sports fandom was largely alien to him. He for sure would not have understood BoC, apart from the funny stuff. He was a funny guy.

The Sharks season might well be over tonight. I'll be disappointed if they lose, and happy if they win. I'm trying to mimic my dad's anxiety-free enjoyment of the game for itself, though. Not what it represents, or what it says about me, the fan.

Big thanks to The Neutral, Stace, and Mako for helping cover my posts while I was down in San Diego with my mom and sisters. I really appreciate it.

Predators @ Sharks

6:00 PM Pacifc

Prediction: Crying Jordan memes for some, bandwagon fans for others. So goddamn many hot takes.