Sunday, November 9, 2014

Arturs Irbe Has a Posse

I thought I was gonna be better than I am.
—Harry Crews

Arturs Irbe came into my life in a deeply mediated way. In the aftermath of Patrick Roy's Statue of Liberty play, a monumental gaffe in which he attempted to showboat after making a save, accidentally allowing a goal instead and then absolutely collapsing the next game, I was in the mood for a lower-stakes, more alienated relationship with hockey, and three things stood ready to satisfy me:

  1. the Playoff Fling, in which a sports fan gets excited about a strange team for the duration of their run
  2. ESPN's reliable human-interest-narrative machine
  3. video games

In 2002, the Carolina Hurricanes (an actual NHL team, yes) made a difficult-to-explain run to the Cup Finals. I enjoyed this run well enough without thinking or feeling too hard about it, at least until they ran up against the nemesis Red Wings in the final round, and proceeded to absorb a world-class thumping. My own trajectory around then was similar: I made a stirring run out of college before running up against the iron cage of a job. Deciding/desperate to mitigate my depression, I bought a TV and a Nintendo. (The irony of attempting to reduce depression by means of video games would remain lost on me until roughly 2009.) Among the first games I bought was an NHL game; its default teams, if you just turned it on, were the previous year's Cup finalists: Hurricanes/Wings. Pick one, the computer plays the other, so I played the Hurricanes. A lot. Somewhere in there, I bought a magazine to read at work, and got to read the ballad of the Canes' goalies: Arturs "Archie" Irbe and Kevin Weekes. In retrospect, the most interesting thing about the piece is how relentless Eric Adelson's racial dogwhistling is—Irbe is white, small, thrifty, hard-working, proud; Weekes is black, large, intimidating, talented, vain—but at the time, the sentimentality worked for me:

In his locker, Arturs Irbe has a red bag filled with scissors, tape, thread, needles and a lighter. This is Archie's tool kit. He takes it wherever he goes. On team flights, he'll restitch his trapper. In hotel rooms, he'll fix a broken strap. At home, he'll re-cover his pads. On the bench, during games when he's not playing, he'll retape his stick. Irbe used the same ratty pads for his entire NHL career until they became heavy as logs from all the triage. The typical NHL goaltender costs his team $10,000 per season in equipment. Arturs Irbe has never dented the Canes' annual budget by more than $500.

Archie's tool kit is an emblem for a way of life. He is the youngest son of an engineer and a seamstress who raised him in impoverished Latvia. Arturs started playing hockey at age 9 with a broken shaft nailed to a broken blade. He could hardly skate after severely injuring both his ankles in a game when he was 13. (He still tapes them heavily and walks pigeon-toed.) "The poor kid has no chance," Arturs once overheard his mother saying. But Arturs was so good at blocking shots, his team put him in goal. "Somehow," Irbe recalls in near-perfect English, "the coach notices the kid who never gives up." Arturs outworked his competition, and soon the Soviets were asking about the small goalie with the worn-out equipment. "You can tell," Archie says, smiling, "how I became how I am."

Arturs Irbe had a DIY ethos I both share and struggle with:

An aging rocker dude of the DIY persuasion once had a long, frustrating couple of weeks. His enjoyment of doing hobbies had palled somewhat. In part because DIY practices can infect all processes/products with what Kipling termed the "rather more-or-less" and what everybody else calls the "half-assed". In part because DIY techniques often focus on the accessible or attainable at the expense of the (task-) appropriate and specialized.

Anyway, in his badly-patched skinny jeans the aging rocker dude making nachos in his filthy ruin of a kitchen spat to no-one (not even the chair): I'm DONE using shoddy shit, I'm done half-assing it, I'm done fucking around and doing things badly just for the sake of doing them myself. Life's too short. Here on out, I'm using good things, I'm sticking to what I'm good at, & I'm insisting on high quality in myself, my activities, and my surroundings.

As the years went on, Irbe revealed himself to be a man of character, quitting a job he felt had become beneath him:

Arturs Irbe: It’s very interesting and entertaining to be a goaltending coach, but it’s a thing of the past for me. Two years of that was enough for me, and I don’t see myself in that role anymore — though I have offers, including long-term ones. I want to grow professionally, I want to move on, I want to earn more.

Kristaps Drikis: What kind of promotion did you expect? Did you want to become a head coach?

Arturs Irbe: Absolutely not. I asked George McPhee if I can get some kind of promotion in the future, maybe one day become an assistant coach to increase my responsibilities, and he replied that the goalie coach is the most stable job. Assistants and managers come and go, goalie coaches stay for years or even decades. They thought that I would work with the Caps’ goalies for many years to come and I would be satisfied with that. But I didn’t think so. I want to set some new goals for myself.

But he isn't—wasn't—just a symbol of interesting and admirable traits, he was also a player of legitimate and enduring achievement. In 1993-4, he established the league's record for most minutes played in a season. He led the league in appearances in 1993-4, 1999-2000, and 2000-1. He was an All-Star in 1993-4 and 1998-9. Internationally, he was the Soviet league's rookie of the year in 1987-8, and is in the International Ice Hockey Federation's Hall of Fame. These achievements and stories point to important lessons: Show Up. Be Prepared. Fix Your Shit. Stick with It. Don't Quit.

It's true that these are prosaic, boosterish slogans/lessons. It's one of the limitations of sports that what it has to teach is so often so shallow and cheery; but when the stakes are so low, the wisdom payloads can only be so heavy.

But there is something more there, something to be gained by studying the path of a journeyman—a proud one, who insisted on being treated as equal to anybody, as a figure with dignity that wouldn't be negotiated away or compromised on. I think a lot about Arturs Irbe. About working doggedly. About demanding to be treated with respect. About showing up for what's likely to be a loss, and what's sure to be a lot of work. About limitation and what it's like when you realize who you really are, and just how far you can go.

In the words of another lifer, another one who never quit,

And I'll tell you something else. I'm old enough now . . . I thought, back 30 years ago when I started—well, I didn't start 30 years ago, but that's when The Gospel Singer came out, 30 years ago this year—and I thought I was gonna be better than I am. I mean, I'm all right, and I'm not whining, but I thought I was going to be better than I am.

Arturs Irbe has a posse, maybe as small and limited as our lives, as our possibilities. But in the teeth of those brutal lacks, it's not a superstar we should look to, it's just a guy. We can set new goals, we can spit in the faces of those who would disdain or restrain us, we can carry on.

Download your own Arturs Irbe Has a Posse sticker sheet here, and check out all the Clear the Crease Posse Members while you're at it!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Chris Pronger Has a Posse

It was a surprise to me to discover that the first-ever post here on Clear the Crease Mark II concerned Chris Pronger. It wasn't a surprise that that post revolved around Chris Pronger's words, as Pronger has long been one of the most quotable athletes anywhere. Having had the worst game of his remarkable playoff career, and having to discuss it with angle-hungry press release junkies (known to you and me as the sporting press), he declared himself "day to day with hurt feelings".

Not just a good line, this deflection revealed both the pro's ability to move past a setback without undue agonizing (ahem) and a lightness of touch that suggested a reasonable man's assessment of the overall importance of one man's performance in one team's playoff game. It was sure a fur piece from self-describing as A Warrior or A Soldier or such such shit, anyway.

Other words than his own come to mind re: Pronger—maybe none more perfect than Down Goes Brown's crack about a Pronger dick move:

Has been known to slack off and go up to two full years without single-handedly dragging a team to the Stanley Cup finals.
This is both funny and a more than fair, accurate, and comprehensive account of Pronger's career.

Pronger's career, 1993-4 through 2011-12, was entirely contained within that of Swedish wizard Nicklas Lidström, 1991-2 through 2011-12, and Pronger was generally overshadowed by the Red Wing: Lidström won some seven Norris trophies as the season's best defenseman, which didn't leave a lot left for Pronger's plate. Pronger did, however, manage one Norris, in 1999-2000, which he paired with the Hart, for the most valuable player overall. (That pairing had happened to exactly one other player, to a gentleman named Bobby Orr, who was probably the greatest hockey player of all time.) And, as Down Goes Brown noted above, Pronger's squads routinely went damn deep in the playoffs: in the five seasons between 2005-6 and 2009-10, he made the finals with three different teams, winning once, in 2006-7. (In the 2005-6 run to the finals, I learned more about defense than I had known to that point, simply by watching the way he'd position his 6-6 frame and long-ass stick: time after time, whoever was trying to get the puck into the offensive zone would see where he was and what he was doing and just retreat and regroup and wait for a better opportunity. Given that Pronger was playing 30+ minutes a night, the beleaguered puckcarrier generally had to wait quite a while for that more promising chance.)

So. Pronger has a Cup, some major hardware, massive team success, a metric heap of all-star game selectins—so far, we could more or less be talking about second-tier nonentities like Rob (nee Rod) Blake, who couldn't form a posse if he watched Ike Clanton's gang kidnap the mayor's daughter while robbing a bank and slapping the town priest with a Koran bound in babyskin. What gives Pronger his posse is that he's got style. Not just a good quote and a great player, Pronger was a nasty goon, a hatchet man who worked with brutality that was never compromised by but often garnished with a little flair. Among his eight suspensions were one for using his razor-sharp skate blade to stomp on Ryan Kesler's leg, two for kicking (with those skates again), one for a nasty elbow in the finals, and so on.

Chris Pronger introduced a lot of us to body horror by undergoing a wrist surgery that involved having some bone removed from his arm. How much? How about an inch of bone? He was "notorious for laying the lumber on teammates in practice" and was a locker-room presence that got sarcastically nicknamed "Captain Happy" by Jamie McLennan when things started to go pear-shaped with one team. He demanded a trade out of Edmonton after a single, highly successful, year, and he currently refuses to retire from the Flyers, enabling him to collect an unmolested guaranteed salary while the team avoids having to have that salary on the books, as he's "injured", not "retired": he could come back any day now. Except his name is not present on the employee list. And he's got a new job, working for the NHL Department of Player Safety. Presumably the theory is that the pot is uniquely qualified to judge and understand the blackness of the kettle. If nothing else, we should get some primo quotage out of the situation, and some good gap-toothed smirks, which should only increase the size of his posse.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Punk Song for Every Owner: Lou Lamoriello, My Dad's a Fucking Alcoholic

One of the worst things about life—or about consciousness, anyway—is the pervasive mystification in and of our thoughts. Because the human brain works largely by means of operations of metaphor and metonymy, we constantly mistake one thing for another. The famous example is of course Marx noting that "the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family"—to oversimplify, this means that religious authority works on the model of familial authority, and to oversimplify the oversimplification, the fundamental model for god is a father.

Your feelings about god being an imaginary all-powerful daddy in the sky likely have a lot to do with your feelings about your own personal daddy. Without getting hung up on on bummer vibes or details of biography, I think it's worth acknowledging at least the utility in making sense of a deity who, insofar as he's responsible for life as experienced, is obviously arbitrary, unpredictable, blinkered, hostile, and occasionally abusive. However, to note that religious power is a blurry metaphor for some stomping drunk asshole's because-I-said-so-isms is not to claim that all power should be held to work this way. These caveats arise because political power is all too often misconstrued as located in a unitary (daddy/god-like) figure. Another mystification. (Where political power is in fact located and where it should be located I leave as an exercise for the reader.)

These considerations lead us ineluctably to Lou Lamoriello, the president and general manager of, the unitary image of power over, the New Jersey Devils, for what feels like and is decades. Nearly three of them. Not the owner, not (usually) the coach, Lamoriello is the figure atop the mountain, hurling the odd thunderbolt at a lesser being, issuing pronunciamentoes dutifully handed down unchallenged by fawning priest weenie types, and crafting idiotic rules for people to follow.

(Lou Lamoriello inspecting the waiver wire.)

Interestingly, Lamoriello has maintained his position and his power across multiple regimes of Devils ownership. Viewed from another angle, he has more or less spuriously continued to manifest and exercise power while the actual sources of power have come and gone.

As Marx points out, all these weird mysteries have a solution: pay attention to what is actually happening; do things better. (You may prefer the rendering of one or another translator:

Thus for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be destroyed in theory and in practice.
Or, in the formulation I prefer:
Thus, for instance, after the earthly family is discovered to be the secret of the holy family, the former must then itself be criticized in theory and revolutionized in practice.

One of these days, somebody will pay enough attention to Lou Lamoriello and his (?) New Jersey Devils to notice a long history of malfeasance, of power exercised in the service of goals small, mean, and selfish: a nepotist, Lamoriello's two sons work for him (just as Jesus, Mars, and Hephaestus all went into the family business); a chisler, he has alienated many players who wanted fair market value for their labor (Ken Daneyko, Pat Verbeek, Kirk Muller, Bill Guerin) and bullied others into accepting lowball offers because they are in the (holy?) "family" (Patrick Elias, Martin Brodeur); a cheat, he signed Ilya Kovalchuk to an illegal contract, and a couple disappointing years later, he benefited enormously first from Kovalchuk's convenient decision to "retire"* and subsequently from the league's inexplicable decision to reduce their penalties for that illegal contact to what legal analysts are unanimous in describing as: "fuckall". A tyrannical dickhead of a martinet, Lamoriello insists his players comport to his dress sense (suits) and facial hair preferences (none), even as YHWH frowns and shakes his head at your bacon cheeseburger and shrimp cocktail.

If the mystification be removed, Lou Lamoriello and god both suck. God's a simple construct attempting to explain the capricious universe and mask the cruelty of humanity and the institutions it has created. Lamoriello is a snivelling tyrant who lucked into a world-historically good goalie/system at the only time in history they would have been successful. With luck, one day both god and Lamoriello will be but dusty memories with no active influence on my life. On that day, I might actually be able to like—or at least love—that Devils franchise, which, like me, started in Kansas City, then had a couple shitty years in Denver before hieing out to the relative bliss of a coast. After all, we can free ourselves of what we only imagine is power; but we never can escape our history.

—Collision, interested in devils, if not Devils

*N.B.: Ilya Kovalchuk is currently playing professional hockey in Russia. His "retirement" from the NHL served simply to allow him to live and work where he wanted to. Completely coincidentally, it did a major solid for the Devils franchise, who desperately needed out from under the vast stacks of cash they still owed him.**

**That metaphor doesn't work, dude; if they wanted out from under the vast stacks of cash they owed him, they should have paid him the money, because then the stacks would be gone.***

***Fuck off.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Mike Ricci Has a Posse

"I wish I had a good man for a lover
who knew the sharp tongues and just rage of men."

--The Iliad, Book 6, Fitzgerald translation

When Denver heisted the Quebec Nordiques, the local media had the immediate task of teaching an ignorant populace innocent of puck how to watch, how to root, and how to appreciate the game and the stick-and-blade-wielding white guys who played it. Denver's two dailies set their passionate and thorough business-PR writers to the task. And thus did the Rocky Mountain News (RIP) publish a Rick Morrissey piece that began like so:


This is a story about men and women and their inability to see eye to eye.

This is about a serious threat to whatever harmony might exist between the sexes.

This is about Mike Ricci, the Colorado Avalanche center with the untamed hair and the picket-fence mouth. Unless men and women can reach some common ground on Ricci, we're doomed to a future of mistrust and misunderstanding.

Women look at the 24-year-old Colorado Avalanche center, see that dark, cascading hair and what...

The piece ran to 2,159 words. Mike Ricci's face was, and is, Mike Ricci's face. One immediately searches for words like "hard-hitting" to describe Mr. Morrissey's work; and thus was Denver informed that: it was okay to have sex with these new athletes, in addition to watching them play of hockey. (This would prove untrue, for at least some Denver residents.) I don't remember the hockey content of the article after all these years -- though the "Mike Ricci is having sex with women" hook has certainly stuck with me since that fateful October day -- but I assume it called attention to his somewhat frenzied approach to the game, his defensive prowess, his ability to get the puck behind the goalie now and again... But, the rich, thick work of Mr. Morrissey aside, I don't remember that Mike Ricci really resonated in Denver -- certainly he was never the powerful combination of I Need a Hero for the fellas and I Need a Man for the ladies that Morrissey envisioned slash seemed to be trying to sell. Mostly I remember debates about "is he good enough to have been the fourth pick in the draft a few years back?" (Answer: yeah, unless you're an idiot.) Eventually Ricci was banished to San Jose and I literally never thought about him again.

To my surprise, however, Ricci did seem to attain totemic power there, in the South Bay, clad in raiments of teal, moving his stick with just rage on the ice, and, one gathers, moving his stick and his sharp tongue with potent effect off the ice. In the words of our own Bogdan Von Pylon, answering the eternal question "Why Ricci?":

~ Irresponsible Hyperbole Ahead ~
Ricci because he's legendarily hideous and effective—and gives not a fuck about anything but the biscuit—Like a meat-seeking robot-weasel in search of a hot meal, everything between him and the puck goes into the blades and comes out bleeding ... and the mullet.

It's safe to say that the ever-battered Mike Ricci knew the "sharp tongues and just rage of men" throughout his career. In Denver, he may not have satisfied, leaving the team -- and city! -- continuing to search for a good man to love; in San Jose, however, he attained his destiny, and found his posse.

Download your own Mike Ricci Has a Posse sticker sheet here, and check out all the Clear the Crease Posse Members while you're at it!

Monday, May 26, 2014

Teemu Selanne Has a Posse

Like everything else, hockey is mostly about doom. Decay and death are inevitable, omnipresent, omnipotent -- and sometimes, hockey men transcend these with speed and power and grace and skill and will. And, sometimes, they embody them, and initiate us into the mysteries of limitation, decline, and lack.

In 2004, the Colorado Avalanche franchise was coming off a couple consecutive disappointments, and was mourning the loss of its iconic goaltender, so it was time to rebuild. Or reload. Or something. Anyway with furrowed brow did the Avs survey the available free agents, and with money did they entice a magnificent pair to the cosy environs of the Front Range: brilliant skaters by the names of Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne, 16 all-star games, 736 goals, a pile of awards between them. ESPN commissioned a documentary series on the team, drawn by the stars' charisma and the prospect of a world-historical kind of season.

Selanne had long been known as one of hockey's fastest skaters, with the hand and brain skills to match his unequalled feet. He came to the Avs with 436 goals in his 901 games, and zero evidence of decline, having played all 82 games each of the previous two seasons, scoring nearly 30 each year. Not quite the point-a-game man he had been in each of his first ten seasons, but he was, after all, 33: no longer a young kid, but still a powerful, productive skater with adorable tousled hair and a firm jaw line.

It was a disaster.

While he did manage to appear in 78 games, his speed and strength on his skates were obviously completely gone. A bad knee reduced him to fourth-line duty, and he proved unable to finish or distribute at a high level, notching a paltry 16 goals and the same number of assists. He'd once been impossibly swift, and the end of his career had, clearly, come equally swiftly.

The next season was taken from us all by powerful men who decided the existing economic order displeased, and so they did decree that in their stately pleasure domes would obtain a "salary" "cap" -- really a "salaries" cap -- such that each team would have the same maximum amount to spend on player payroll.

Thus it was that Selanne mounted a thoroughly hopeless comeback campaign, back with his old team for a mere one million dollars, a far cry from his 5-million-plus season in Colorado. The well-regarded Finn would, no doubt, take a bit of a victory lap, and everyone could enjoy watching him end his career in a familiar uniform. Any actual hockey performance would of course be impossible: the end had come, and all that was left was to face it with some dignity and class.

That was nine full seasons ago. Over those nine seasons -- or, to put it another way, over a second full career, for most players -- Teemu Selanne played another 572 games, and piled up another 232 goals, including two more 40-goal years, and won a championship. He has just retired, as close to a universally beloved figure as the game has known.

Hockey, like everything else, is shadowed by and susceptible to doom. But life often finds a way and rebirth is inextricable from death. Teemu Selanne has a posse.

Download your own Teemu Selanne Has a Posse sticker sheet here, and check out all the Clear the Crease Posse Members while you're at it!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Patrick Roy Has a Posse

Patrick Roy is in the conversation for best-ever at his position, the beginning and end of the conversation about "pissed-off goalies", a likely winner of the award for 2013-14's best NHL coach, and the definite winner of an award for great coach-dad for that tremendous moment a few years back when he signaled his goalie son to join in a line brawl, resulting in matching father-son suspensions and an assault charge for the younger Roy, after the dutiful son skated the length of the ice to whale on a guy for 15 seconds while the dude didn't fight back. Patrick Roy is, then, one Hall of Famer who is also a cult figure. And so he gets a posse.

The cult was founded in 1986, when the Montreal Canadiens installed the rookie as their starting goalie for the playoffs. (There's an interesting echo here, as the team had previously pulled the rookie-goalie-as-playoff-starter maneuver in 1971, with a legendary goalie/big white guy/increasingly senile politician named Ken Dryden. It worked, in 1971.) Fifteen playoff wins and one championship later, Roy was named the 1986 playoffs' most valuable player, and stories began to be told about the insane teenager who talked to his goalposts. Three years later, in 1989, Roy and the Canadiens would play for the Cup again, losing to the Calgary Flames in six games. And in 1993, Roy's Canadiens squad won a ridiculous 11 straight playoff games, and a completely implausible 10 consecutive overtime games--including three in the finals. Unsurprisingly, this magic trick was rewarded with another shiny trophy recognizing Roy as the playoffs' best. So far, so good: excellence is an excellent reason to posse up for somebody.

A few years later, Roy was having a shitty night--hey, it happens to the best of us--and his (rookie) coach hung him out to dry, leaving him in a game to allow 9 goals on 26 shots. The legendarily competitive Roy was embarrassed and enraged, so he naturally said "trade me right fucking now!", and the team's novice GM promptly shipped him off to play in Colorado, where, as I can attest, nobody had ever heard of him.

After two more championships (1996 and 2001), another playoff MVP, and a few more records here and there, Roy retired from the NHL. He rather quickly went into public service, becoming a coach widely believed to be barking mad, with the aforementioned Son Issue and a moment in his first game as an NHL coach when he appeared to try to knock down a wall to fist-fight an opposing coach.

What's great is that this was a moment that was all but forgotten after the game, when Roy demonstrated that he's actually not a screaming, violent lunatic. He's actually a great, great boss, even-keeled, generous with praise and careful to balance including everybody while singling out some for specific kudos, willing to be accountable.

On knocking down walls
It's just a normal night. I mean, this is the way I was in the junior level. [...] I guess if I'm asking my players to be intense, I guess I have to be as well.
On winning 6-1
I think we played a good game. I think we could be better defensively. I feel that we have given a little bit too many shots. At the same time, I think we could be better, but one thing I like is that they're backchecking hard. They're coming back, everybody works extremely hard. I thought it was great intensity out there. [...]
Honestly I thought everybody played well. Everybody worked hard, and that's what we said before the game: let's play hard, and that's what our guys did. [...]
Okay, it's only one game. It's a good start. But that's it. [...] Like I said to the guys, we need to remain humble tonight. There's another game coming up on Friday, we're going to have to repeat. The best way to repeat is to stay humble, make sure that they enjoy tonight, but tomorrow come and be ready for a good practice. This is the test--tomorrow morning is the test. If we come in and we're mellow, that means we don't get it. If we come tomorrow ready to work again, and then we bring it on the ice the next night, then I can say that hey, we're in the right direction.
On his goalie
He was outstanding. He was outstanding. I think he's the reason why, the first five minutes I think he kept us in the game, and he made some great saves. [...] Varly was outstanding, at every moment in that game where we had made some mistakes, he was there for us. There's no doubt in my mind he was the first star for our team tonight.
On the end of the game and the fight between the coaches
That should have been a penalty, in my opinion. It's 6-nothing, I don't think this game needs that kind of cheap shot. After that obviously there was some talk from the coaches I guess. But at the same time, what should I do? He put his fourth line on the ice, then I'm not gonna go with my first line, I went with my fourth line. That's it. I'd been matching [lines] all night long, by the way.
And those are traits that get a man a posse: excellence, a hot head, unwillingness to dodge responsibility.

That said, my loyalty to the man is rooted equally in his failings. A showboater with a taste for the spectacular, he singlehandedly cost his team a decisive goal in a playoff game against their nemeses: thinking he had the puck in his glove after he'd gone down on the ice, he raised his glove high, to show everybody "I got this--you can't score on this". The puck, not in his glove at all, ended up in the back of the net. The Avs lost the game, and the next one, a 7-0 blowout that ended the series (and nearly got me in a drunken fist-fight with a coked-up Red-Wings-fan acquaintance who wouldn't stop talking shit that night).

Two years later, the indestructible OT hero, the best playoff, big-money guy in the game's history, lost two straight OT games to lose a playoff series to second-tier franchise the Minnesota Wild. The Avs had been up 3-1 in the series, needing only a single win to close it out and move on. Defeat was plucked, crumb by bloody crumb, from the slavering jaws of victory. (Somehow, a Roy-related playoff loss to the Wild seems particularly relevant, even now. Sigh.)

In the end, Patrick Roy has a posse--and I'm in it--because he's an exemplary human, which is to say that he exemplifies humanity. Wins, losses, rage, telling your boss to go fuck himself, being a good boss yourself, rising to the occasion, completely failing to rise to the occasion, being better than you are, being worse. Being a person. I keep Patrick Roy in mind, and I keep his jersey in my closet, as a reminder that we can all, maybe, earn a posse. We can all end up in the conversation. We can all be the best we can be.

Download your own Patrick Roy Has a Posse sticker sheet here, and check out all the Clear the Crease Posse Members while you're at it!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

prove me wrong

Everybody's writing about pro wrestling. Nobody's doing it well.

Everything's TV now. At one time, this seemed to represent progress: we simpleton wanderers through sports had only the crude tools of rooting with which to appreciate and understand what we saw. We each were bequeathed teams to pull for--usually in some father-to-son transaction--so the story ran--and we watched them and became happy when they won, sad when they lost. For the bookish or studious or strivers there were records to memorize and brandish, a style of history comprising great men and counted things and very little else. We continued on in this fashion, we now understand, with each man his team, with their wins and looses, and an undisturbed shared sense of great plays, as when a Shot was heard 'round the World, and worthy Achievements, whether Wilt going for 100 or Maris for 61 or whichever other wonder of our blissfully unasterixed antiquity. And then one day a man did eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Bad Art. The truth is complicated but the metonym is simple: Bill Simmons noticed that sports were on TV, which made them TV shows, and he decided a fun way to make a nice living would be to write about TV as though it were a sport and sports as though they were TV.

This added to our understanding. Please do not allow me to avoid or underplay this point. Adding a semi-robusticated system of aesthetic angles to our WIN:LOSS::YAY:BOO rooting system for assessing sports was, for serious consumers, actually transformative, from fans to connoisseurs. Wins and losses, piles of achievement, history and greatness all had a new accompaniment, the murky metrics and swampy subjectivities of taste. (It's probably a bad idea to imagine this as a Cartesian plane, with Yay/Boo on one axis and Good/Bad on the other.)

And it was good, for a couple of years.

The problem arose when a generalized lack obtained. The conversation can't just be "taste" manifested as an endless series of "well...I like it" statements. The first step past that stage is developing the capacity to distinguish "I like this" from "this is (therefore) good". It is not clear that anyone has yet taken this step with respect to television--"we're in a Golden Age", I hear a lot, apparently because torture sequences and breasts abound, not even in distinct scenes, and there's even swears!

The addition of taste, then, stopped being a success because it did not come with any discipline. Taste became a shield to avoid attack--"well...I like it"--rather than a tool for analysis (pace the Why We Watch initiative and its twin, Deadspin's NBA Shit List series) and eventually resulted in the self-indulgent wallowing we see everywhere today. I'm talking, now, about writing about pro wrestling.

Not here to debate the merits or analyze the complexity of pro wrestling itself, I will mention only that its basic structure is both reasonably simple and a good lens through which to examine politics. It's an enterprise which sells fake fights between characters embedded in stories. In the stories, the characters are usually recognizably "good" or "bad". In the commercial aspect, the characters can be popular and unpopular, and this is, of course, the most important thing (cf "commercial enterprise"). There is also a small subset of watchers which judges itself capable of assessing the quality of work it is being presented with, adding "good worker" to "good/bad guy in a story", "popular", etc. Most are still kind of reeling that "bad guy in a story" can be "popular", if you're looking for a quick and dirty idea of the overall quality of these assessments. That is, the rooting and aesthetics are here so hopelessly muddled that no two writers can reliably agree on just who exactly is doing good work: without the objective anchor point of wins and losses, and with popularity requiring actual research to determine, and also seeming somewhat unsavory as an index of quality (cf McDonald's), all the observers are at sea, unable to do more than recount what did happen vis-a-vis what they thought would happen--as if that could possibly be of any interest whatsoever--or what they wanted to happen--ditto, plus infinitely infantile: imagine imposing this review process on any other art form! "I really expected Cordelia to rise to the occasion--everything pointed to it--and it was really disappointing to see her unable to tell her dad how she felt."

The extant writing about wrestling is, then, a failure on every available level. It fails to be either reasonably objective or rigorously subjective. It makes use of no aesthetic judgments beyond "satisfying narrative"--which means, so far as I can tell, "outcome I found palatable after being entertained for some period of time". It appears to be wholly inextricable from nostalgia for the intellect and emotions of pre-adolescence. It exhibits a galling technical ignorance, given that the form is beyond obviously best interpreted as a form of dance, and tends toward the breathlessly conversational and typo-riddled. The extant writing about wrestling is lazy and unilluminative even on its own modest recap-and-rehash terms. It has as much place on a sports site as my uninformed ballet descriptions would, and it has as much place on a good-writing site as fan fiction does.

--Chris Collision, hater