I believe that you cannot fully understand what someone is saying as a sports fan unless you have an idea of how they came to be who they are today.
As a sports fan, I am rarely made emotional enough to be brought to tears. Crying as a sports fan to me was always a rare event, reserved only for the biggest of wins and the most important of moments. I cried when Ohio State beat Michigan 42-39 in 2006 to complete an undefeated season. I shed tears in 2010 when I heard the final horn, signifying a Kelly Cup Championship for my Cincinnati Cyclones. I cried later that year when I saw Jay Bruce het a walk-off home run to clinch the NL Central Division Championship for my Cincinnati Reds, an accomplishment that had not happened in 15 years. I wept in 2014 as I watched my Columbus Blue Jackets furiously come back from a 4-0 deficit in Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, only to fall just short in the end.
That was it. Sports fandom to me has always been much more logical and analytical to me than most people. Sure, I would be emotionally invested in my favorite teams, but I would not let it affect how I rooted for them or how I thought about them.
That all changed when the calendar turned to 2017. As the New Year began, I had noticed that when I would watch highlights for one team, tears would well up, and I would begin to feel a remarkable anticipation for what might happen soon. I would go and watch highlights from years past of this team and lose all control of my emotions. My lip would begin to quiver just at the mere thought of what they could do in the playoffs.
It was unexpected, unbelievable, and caught me completely off guard. By January 5, I had realized that I had fallen head over heels for a team that, when I was born, would not exist for another 12 years. It took a 16 game winning streak for me to realize it, but what had occurred was that the Columbus Blue Jackets had stolen my heart.
Being of logical mind and scientific reason, I began to wonder, how could this be? I was always a hockey fan and had cheered for the Jackets since they came into existence in 2000. However, I did not live in Columbus, and besides, I already had my favorite sports teams. How could an upstart team, with no previous playoff success, swoop in and seduce my sports fandom so easily?
At first, it almost felt like cheating on my other teams. Did this make me any less of a Reds fan for not having this same passion towards them? Did this mean I wasn’t as big of a football fan that I thought I was? Was I not being true to myself on where my true allegiances are? Confused, I sat down and thought about what it all meant.
Eventually, I came to a few conclusions. Among them were the following:
-Columbus is a team that, similar to me, has many quirks that some might find odd, but make them that all the more loveable
-The Blue Jackets are the underdog, and I always love an underdog
-Finally, the Blue Jackets play with a resilience and undying spirit that is unrivaled among Ohio teams, and they never back down from a fight
As the NHL Season rolls along, I wanted to take a moment to let you know how and why I fell in love with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and perhaps, in the process, give you a reason to fall for them as well.
Everybody loves a good underdog story. Think about every sports movie you have ever seen. They all have that underdog aspect in common. It makes for compelling storylines. Rocky Balboa going up against the champion Apollo Creed, the Mighty Ducks going up against the unstoppable Hawks, the Washington Sentinels being led by a has-been Shane Falco, all of these stories have that underdog theme to them.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are a real life underdog story. The team is the only NHL franchise in the state of Ohio, a state primarily thought of for its baseball roots and its almost religious love for the game of football. Still, the Blue Jackets shine through as the professional sports beacon of light through the rabid craze over Ohio State Football.
The Blue Jackets have rarely seen success, failing to win a playoff game for their first 14 years of existence. That amount of failure makes a fan strong, as the victory becomes all the sweeter when it finally arrives. Growing up, it was always fun to watch Columbus on TV in Cincinnati, just because it was hockey and they were lovable for their determination. Even if they lost, my Mom and I would get to root on a fight or two, and possibly see the Jackets pull the goalie and go for the win in the final minute.
In 2014, Columbus finally won a playoff game. In fact, they won two. They would lose the series 4-2, but the mere fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets had finally won a postseason game was all the reason I needed to finally take notice of this team as something to get behind long term.
However, the next two seasons would not be as prosperous, as injuries and a coaching change would leave Columbus going into the 2016-17 season wondering if things would ever turn around. Boy, was everyone in for a hell of a ride.
After 16 years of losing, the Blue Jackets finally had a breakout season, gaining the attention of the entire NHL after winning 16 straight games. At one point, Columbus had the best record in the entire league, something that had never happened. By season’s end, they had won 50 games in a season for the first time in team history, achieved 108 points, more than any season in Blue Jackets history, and would eventually see multiple players achieve individual recognition at the NHL Awards.
Such success made me proud to be a fan, especially after so much failure over the years. So many times, I would see people say “oh, a Blue Jackets fan. Good team you have, good arena, they’ll be good someday” or something of that ilk. After so much losing, finally I could say that the underdog was a contender, and that alone would have been enough to make me feel incredible pride.
When you are used to being an underdog, you get used to playing like one. As an underdog, you must be scrappy, resilient, and have a “never say die” attitude, because you have to do whatever it takes to overcome the odds against a better opponent. For years, the Columbus Blue Jackets had played that way, and it was always fun to watch, especially when they would take on teams like Detroit or Pittsburgh. It almost seemed that the hunger and fight was stronger against those top teams, as if the Jackets had a chip on their shoulders and something to prove.
If nothing else, Columbus still plays with the same resiliency and passion that they always have. The difference now is the amount of talent appearing on the roster. You still have the scrappy play and fighting spirit against the top teams, especially the rival Pittsburgh Penguins, but now there is a feeling going into the game that Columbus actually has a realistic chance to win on any given night.
In 2014, during their playoff run, the mantra was “Jackets never say die”, and it stuck with them throughout the postseason until they were eliminated. While those words are not necessarily present today, the spirit of that mantra are in the hearts of all Blue Jackets fans every time they play. Gone are the days where a two or three goal deficit early meant the game was already over. Last season, it was a regular occurrence to see Columbus come from behind to win after going down early in a game.
The amount of fun I have watching the Blue Jackets fight off those top teams, Pittsburgh especially, is almost immeasurable. More often than not, when two top teams in the NHL face off, it is a battle from start to finish, and the pace is usually the same from game to game. When you face Columbus, however, the matchup is not as consistent, as it is almost a certainty that the gloves will come off, figuratively, and the game will turn into a battle royale. Instead of just seeing a fast-paced game between two supremely talented teams, you will see a fast-paced game between two supremely talented teams where the checks and hits will leave you bruised just from watching them. I would not have it any other way.
The Columbus Blue Jackets would not be a team I would cheer for if they were not as quirky as I am. Plain and simple, I like a team that does not take itself too seriously. Just look at their Twitter page for clarification (@BlueJacketsNHL). Sarcastic and snarky, the twitter feed for the Blue Jackets is often the most humorous thing I see throughout my day. It is a level of humor typically fitting of a Mel Brooks movie, to put it into context. Perhaps their sarcastic nature comes from years of losing, but either way, a professional sports franchise that does not take itself too seriously is something I can rally behind without hesitation.
Perhaps the biggest quirk that Columbus possesses is their most iconic symbol at Nationwide Arena, the beloved home of the Blue Jackets. That would be their replica Civil War Cannon, which is fired off every time the Blue Jackets take the ice for the first time in a game, every time they score a goal, and every time they win a game. Opposing players hate it almost universally. Columbus players, however, have a soft spot in their heart for it. Personally, I can never get enough of that beautiful cannon.
Then, there is the hug. The hug is when, after a Blue Jackets victory, once all other players have shaken hands the captain Nick Foligno and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky embrace in a bear hug. One of the most popular moments of any Columbus game, the hug has become so popular, that #MoreHugs is usually trending on Twitter after every Columbus game. The fact that such a mundane celebration has become a staple of every victory is remarkable.
What might take the cake, though, is those streamers. For those that do not know, whenever the Blue Jackets win a game at home, they release streamers from the rafters. You know, like how when you celebrate graduating the fifth grade. No matter what you think of them, though, the streamers, for, as simple and novel as they are, have become a source of pride for Jackets fans, including me. You can call me crazy, and you would be correct in doing so. It is crazy for such a celebration to be as beloved as the streamers are for Columbus fans, but the fact is that it is a celebration that is a fun sight to see.
It was during the incredible winning streak that a thought creeped into my mind. “What if the Columbus Blue Jackets win the Stanley Cup?” Remember how I said I rarely cried when it came to my sports fandom? The very thought of the Blue Jackets potentially winning the Stanley Cup brought me to tears. If you want to know something even more bizarre, that thought still brings tears of joy to my eyes.
It has never happened before where the very thought of a team I cheer for winning a championship brought an overwhelming emotion to me. Yet that is precisely the case with the Columbus Blue Jackets. It is something I still do not fully understand, but the thought is something that never leaves my mind, even when the NHL is not in season.
What I have also realized is that I am no less a Reds or football fan than I was before I realized my love for the Jackets. It is, simply put, just a new facet of my sports fandom. I still have the same love for the Cincinnati Reds that I had before, even if they did not make the playoffs in 2017. As far as football goes, just listen to one of my podcasts and you will see just how much I still love football.
The Columbus Blue Jackets have enhanced my sports fandom. If anything, the Jackets have made me a bigger sports fan than I was before, which is a considerable feat.
I can safely say that even with the NFL season nearly halfway over, High School Football well underway, and College Football quickly stealing the spotlight, what I am most looking forward to is the next Columbus Blue Jackets game, whenever and wherever it might occur. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever foresee a time where, even during football season, the one thing I would look forward to was the next drop of the puck for a Columbus Blue Jackets game.
Yet here I sit, saying without hesitation, that tonight’s Blue Jackets game against the Tampa Bay Lightning has my interest ahead of the NFL’s Kansas City Chiefs v. Oakland Raiders national telecast, and I am damn proud to say just that.