"There is a warfare in which all of us are engaged. What is life but a great battle, lasting from our earliest days until we sheathe sword in death? This battle we hope to win, and yet if we succeed, it will be a distinct and definite response to the challenge before us, 'Who goeth a warfare any time at his own charges?' We may be quite sure that if ever we attempt the warfare of life at our own expense we shall soon find ourselves failing, and it will end in a miserable defeat."
May 17th, 1983 I threw a hissy fit. My parents wouldn’t let me stay up to watch the 3rd period of the final. I was furious. And I was a true believer, convinced that Wayne Gretzky and Andy Moog could do just about anything including coming back from a three-game, two-period, one-goal deficit. I took the AM radio my grandmother had given me as a present into bed and secretly listened to the third period under covers. When the Islanders scored the fourth goal, my heart sank. I was devastated. I cried myself to sleep listening to the post-game commentary.
The next morning as I dressed for school I looked up at the poster of Wayne Gretzky that I had hung on the inside of my closet door (mom said I was not allowed to hang posters on the walls of my bedroom because it ruined the drywall). I still believed. I didn’t care that many callers on John Short's show (the Twitter of 1983) doubted whether the Oilers could actually do it, whether they were a real Stanley Cup team. "They're too young, too inexperienced, they don’t understand hockey, they can't defend, they don't hit hard. They should trade Gretzky for a stronger centre." The playoffs in the minds of many Edmontonians were a man’s game, and the Oilers were just a bunch of boys on the bus.
I didn’t know much about the stats or the history. I had no idea that the 1983 Oilers had produced the most incredible regular season numbers in the history of the sport. I didn't realize the "significance" of the dynasty (that year was the first of 8 consecutive Alberta finals). I heard the Word from Rod Phillips and I was convinced that Gretzky could do just about anything.
The next season my dad finally caught-on that the Oilers were a real thing. That final he let me stay up to watch and he watched with me. It felt so amazing when Gretzky held the cup over his head. The image of my team with the cup meant everything. I collected as many copies of the cup-winning Journal as I could get my hands on. Our weird little city in the North actually became something and I felt like I was a part of that, that somehow my faith in Gretzky was actually worth something, that I was worth something.
I hated the Flames from the depths of my soul. My heart belonged to Gretzky & the Oilers and nothing could ever change that. In fact, nothing ever has changed that. Not even the darkest admissions of reality, the most criminal of owners, the most idiotic of GMs, or the most atrocious of Corsis can diminish the aura that surrounds the Oilers for me. We’re not "still the one"; but I still bleed copper and blue.
I don't believe in the rebuild. I don't believe in Kevin Lowe. But I still believe in the Oilers because the Oilers are more than a hockey team. The Oilers are a whisper of hope to a young boy, the hopes of a community, a rose of sharon, a statistical anomaly. The battle of Alberta lives on in my heart, and Rod Phillip’s Word is as true today as it was then: Edmonton is someplace, Edmontonians are somebodies, and if you're listening you can be part of something special.