Sports is man's joke on God, Max. You see, God says to man, 'I've created a universe where it seems like everything matters, where you'll have to grapple with life and death and in the end you'll die anyway, and it won't really matter.' So man says to God, 'Oh, yeah? Within your universe we're going to create a sub-universe called sports, one that absolutely doesn't matter, and we'll follow everything that happens in it as if it were life and death.'
That’s a quote from a 2006 Sports Illustrated article about Sam Kellerman, a journalist who was killed by James Butler, a boxer and friend of Sam’s. Nine years after reading the article I, not surprisingly, remember next to nothing about it, I know that I enjoyed reading it but the specifics of the story have long since been forgotten. That particular quote though has always stuck with me. Probably because the idea of taking sports seriously, perhaps too seriously at times, is something that resonated with me.
My life might not completely revolve around the Oilers, but they’ve been a very big part of it for a long time. I got my future wife Oilers tickets for our first Valentine’s Day because she didn’t want anything and I felt this would score me some points by getting her a gift even though I didn't have to, with the added bonus of getting to go to a couple Oilers games. When I eventually convinced her to marry me, I changed the dates of our trip to Mexico and the date of the wedding so that it wouldn’t conflict with Mark Messier’s jersey retirement. Dinners with family (hers and mine) were always scheduled around Oilers games, and not just home games either.
I look back on all of this now and I think that, perhaps, I might have been just a little bit too invested in the Oilers, and also that I should buy my wife some flowers or something for putting up with me. For better or worse though, this is where I slotted the Oilers in when it came to the priorities in my life. But during the last season, and to a lesser extent the season before, this changed dramatically for me. Part of that was because of the birth of my daughter, there just aren’t enough hours in a day to keep up with her and still make the Oilers the same priority that they once were. The other part is that it just wasn’t been as much fun to be a fan as it used to be, and it’s supposed to be fun. It's entertainment, not life and death.
This is why I consumed less of everything Oilers over the last two years than during any other season that I can remember. I went to fewer games and I didn’t mind at all. I was far less likely to set aside three hours to watch a game, instead recording most and watching them in an hour (sometimes less if the game was particularly bad, god bless the PVR). I read less about them, wrote less, and listened to less Oilers focused talk radio. I even tweeted about them less and making fun of the Oilers on Twitter is one of my favourite things to do. After nearly nine seasons of losing I was just tired. All the losing, the disappointment, it was too much for me, the Oilers simply weren’t fun anymore and I was better off just staying away.
Now though, after the craziest five weeks since April through June 2006, a stretch that included a draft lottery win and imminent drafting of Connor McDavid, Bob Nicholson being named CEO, Peter Chiarelli getting hired as the team’s new President and General Manager, and Todd McLellan coming in as the new Head Coach, the fun has returned. Spend a little time on any social media site and you’ll notice immediately how the tone has changed. And when I bump into people on the street I get asked, "How excited are you?" instead of "So what’s with the Oilers?" The complete reversal of attitudes towards the Oiulers has been remarkable to watch.
Let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves though; the Oilers are obviously still far from a finished product. McDavid is going to be very good someday but he's not a wizard who can wave a magic wand and fix all of the Oilers problems. The defence is an absolute mess and the goaltending is a concern, and both will need to be addressed before anyone is going to list the Oilers among the league’s elite, but we can at least visualize the finish line now, if not quite see it in the distance. Two months ago I wouldn’t have even thought that, let alone said it out loud.
It’s a near certainty that I’ll never again prioritize the Oilers in my life like I used to, but at least now I think I can watch the games and enjoy it. And I’m looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to having some fun again.