Winner, Seven

Another in a continuing series of craps references while writing about hockey….

I gave it my all in the last 10 days as a Devils fan. I had scores texted to me so that they were waiting when I landed in strange, horrible, anti-hockey (and anti-people) airports like Charles de Gaul in Paris; I stayed up until 3:00 AM listening to last Friday’s game from South Africa; I had the pilot on my Continental flight from Mumbai radio ahead to get the score of Game 5 (and bless him, it was good news, or there wasn’t enough cheap booze on board to keep me from going non-linear). But through this all, I did not repeat the superstitions, the rituals, the motions, the minor religious observances that truly mark me as a fan of the Devil. Bubba and I will not be denied tomorrow night.

Patrik Elias Russian jersey (for me) and Czech jersey (for Bubba): ready.

Czech flag to wave triumphantly when Elias connects: folded neatly.

Proper t-shirt underlayment for above-mentioned jerseys: ready, and already being worn (me in Devils Elias jersey tee, Bubba in the whats-a-matter-Sioux Notre Dame hockey tee)

Diet of chicken fingers, Carvel ice cream, and pretzels: already saving calories for tomorrow night’s intake.

Does any of this matter? Of course it does. Sports mixes belief and intent in a unique way; players believe that they can (or they can’t, as evidenced by Colin White’s complete refusal to move his feet last night) and carry that belief into a melange of physics and passion. From intent and belief it’s only a small (vertical) leap to ritual and religion, passing by tradition on the way to fervor in believing our actions affect what happens on the ice.

This minor insanity runs deep with me. As captain of the high school math team (stop laughing) I carried a small alabaster egg in my jeans pocket for every competition. I did it once, and we won, and after that it was accepted practice (along with the playing of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Freebird the night before – don’t ask). In 2003, Bubba insisted that the Devils hadn’t score a goal in Game 7 of the Cup Finals because we had failed to eat a pretzel at the intermission. I ran out to the concourse, picked up a soggy excuse for a pretzel, and minutes late the Devils scored – we threw the ends of the pretzel into the rows behind us, possibly into the laps of unhappy Ducks fans, and for once felt no guilt about wasting food (even Meadowlands fare). The Devils have not lost a game at the Prudential Center when Bubba and I are both there. Not even down two goals to Tampa Bay, with their energy and division lead seemingly draining away, did the Devils fail to deliver on their end of the disconnected cause and effect (our last game at the Rock, April 3).

Joshua Prager’s The Echoing Green weaves the story of Morty Rothschild into that of Bobby Thomson and Ralph Branca during the last game of their 1951 baseball playoff game, the season in the balance. With his beloved New York Giants losing in the bottom of the ninth, Rothschild left the ballpark, considering that the Giants had never lost a game he’d listened to on his car radio. And so Thomson’s “shot heard round the world” was heard by Rothschild over the air waves, not seen in person. But his team had won, his own superstitious behavior no doubt contributing, from his point of view, to the team’s come from behind victory and the pennant. The rational among us dismiss such behavior as irrational and physically impossible, as well as statistically improbable and mildly irritating.

Princeton University President Shirley Tilghman, a noted molecular biologist, was asked to speak about evolution and its detractors. Her comments in the speech The Assault on Evolution do not dismiss viewpoints that some see as irrational or physically impossible, but rather explain that “science and religion are merely two different manifestations of the human experience.” We all see and hear the same events on the ice; we slam into our seat-mates with the same feelings; we choose our own interpretations of the causes of those effects.

We know the science: chemistry that causes ice to form a miniscule layer of water beneath Gionta’s skate blades; elastic collisions between Elias’ stick and the puck; inelastic collisions between pucks and Oduya’s shin pads; optics of the red light behind Cam Ward; wave mechanics of 16,000 screaming fans.

We know the religion: pandemonium, the time of all demons, the house of all possible Devils.

Tomorrow night, we dance this dance one more time, mentally and physically prepared for our role as fans.

Let’s go Devils.