Life as a teenager was pretty damn simple for me. Get up, tolerate the educational system for 10 hours every day, gut out an underwhelming performance in whatever seasonal sport I was tasked with failing out of, and play ping pong. We had a one of those shiny, professional grade tables at my dad’s place that was undoubtedly the result of him overextending a simple purchase into a top of the line family cornerstone. Most of the time, it was just Johnny and I in the basement duking it out. We would have these epic battles that…at least in our minds…looked like that paddle-equipped version of Darth Vadar and Luke Skywalker clashing their glowing johnsons in a heated battle on a distant spaceship.
Every once in a while, our old man would come down to the basement and jump into the fray, and in the moments it happened, it was like time stood still. My dad remains the unquestioned master of every sport you’ve ever played after having seven Miller High Life’s. Fooseball. Darts. Pool. Ping pong. …unrivaled skill, composure and delivery on all fronts, every time, without failing. It was like Skynet dedicated all their efforts to creating the perfect bar sportsman and then sent him back to 1992.
Across this rugged multidisciplinary catalog of greatness, there have been rare moments where I’ve beaten my dad in these matchups. Those moments have been spread out over a lifetime, and unquestionably, the most satisfying victories came when I realized that I’d beaten him at his best. As a younger sportsman, dad would let me get close…he’d give me a glimpse of the finish line…he’d feign weakness…and then rise up to crush the rebellion. As I got older, there was no mercy. It was pedal down, all the time, every time, and even if I got .beat 9 times out of 9.5, the sweet taste of a hard-fought victory against The Best was always the most rewarding.
Why is ping pong and Miller High Life relevant here? …because last night, we didn’t get the Pens’ best shot. Yes, they had Staal and Malkin. They had MAF and Jason Williams (what?). But there was no Crosby. That makes me sad.
This is as well-worn a statement as there is right now, but as a fan of the team that just won a hard-fought victory last night over his squad, my genuine hope is that Crosby can somehow right the ship, get things straightened out with his concussion situation and get back on the ice. My reason has nothing to do with the state of the game. It has nothing to do with the face of the league…one Gary has been working so hard to jam on us for years…not getting on the ice. It certainly has nothing to do with any lingering sense of affection for the Penguins.
It has everything to do with being a fan of a team that tries to put a marker down every year as the best…as the franchise to beat…as the model program everyone is chasing. It’s about beating the second best at their very best and setting the record straight.
Beating my old man when we were running out the door to church…or when he was distracted by putting dinner together…it never felt right. Last night…as good as it felt to get two points and reinforce was a bunch of second class, coach-sitting underachievers the Eastern Conference is…rings a bit hollow for me. We didn’t get Pittsburgh’s best shot.
When Bear Cleary puts that empty netter past Gino to ice the game, I want him to look over at the bench and wink at Crosby. When Pavel cranks home a backhander, I want Crosby to see firsthand what a true magician looks like. …and when the Wings gather around Jimmy to congratulate him on another Horsecop of a performance, I want that entire Penguins team to know…without a shred of a doubt…that they weren’t a victim of circumstance, they’re just the inferior team.
Come on back, Thid. Come on back and lead your band of first round draft picks and Red Wings castoffs through the playoffs. We’ll be waiting for you in the finals, brotha.