The Crowd: Are They Into It, or Out of It?: an article by the Prof...

One thing about the Nashville game was different, somehow, from other games I have seen. It was the crowd’s reaction. Recalling that Nashville scored two goals, less than a minute apart, and the crowd who attended – like I did at home – must have thought, “Here we go again!” And, of course, they were right – the Oilers could not recover.

But, then an odd thing happened – Edmonton Oiler goalie Jeff Deslauriers made an easy save. Any other time, the crowd would have given an ironic cheer – a cat call of sorts – to let the team feel the crowd’s disappointment. “One minute left in the First Period” – cheers for the team down 3-0. But, nothing. No ironic jeering – no attitude – nothing at all. I had never seen such a reaction.

My first reaction was: “Well, good for them. Leave the poor guys alone – they must feel bad enough anyway, without all of us adding fuel to their internal fires.” I have often, during this recent losing streak – though, in the Oiler’s case, it has been less of a streak than a slow letting the air out of the balloon – thought about my own limited sports background.

Although I wanted badly to play sports past high school, I was never good enough: ergo, my football and basketball “careers” either ended in high school or became relegated to “the guys” regularly getting together at the university for a pick up game of b-ball.

But I know of losing. And, I hated it. I recalled, during high school football, when you were losing and you knew you would not win, players began to care less about the score and more about “settling the score” – hurting the guy on the other team. Kneeing him in a pile – the extra push off his helmet as you used him to lift yourself up from the ground.

All these things seem stupid now, but in the heat (and it was an angry space) of the battle – you were so upset you really didn’t care. And, this not for any reasons of strategy – as the sports analysts would offer – as in, we want them to know next time things will be different. No. It was really more about taking out your frustrations in some painful way on the “other guy.”

So, in some small way, I can identify with how the Oiler’s players are feeling about losing. They must hate it. And, anyone thinking that the money of being a professional makes up for the losing is foolish – it doesn’t. Being older than 60 years of age provides one with a great deal of experiential insight and a good measure of understanding of others. These Edmonton Oilers’ players, basically, are kids who want to do well and, for some reason no one seems able to fathom, cannot. Honestly, I cannot even imagine their own frustrations with their playing and how sensitive they must be to all the criticism they get from the fans and the media.

And so, here we are, back to the fans. Why the fan’s reaction? Why no jeering? Honestly, I don’t know. Perhaps, as I speculate here, the fans are showing that they care and are considerate about the feelings of the players who, the fans understand, must feel really horrible. And, the fans don’t want to add to those feelings. Perhaps the fans understand how deeply embarrassing – after four days of serious attempts (the mini camp) to fix the problems – that the problems are obviously not fixed at all. And, perhaps the fans came to see that these young players had two more entire periods of being completely exposed as failures in front of thousands of their fans.

Of course, there is another explanation. Perhaps, the fans don’t care anymore – they have completely given up. But, I still think the fans care. There is something about being an Oiler fan – something filial (we are family – we belong to each other, the team and fans). We are painfully loyal.

No, I think the fans are showing lots of class, lots of consideration for the state of affairs, and lots of empathy for the young people who play on this exceedingly unsuccessful Oiler’s team. I think we are starting to treat these young hockey players less as professionals and more like we would our own kids who are playing Pee Wee AA. No caring family member would ever yell at young hockey players when things got really tough; and, when you saw these young hockey players were suffering you would not add to that suffering. You would try to encourage and support.

I have no idea the outcome of the Oiler’s season, but my guess it will be one of continued losing and frustration. Perhaps this losing will go on for another year past this one.

I will remain an Oiler fan and, should they lose every game, I will still keep watching. I will savor the wins, and ignore the newspaper descriptions of their ineptness the day after they lose. I care about this Oilers’ team and the players who play in it. And, I think the fans’ uncharacteristic reaction to the on-ice frustrations of the team during the Nashville game is proof that the fans care as well.

I was heartened by the fans’ display of good sportsmanship and consideration, and I hope it lasts – even though it is frustrating and we will continue to live and die with our team. Sadly, we will probably need all the sportsmanship we can get. It seems as if it is gonna be a long year for Oilers’ fans.


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