[This article originally appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of St. Louis Game Time.]
My son started playing organized hockey this fall. So far, I have to say that I couldn't be happier with the experience he's gotten. Not just the improvement in skill and increased interest in the game, but more importantly, his overall education about the sport, the traditions, the teamwork and the sportsmanship. I lay most of this at the skates of his coach. The man is the best coach that my kid has had in any sport as long as he's been involved in sports.
One of the first items that the coach addressed was pride in one another, in their team and in their jersey.
"There will be no jamming our jerseys into our hockey bags," directed Coach as he handed out the uniforms, "They come to the rink on hangers, they go home on hangers. In between, we represent this jersey proudly in the way we play and carry ourselves. We never let our jerseys hit the floor."
The jersey in and of itself is not what's important, obviously. What's important is what they symbolize: pride in our team and our players. Pride in themselves and their friends.
Jeffio used to tell the story every so often about how no matter how soaked in Wild Turkey and Budweiser he might get at a game, his Blues jersey never hit the floor at his house. No matter if he could walk a straight line or not, his jersey always made it onto a hanger and into the closet. In Jeffio's story, the rule was not lifted for anyone. Whether it was friends, family, or say a new girlfriend named Beth, their jerseys always made it onto a hanger, too.
The symbol was the same in his example. Jeffio could have gotten away with tossing it onto the pile with his shoes, jeans, recently-emptied wallet, smokes, shot glasses and assorted other game day mementos; just pick it up and dust it off in the morning. But he didn't. The jersey is a symbol of your dedication to the team you follow with all of your money, free time and sanity. It's a symbol of all the other crazies who you call friends 41 times a year and see seldom else.
There's pride in being a die-hard fan. That jersey is a symbol of it.
Bobby Plager tells a story about the early days of the franchise when his brother Barclay snapped up a fellow teammate and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that there would be respect for the Bluenote on this team. The crest was never to hit the ground. It was worn with respect and pride. It was, and still is, a symbol of everything the players play for: each other, their management, their fans, their city.
Respect for the jersey and the crest is taught at the lowest levels. It's taught to children as an indisputable fact. It's carried on by fans throughout the world. Even supposedly jaded professionals talk about the logo on the front meaning more than the name on the back.
And that is why I vehemently hate this new "1,001 Uses" bit that the Blues are doing at every game.
I get that the fans love to see a Red Wings jersey get treated badly. I understand that people think it's funny. I also would bet that this came from another arena first, where someone else took that first step to treat our jersey like a piece of trash.
I don't care. It's a total disgrace and our management should be ashamed of the whole idea.
I've heard the arguments, from ‘screw those guys,' to ‘the players don't care,' to ‘whatever it takes to get under an opponent's skin.' I think that's all bullshit. Would you like to see the Bluenote treated like that? Even worse, could you watch the Blues' jersey dragged through a gutter and not care?
Not me. I'd call out the organization that did it as classless punks with no regard for hockey's rich tradition. I'd probably call them worse. So, now I guess I have to say it about our organization: This little nugget of in-game ‘entertainment' is a discredit to the team, the franchise and over 40 years of proud hockey history. It is an embarrassment and it should be stopped immediately.
If pride in our jerseys is still something that is being taught to our youngest players and being adhered to by fans and still respected by players, how can we justify destroying someone else's jersey?
Or even worse, if no one cares about pride in their jersey, whether it be players or fans, then I think it speaks to yet another example of this being just another business. And that makes us not fans, just customers.
-Sean "if it hits the floor, you'd better be in it" Gallagher