From growing up a die-hard sports fan from a very young age, I have been a fan of a number of professional and major college sports teams in a variety of ways. When a person invests a reasonable amount of time an energy into a team, it becomes theirs, and a fan to some degree feels like he/she is part of it. At its core, I really think that is what is at the core of human’s love of sports — the chance to be part of something first and then on top of that to be part of something special. That is why fans regularly use the word “We” to talk about their teams.
So when I adopted the Carolina Hurricanes as “my local team” in 1997 after they magically fell out of the sky and into North Carolina, I had a variety of reference points for what it means and/or feels like to be part of a professional sports fan base or community. The Carolina Hurricanes were different from the very beginning. The group that ushered NHL hockey into North Carolina was refreshing and like nothing I had ever experienced before. From my years as a Chicago sports fan growing up there was a natural gap and separation between the team/players and me as part of the fan base. In my years growing up, my interactions with anyone from my favorite teams was a small handful of times my dad took me to wait in line to get an autograph from a single player or two, not one of the stars, who was doing an event somewhere. And those were essentially events where you waited in line for an hour and got a signature and virtually nothing in terms of interaction. Maybe out of necessity, the Hurricanes were completely different. John Forslund and Chuck Kaiton tirelessly answered questions and interacted with new fans. The players were also accessible and incredibly humble and whether they liked it or not signed up to grow a hockey fan base one fan at a time. So from the very beginning, I think the relationship between the fan base and the team has always been different here.
But what is even more cool is the way that unique genesis has in my opinion affected the relationship between the team and its fan base. The gap that I perceived from other sports teams seems non-existent with the Hurricanes. Because of that, it feels much more like the team and the fan base are in the same boat together. That shows up a bit when the team is successful and the community rallies around it, but I think more significantly, I think it shows up more clearly at other times. The standing ovation at the end of the elimination game in the 2001 NHL playoffs for me was the first time I think that I realized how special our hockey community was. To this day that game gives me chills. And the incredibly awkward rally in downtown Raleigh after the 2002 Stanley Cup Finals defeat was also something unique that I really do not think would ever happen in 95 percent or more of sports markets. The 2006 and 2009 playoff runs were very much the same. Then after a 10-year layoff from the playoffs, we relived it again with the ovation that the fan base gave the team in the final minutes of Thursday’s series-ending loss to the Bruins. Had things been reversed, you cannot tell me that Bruins fans would have cheered their team that was losing 4-0 and on their way to a series loss in a sweep. That is what is different here.
I have a couple of times tried to explain the Hurricanes hockey community and its unique bond with the team to friends that I have who are not local/fans of the team, and it has never been something that I can effectively put into words. Yet, whenever I talk to a Hurricanes fan who is similarly immersed in our unique hockey culture, he/she knows exactly what I mean. And that is what makes Carolina Hurricanes hockey so incredibly special. Sure, it might go somewhat dormant during extended droughts like we just had, but there is something in the fabric of our hockey community that seems to transcend time, playoff droughts, losing seasons or whatever else and return on cue again and again.
Like everyone else, I have my set of favorite memories from this magical hockey season, but I think my favorite one occurred when Brock McGinn scored the game 7 game-winner against the Capitals and one of my two younger sons who attended the 2009 playoff games but was too young to remember them exclaimed, “WE won! Dad, WE won!” while jumping on the couch.
As I said above, it is very common for sports fans to use the word “We” when discussing their favorite teams, but I sincerely believe that the “We” for Carolina Hurricanes is 20X more powerful and something unique and completely different from anything else in sports. My sons have been part of our hockey community more or less since they were born, but especially for my two younger sons, I think the 2019 playoff run saw them come to understand the uniqueness of our Carolina Hurricanes “We” as I am sure it did for many other fans.
To the team and everyone else who is part of our hockey community, thank you for being part of the “We” for my hockey world.