By Alex Norman
There is no pain like the pain of a sports fan seeing their team fall just short of a championship.
It makes no sense of course… why should we care so much about people we likely will never meet putting a basketball into an iron hoop or carrying a football over a line or hitting a baseball over a wall?
But we do care. And psychologists have a field day to try to come up with the answers as to why we care.
Civic pride? A yearning to go back to a simpler time? The fact that sports are just plain old fun to be a part of, no matter how minor a role we play?
No matter the reason, for many of us sports holds great value in our lives.
Which is what makes the Nashville Predators loss in six games in the Stanley Cup Final that much more painful.
Sure, many of us remain new to the sport. There is no George Cafego or Hank Lauricella or Johnny Majors to call on. The Predators have only been in existence since 1998.
And many fans only picked up hockey fever in April, when the Predators surprisingly swept the perennial Cup contending Chicago Blackhawks in the opening round of the playoffs.
But fans were invested in this team all across the state, including Knox County. Did you see how many people showed up in Market Square to watch Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on a big screen? Give Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and WIVK’s Jimmy Holt credit for getting that event together.
The Predators dispatched the Blackhawks, the St. Louis Blues and the Anaheim Ducks on their way to the Final, and the excitement grew with each passing game.
Along the way, North America found out something about Nashville. It’s a pretty darn good hockey town.
The images from Broadway were startling. That many people are showing up to watch hockey? In Tennessee? In the spring time?
(On a side note, let’s take a moment to give props to the powers that be that built the arena near downtown Nashville back in the day. We are after all a tailgating culture in the south, and it would have been easier and cheaper to place the arena in the suburbs. Today there are bars/restaurants/shops are all within easy walking distance to Bridgestone Arena. Location made these games a happening.)
But to many hockey fans, Nashville remains the city that nearly lost its hockey team to Hamilton, Ontario. That was a decade ago and was mostly the result of a disastrous ownership situation, but the die had been cast regardless.
Even though the Preds were basically the 16th and final seed in the NHL’s postseason, seeing this team make their first trip to the Final should not have been that much of a surprise. Since the franchise got on stable footing, the Predators have steadily built support, and had become a regular participant in the postseason.
The sad part about this run is that the joy felt by Preds fans over the past two months will slowly dissipate. The pain thought goes away much, much more slowly.
Think about this if you are also a Vols fan. The tremendous feeling you had following that BCS title game win in January 1999 lasted a while, didn’t it? But the pain you felt following the loss in the 2001 SEC championship game probably has stuck around to this day. Same with the Gaffney catch in 2000, the field goal that missed by inches at Florida in 2015, the Tennessee men’s basketball team losing in the final seconds at the Elite 8 in 2010…
The pain of losing is always more stinging than the joy of winning. And that pain is worse when it happens late in a game or in a series. And it hurts even more when a controversial call goes against your team, as happened to Nashville in the second period when a goal was waved off due to an early whistle.
The good news for Nashville Predators fans is that the nucleus is in place. This is a young team. It would not be a surprise to see them in contention for the Stanley Cup a few times in the next decade to come.
The bad news is you never really are sure how many chances you are going to get.
Is it October yet?