We Love Sports – and the Islanders – More Than We Probably Should, But That’s OK


Mar 24, 2013; Uniondale, NY, USA; New York Islanders center

John Tavares

(91) and Islanders fans react after Tavares

ASTORIA, N.Y. — Sports in general – and hockey, most of all – are not meant to be studied or experienced objectively.

At their heart, sports are about emotion, irrationality and fan connection. The games are not inherently intended to be analyzed with cold calculation or watched from afar, without a vested interest. Sports are engaging; they provide a conduit through which a person can be a part of something bigger than him- or herself.

They’re a lot like religion in that way, but without the required reading.

Sports offer fans the opportunity to say “we” when referring to their favorite team, even though they likely don’t cash a paycheck signed by the team’s owner. Investing in something purely emotive: that’s what being a fan is all about.

But back to my point about analyzing sports without emotion, for a second.

It’s true that statistics offer a method by which we can objectively measure individual or team performance, and should not be discarded as unnecessary. Numbers will always have a place in the game, although the box-score line, “3:33 Michael Grabner (15) Unassisted” doesn’t convey the same excitement as does actually watching Grabs streak in on a breakaway and score a goal.

Even in instances when the stats serve as a means of predicting future performance – I’m looking at you, sabermetricians – is it really possible to get the same enjoyment from staring at numbers in a spreadsheet as can be felt from watching your favorite team play?

It’s unlikely, unless you’re into that whole “math” thing. (Which, admittedly, I’m not.)

Sports are real, and they are engaging, and they are visceral in a way very few things are. The outcome of a season or a game or even a single play can affect how you feel in the moments and hours and days after it occurs. But you know what? That’s the best part of being a fan.

While the emotional lows after a disappointing year or a heartbreaking loss can be rough, the psychological highs give you a reason to keep watching; they validate all the physical and emotional energy you’ve poured into your team. And when they win, it’s all worth it.

Lately for New York Islanders fans, it’s all been worth it.

NHL fans are, without question, the most fanatical in any major sport. (With the possible exception of those Turkish soccer fans who tried tunneling into their home stadium or that launched fireworks into the stadium during a game from which they had originally been banned. But that’s a column for another day.)

But I digress.

Isles fans can lay claim to the term “die hard” in its truest sense, as the past few years have certainly taken their toll. But with Garth Snow’s once-maligned-and-now-praised Rebuild™ currently churning out NHL-caliber players and moving the franchise squarely into the league’s spotlight, the Long Island fan base is being rewarded for its struggles.

The Isles are 14-5-3 since Mar. 3, which includes a stretch of earning 20 out of 24 possible points over their last 12 games. Their only regulation loss during that period was to the league-leading Pittsburgh Penguins. Their secondary scoring is surprisingly accounting for most of the offense. And apparently, they don’t give up goals anymore; thanks to Evgeni Nabokov, the team has allowed two goals or fewer in the last nine games.

In response to their improved play at home, the fans are coming back to the Coliseum in droves. (Or maybe it’s because the fans are packing the Coli that the team’s playing well…think about it.) Sellouts at the Old Barn – as it’s affectionately known – are proof positive that fandom is alive and well in Uniondale.

Fans that have spent the past six years living and dying with the ups and downs of the Islanders are seeing their faith renewed, if not restored. Even in the losses, this team has played well enough to reaffirm the bond between the fans and their franchise.

Related: when discussing on-ice events that have the greatest effect on a fan’s psyche, nothing is as powerful as an overtime win or loss. An overtime goal for the opposition often happens so suddenly, it sucks the life out of you. By contrast, you’re never as elated as you are after an overtime game-winner for your team.

Unfortunately for Isles fans, Dan Girardi’s goal last Saturday was basically a punch to the stomach. But that’s what makes us ALL Islanders, right? We felt it together, as irrational as our attachment to the game’s score may have seemed to an outsider, or to a non sports fan.

That’s why engaging with fans of your favorite team – and chirping the fans of your rivals – is the best. The people in blue and orange are your second family. They’re the people you exchange cheers and high fives with after a win at the Coliseum; they’re also the people you commiserate with as you’re walking out the doors after a road loss.

(Side bar: shout out to the guys and girls in Section 329 at the Coli. Keep doing your thing, Blue and Orange Army. Those chants aren’t going to start themselves.)

Can we agree that sports satisfy a basic human need? Our need for connection and shared experience is ingrained in our genetic makeup. Sports are both an investment and an outlet. They allow us to give and take.  That’s why we love sports.

Besides, they give us a reason to put on our team’s colors and act a little ridiculously once in a while. What’s so bad about that?

You love sports because of course you do. And you love the Islanders for the same reason.

Next time you’re at the Coliseum, make sure you stop by Section 329 in the upper bowl. If you’re curious about all that crowd noise you hear on the TV broadcast, it’s probably from the Blue and Orange Army. As long as you’re not wearing a Rangers jersey when you visit, they’ll welcome you with open arms. (Oh, and be sure to ask them about THE HUDDLE.)

I’d like to take this opportunity to welcome the newest contributor to EyesOnIsles : Chris Triantafilis, founder of the Isles Op-Timism blog. Be on the lookout for his writing at EYES in the future. Welcome aboard, Chris!

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