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Monday, May 27, 2019

It's Not Easy Being a Blues Fan in Exile, 1,700 Miles from St. Louis

Posted By on Mon, May 27, 2019 at 6:45 AM

click to enlarge Rooting for a team away from its home can be a lonely endeavor, the author knows. - FLICKR/PAUL SABLEMAN
  • Rooting for a team away from its home can be a lonely endeavor, the author knows.

Of all the teams I have ever followed, only one has failed to deliver a championship. To be a fan of the Blues has been to be in constant and numb pain, decades in the making. To make matters worse is to suffer this fandom mostly alone outside of St. Louis. St. Louis is a fan city, by which I mean that everyone in St. Louis is a fan of the team, be it Cardinal red or Blues. When the team plays, everyone the city is that color. That the Blues color is also associated with sadness is an unfortunate coincidence. But at least you can commiserate over some Imo’s and beer with your friends.

In California, I can’t even find a dedicated Cardinals bar, much less one for Blues. Season after season, I mutter to myself as I box my Blues gear for storage, swearing off the team, only to unpack it again the following season with renewed cautious optimism.

But in 2019, this is a happy story. Living in San Francisco, I don’t have many opportunities to watch the Blues play in person; having them win the Western Conference finals so close to home felt like destiny. I even got to go to a game.

“Scott, congratulations, you got your dream,” a friend tells me last week. I got part of my dream, I think, but keep in mind I went to the game in San Jose. At the Shark tank there were some Blues fans, to be sure, but I was still surrounded by the enemy, with the place erupting every time the Sharks scored and me rising up in silence when the Blues did. It was even more confusing because the light behind the Blues net wouldn’t light up right away, so I felt that fatalistic tightness thinking my lying eyes had deceived me or that the ref had taken away the goal each time. As far as Blues playoffs go, this was a familiar feeling.

“They’re a snake-bitten franchise,” my friend says about the Sharks, and I don’t correct her, because why compare all our snake bites?

I was at my local bar in San Francisco for Game 3. One of the regulars wanted to bet on the game. I declined and heard “Blues suck” — not from the guy, from the group in town for a bachelor party from Chicago. I was outnumbered by my worst hockey enemy in my own watering hole.

My hatred of Chicago goes back to the Norris division. I don’t care what you say, this was the golden age of hockey. Back then the Blues consisted entirely of two Cavallini brothers minus one digit, some pugilists, some future Hall of Famers on a rotating basis and about a dozen Sutters. There were two teams we hated, the devil of the moment depending on the year, either the Blackhawks or the Red Wings. We hated Chicago more consistently, they’re who took the Cavallini digit. When those teams played at the Arena, “there was blood on the ice, blood in the stands and blood in the parking lot after the game,” as the old reporters used to write.

It was a glorious time. My best hockey memories are the St. Patrick’s Day Massacre and Cujo fighting Cheveldae, who got what he deserved. “Old-time hockey, Coach?” Yes! Old-time hockey, let’s wrap some aluminum foil on our hands and go out there, “skate, boys, skate” as those same reporters used to write at other times, and my friends and I knew that Slapshot was based on the Blues, even if it wasn’t.

That’s one reason that hand pass goal in Game 3 was so devastating. That hand pass wasn’t just a missed call or just bad luck. It was 49 years of missed calls and bad luck. “Here we go again,” I thought and looked on instinct alone to possibly fight the bros from Chicago. I’ve never actually been in a bar fight, am too old for it and wouldn’t even want to. (Turns out they had left earlier anyway.)

You want to know what it’s like to bleed Blues, it’s a story of two goals. Every Stanley Cup montage as far as I remember has included the greatest hockey photo in hockey history, “The Flying Bobby Orr,” or “the Goal” as Boston knows it, flying past the Blues, 21 years before the Sharks ever played their first game. We haven’t been back to the Cup Finals since.

“Gretzky has it, loses it, Yzerman picks it up …” I feel my heart, still to this day. I feel the rug on the floor against my knees where I dropped to the floor. I’m shirtless, because I was living in south city and that’s the rule there. My Busch beer. drank to appease the hockey gods, drops from my hand. I see that 1996 goal from Casey’s perspective, always, even though most highlight reels show it differently. Casey, who wasn’t even supposed to have been in goal but for Fuhr’s injury. That goal hurts to this day. I wasn’t even that innocent then but that goal really took what remained. By the aughts I no longer lived in St. Louis, but I didn’t take another lover, Laura Branigan; I still bleed Blues.

To win in hockey you just have to score more goals than they do. And boy did the Blues ever last week, outscoring the Sharks twelve goals to two over the last three games. Tarasenko even scored the Blues’ first ever playoff penalty goal in 41 years of Blues making the playoffs. So much pain and anger unpacked by these 2019 Blues. The best therapy. I believe again.

Arms raised, I walked back into my bar for happy hour after the Blues’ ultimate victory. I’m being congratulated, and Sharks fans are now rooting for the Blues. Turns out no one outside of Boston likes Boston teams.

In 1970, the Blues had no chance to beat the Bruins. Ask Scotty Bowman, who was the Blues’ coach back then. But these aren’t your fathers’ Blues, Boston. To bleed Blues now is to know that we will win.

I’m coming to St. Louis to see the Blues play for the Cup. I want to see the third goal, the one that will define this franchise in the years to come. Play “Gloria” at the end.

W. Scott Krol grew up in St. Louis and now follows the Cardinals and the Blues from San Francisco. you can reach him via email or twitter @wskrol.

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