Back in December, the St. Louis Blues were the worst team in hockey. It felt like, at the time, a pretty fitting team for me to be watching. A team I’ve always loved, and has always been, historically, pretty okay, but it’s also a team that had never made the Stanley Cup Final in my lifetime. And since I’m starting to get older, that’s not a good statistic.
That said, I recently lost a parent, my father, and something I never knew was that after a parent dies you’re kind of worthless for a while. A couple months ago I had drinks with a friend who had just lost a parent and he asked when the grieving stops. The thing I learned from 2018 is that it doesn’t really stop, but the trick, for me, was to kind of embrace it and make it a part of who you are. And once that happens, it changes you. Maybe there’s a newfound empathy that wasn’t there before. For me, it appears, one of my end results seems to be I stopped fearing travel. (I know, it’s kind of weird.)
So in January I got on a plane and flew to Kansas City for the AFC Championship game between the Chiefs and the New England Patriots and I screamed my head off for my team. It felt so good to scream. For the first time in over a year, I felt awake. I felt there. I felt present. And it wasn’t just that I got to scream, it was that I got to scream at Tom Brady, which made it somehow even better. Oh, and I screamed loud and long. It’s a weird thing, screaming. There’s really no place to go in New York City, where I’ve lived for almost two decades, and just scream as loud as you want without someone calling the authorities. But here I was, in Kansas City, at a game that decided who got to play in the Super Bowl, screaming as loud as I possibly could, alongside roughly 77,000 other people. For most of them, it was to prevent Tom Brady from successfully completing a play (frankly, it didn’t stop him very often), but, for me, it was also therapy.
It was a last minute decision to go to this game, but one that would affect how I would live my life in 2019. I started saying yes to doing things. Flying to Kansas City (where I went to high school, but hadn’t visited since 2004) on a moment’s notice to watch a football game? That’s crazy! Also, I hate flying. Ergo, I hate traveling because the parts about dealing with the airports and the airplanes aren’t worth the rest of the trip. But, since what I was doing sure wasn’t working, I decided to use the George Costanza trick and do the opposite of what my instinct said to do. Fly to Kansas City to sit in the cold to root for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs? Yes, I will do that. And when I was in Arrowhead Stadium, literally freezing (at one point I couldn’t feel my foot and was legitimately worried), I felt so alive.
So, to keep this going, I went “all in” — for me, anyway — on travel. To somehow make an inherently lousy experience the best experience it can be. To actually embrace this thing I fear and dread. I signed up for a credit card that automatically converts money spent to airline miles. I then signed up for TSA Precheck and Global Entry (honestly, I cannot recommend this enough; my average security wait time is about three minutes now). I now kind of look at George Clooney in Up in the Air as a hero. The airline I use, their app is like a game now – I’m constantly checking my points – and I want to win the game.
So after going to the Sundance Film Festival in January I was asked if I wanted to go to Las Vegas to cover CinemaCon? That used to be a “no,” this year it was a “yes.” Immediately after that, did I want go to Chicago for Star Wars Celebration? Yes. Hey, remember how depressing your birthday was in 2018? Do you want to instead go to Aruba this year for your birthday? Oh, in the past that would have been an automatic no … but now, that’s a yes. Why am I writing this? Well, maybe someone reading this has experienced something similar and just maybe this can help. (Also, the idea of writing some of these trips off on my tax returns next year is appealing, so there’s that, too. So, I’d say 50 percent “to help,” and 50 percent ”tax write-off.” Okay, maybe 40/60.)
And that brings me back to the St. Louis Blues.
Specifically, it’s kind of weird that, in January, as I started doing stuff, my Blues started playing a little bit better. They just became a fun team to watch. Something that made me feel good. Somehow, this last place team fought their way into the playoffs and played in three playoff rounds where, every time, I was told by experts, “Hey, they had a good run, but they aren’t as good as the Jets/Stars/Sharks, so this is probably the end of the road.” And, honestly, that was fine. They were playing with house money. They shouldn’t have been here anyway. But all I knew was watching this team made me happy. The Blues, the NHL team from my home state, were at the lowest of lows, and now, only a few months later, they were playing for the Stanley Cup. It’s hard not to find some meaning in that.
(I’ve especially become obsessed with rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, who became the starter around the time the Blues started playing well. Nothing fazes him. He can have a terrible game, then bounce back like nothing ever happened. This seems like a good way to live life. He’s become famous for his bounce-back games and lack of emotion. I want this to be my bounce-back year. I’m still working on the emotion part.)
As fate would have it, a friend of mine was able to get me tickets to the Stanley Cup Final at face value prices. So, yes, of course I flew to St. Louis to watch the Blues play in the Stanley Cup Final. Twice. And I screamed and I screamed, along with 18,000 other Blues fans. And again it felt so good to scream. Again, I was in the moment. I wasn’t thinking about being sad or what I needed to do the next day. I was there. This was my team. They helped me when not a lot of things were not helping. No matter what happens, I am eternally grateful for whatever it is they are doing.
The funny thing is, the Chiefs wound up losing that game to the Patriots. And in both Stanley Cup Final games I went to, the Blues lost to the Bruins. Three times this year I flew back home to Missouri to watch my team come up short to a Boston team. All three times my team lost – but, somehow, I still feel like I won.
As for game seven tonight: GO BLUES!
You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.