Coyotes a bust but Cardinals stole show

There aren’t many occasions where you can combine a sports trip with a family vacation, but that’s exactly what my Christmas break turned into.
My family and I had hatched a plan in the fall to fly down to Phoenix, Ariz. over Christmas to take in a Coyotes’ game as well as visit an aunt and uncle we rarely see up here (I don’t think they like the weather in Canada).
Despite some unco-operative weather in the desert, it still was a memorable getaway.
We didn’t see much of the sun, and it was cold by Arizona standards, but a stroke of luck enabled us to take in both the hockey game and the NFL’s Arizona Cardinals’ regular-season finale against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Coyotes disappointed me, as always, in a lacklustre 4-0 defeat at the hands of the L.A. Kings, but the Cardinals’ game was exciting with plenty to cheer about from the home side.
The art of “tailgating” is taken to a whole new level in the United States, and I couldn’t believe the effort put forth by thousands of fans hours before the game. Some had DirecTV dishes attached to the roofs of their vehicles, with multiple flat-screen HD televisions set up on the open tailgate of their trucks, while barbecues churned out burgers and ’dogs with all the fixings.
We got some discounted seats in the lower bowl (another stroke of luck) and had a great view of the action. The University of Phoenix Stadium is second-to-none in the NFL and there’s nothing quite like being surrounded by 60,000 screaming people in an atmosphere only the NFL can provide.
It’s not the $9 beers, the $6 hotdogs, or the $30 parking pass that make it a memorable experience. It’s not the obnoxious fan who stands up all game instead of sitting in the seat they paid for, either.
It’s not the endless stream of TV time-outs nor the long security lines going in.
No, it’s none of that which makes a live NFL game so much fun. It’s more about being part of something uniquely American that unites the masses in a common goal: cheering for the home team (excluding those confident enough to show themselves in opposing teams’ colours).
Some say the NFL experience promotes a dumbed down American culture synonymous with Jerry Springer and professional wrestling. But it’s more than that.
The athleticism displayed on the field is worth the price of admission, whether it’s through a one-handed catch from Cardinals’ receiver Larry Fitzgerald (a Minnesota native) or a pinpoint rocket of a pass from quarterback Kurt Warner.
The fans unite in cheer for each dynamic play made, and they can just as quickly boo every misplay or mistake made, too.
But that’s the ebb and flow of being a fan—or a professional athlete, for that matter. The cheers can turn into jeers and sway the momentum of a game in a hurry.
• • •
There definitely are some perks to living in a small town.
Spending a week in the sprawling metropolis that is the Phoenix area reinforced this. Every trip (whether to the mall, the movies, or a sporting event) is a minimum of a half-hour both ways, and often you must bank on a full hour trip both ways on a five- to seven-lane freeway.
It’s not a relaxing Sunday afternoon drive, let me tell you.
It’s probably easier for those who are in enclosed communities with grocery stores and fitness centres all within minutes, but the commute to work I imagine means waking up hours before you punch the clock.
I guess that’s the price you pay for living in the big city, but it sure would take some getting used to.
Sure, the snow sucks, but at least you can leave five minutes before a scheduled meeting and arrive on time. That just isn’t within the realm of possibilities in the Valley of the Sun.
• • •
Wasn’t that another sweet victory by our Canadian juniors Monday night? Five gold medals in a row after a 5-1 win over Sweden.
There’s nothing quite like national hockey tournaments to bring our country together, is there?
Defining Canadian identity always has been a very hard thing. Canada is rooted in difference. How can we possibly define Canadian identity when we openly admit we love our diversity, our “multiculturalism”? In the U.S., this isn’t the case, and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The culture of the United States puts pressure for difference to be absorbed, and it works for them.
But in Canada, acculturation is not necessary.
So to see people from diverse backgrounds cheering for players from Quebec to British Columbia representing the Maple Leaf, and unified as one, is something that is rare in our country.
Love it or hate it, you have to know about hockey. That’s why we take it to heart when hockey starts to become as much an American thing as a Canadian thing. Beating the U.S. on New Year’s Eve was our victory in this tournament—and the rest was just icing on the cake.
It’s not so much we hold nationwide animosity towards our neighbours to the south (though anti-Americanism is prevalent to some extent), but hockey is our thing—and losing that erodes our identity.
Not until the aftermath of World War I did Canada finally achieve an assertive identity built out of British ideals, a true sense of Canadian nationalism.
And coming together and cheering for our best junior players, as they reinforce these deeply-rooted beliefs of courage and strength built those years ago, is a special thing.
Don’t you think?

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