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Why I Love the Tampa Bay Lightning

Maria Melee is a writer, web designer and overall master of the digital world. She caught our eye on Twitter, won our hearts with one of the best personal blogs online, and kept them for life when we found out that she loved hockey as much as we do. We like that in a girl, and are honored to feature this diehard Tampa fan in our latest installment of Why I Love

When I was tiny, my dad used to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch the Bruins play.  I’d stand up and put my hand over my heart while Rene Rancourt sang the National Anthem and sometimes Canada’s anthem.  (I had a weird crush on him.  No lie.)  I was a Bruins fan, through and through.

In 1992, when I was twelve, we got our own team.  A hockey team in Florida, which is like a bobsled team in Jamaica, but cooler.  Because we have psychotic Southern fans.

The Tampa Bay Lightning started playing in a tiny Expo Hall in Tampa at the fairgrounds.  In 1994, they moved to my hometown and started playing in a gigantic stadium dubbed The Thunderdome.  That coincided with me rounding the bend into teenager-dom and becoming 110% boy crazy.

I lived and breathed hockey. I went to nearly every home game. General admission tickets were less than $10.  My mom would drop me off before the game, and my best friend and I would buy cheap seats and sneak down to the good ones during the practice before the game.  We sat along the boards.  We sat directly next to the penalty box.  We collected pucks and sticks.  We painted our faces and made signs and started the wave and tried to get on the Jumbotron.  I attended one of those charity events and skated around with the players and nearly died of infatuation.  I was for-effing-real in love with #39, Enrico Ciccone, the badass defenseman who kind of looked like Casey Jones from the Ninja Turtles.

My jersey is signed by the entire roster of the 95-96 team, including the coach Terry Crisp and commentator Bobby “The Chief” Taylor.  (My friend and I would stalk the players’ exit after the games.  We were such nutballs.) When we went to the playoffs that season, I was at the game that for years held the highest attendance record in the NHL with over 28,000 fans.

On the very last game in the Thunderdome, we hopped the fences half an hour after the game and ran across center ice to sit on the bench.  I can only imagine that the security guards took pity on the two tall, nerdy girls having a complete spaz attack over sitting where the actual players had sat.  That night, we ended up wandering to the locker room and standing around with the players’ wives and kids.  To this day, I have no idea how we managed to pull that off.

Then the lockout happened and the Lightning never seemed to bounce back.  Shit happened. I graduated high school and left for college and rarely went to games anymore.

My team sucked. But they were still my team.

Then, in 2002, things turned around for the Lightning.  We picked up Vinny Lecavalier and my all time hockey crush of the universe, Marty (the hockey hobbit) St. Louis, and we started making noise again.

In 2004, the year I got married, my boys went to the playoffs.  On the day I got married, I kept running downstairs from the reception to the bar to check the score.  The next morning, we left on a cruise out of Tampa.  It basically turned into the Hockey Shenanigans cruise, with a crew full of Canadians and a whole bunch of Tampa Bay fans watching each game in the theater on the ship, shit talking and screaming and drinking.   I’ve never had so much fun ever, in my life.  My poor husband had no choice but to get dragged along in my frenzy.

The Stanley Cup finals went seven games.  By Game 7, we were back home in Gainesville.  I sat on my futon with my best dude friend and didn’t breathe for the entire game.  At one point when we scored, we screamed so loud my cat literally ran up the wall until he hit the ceiling. Shenanigans! Best night of my life!  God, it was amazing.

Now, as I round toward my seventh wedding anniversary, my boys are back in the playoffs.  They have to win tomorrow night against the Boston Bruins, the team I grew up cheering for.

They have to win tomorrow night.

And this time, I’ll be in the cheap seats in my 16-year-old Tampa Bay Lightning jersey.  And I will believe, and I will scream myself hoarse, and I will wonder when I got older than the players, and I will remember being a little girl in love with the tough guys on skates.

Let’s go Lightning.

Image courtesy of Maria.

Why I Hate Duke

Another awesome Why I Love post that we’ve been sitting on for a while. Never one to follow the rules, DC Urban Dad  wrote about what he hates. I thought with March Madness coming soon this would be a good time to post this. Besides, hating on Duke is a polarizing topic.

This is gonna be tough, but it just has to be done.  I can’t wait any longer.  Tough part is what I am about to say might actually put my grandmother in the grave and for that I am truly sorry.  I just can’t go on living like this.  The truth shall set me free, so here goes…..

Granmdma, I don’t like Duke.  No sorry that’s not enough.  I – HATE – Duke and I despise Coach K.

I realize that this might come as a shock to you.  Growing up, you knew me to bleed dark blue.  I mean Grandpa graduated from Duke and Mom was basically from Durham, my allegiance was a forgone conclusion.  I went to Duke basketball camp not once but twice, I followed Christian Laettner’s career like he was a diety, I nervously watched every Final Four match up and even sat in Wallace Wade and cheered on the Duke football team.  I was a die-hard Blue Devil.

Then I went to college and went to UNC.  It didn’t hit me at first.  It took a few years to sink in, but even though I did not go to a single basketball or football game for that matter, I converted.  Now some years later I am not a Tarheel born, but bred and when I die I will be a Tarheel dead.  And well that’s why I just have to tell you…..

I hate their swagger and cockiness.

I hate the way Coach K whines and looks like a rat.

I hate the way they slap the floor on defense.

I hate their goofy expressions.

I hate the way they take fouls.

I hate the way they always shoot 3’s.

I hate their mascot and their logo.

I hate Kville.

I love to hate them.  And nothing you say or do can reverse this.

I only hope you can still love me,

Your Grandson

Matt Haverkamp is the author and responsible party behind DC Urban Dad.  He has been a husband for over 10 years, a blogger for just under 3 and a father for just over 2.  He has not mastered either, but keeps trying.

Why I Love The Tennessee Titans

So we were running this wonderful series called “Why I Love…” and we had all these amazing guest bloggers writing posts about why they loved their teams. Then somehow we got sidetracked, but we didn’t forget, and when we come back, we come back big. Our friend Busy Mom tells us why she loves the Tennessee Titans.

In 1997, a group of football players relocated to Tennessee from Houston, and they didn’t attract a whole lot of attention what with their out-of-context name and oil rig logo helmets. They played at some random stadium in Memphis, and people went to see them out of curiosity, but not many.

Their path to Tennessee was a tough one. It was equal parts, “No way!” and “NFL Yes!” around here in the years leading up to their arrival. Some people were ready for Nashville to move up, and have a professional team like other cities, while others were violently opposed to paying for a new stadium and bringing an NFL team to town.

This is football country. On Friday night, you go to the high school game, on Saturday morning, you go to the the grade school game and Saturday afternoon is the main show: college football. It’s just what we do.

Until then, it had just never been professional football country, and people were wary. Would it take the support from Vanderbilt and UT? Can we support a pro team after all this work?

As it turns out, we could.

The Tennessee Oilers moved to their new home in Nashville (with the revolving name) and had their best season in franchise history, going undefeated at home. Something changed, then. They became our team, they couldn’t be beat, “not in our house”. They even made a run for the Super Bowl just a few years later with the Music City Miracle:

Though we lost, it felt like we couldn’t be stopped.

It became something separate, even complimentary (most of the time) to our existing football traditions. It was new, and our city opened up to the them. Our team. There were heroes on the field: Steve McNair, Frank Wycheck, Eddie George, and Kevin Dyson, just to name a few. Nashville and our state took pride in our team, Titans jerseys were popping up everywhere as were the ubiquitous car flags.

It’s hard to believe 13 years have gone by, and our original heroes are doing other things, now. Players have come and gone, sometimes for the better (*cough* Pacman *cough*), and some years have been better than others, that’s for sure (8-8 forever, anyone?). But, the Titans are still our rallying point even when it’s fun to moan about them, or hotly debate Jeff Fisher’s tenure, Kerry Collins’ lack of mobility or Vince Young’s…everything.

We still love our college and high school football, but this is separate, there’s just something kind of cool the first time of the season that Mike Keith screams, “TOUCHDOWN! TITANS!” on the radio.

But, one of my favorite things about having an NFL team in town  is seeing how they’ve become part of our community.

I know it’s part of their job, and I get that this is such a girly thing to notice, but many of these guys had no connection to Nashville before the Titans arrived, and it’s cool to see how they “get it”. Many of them have settled here because they came for work, and now they want to stay.

Though it’s not my story to tell, I can personally vouch for the fact that Cortland Finnegan is not only an awesome football player, but he has been an amazing part of an important community close to me. He is the real deal, and it’s not part of his contract.

In May, 2010, Nashville suffered a devastating flood, the likes of which will never be seen again for hundred of years.

Yes, it really was that bad.

Even though their own stadium and their offices were under water, the Titans didn’t just throw money at the situation, they loaded up a bus and they got to work in some of the hardest hit areas.

They are a class act, overall, but, mostly we yell and scream at the TV or in person each week from August to January while they do their jobs on Sunday afternoon.

Even when I threaten to go down there and play myself, and when they seem to be the most frustrating team on the planet what with running everydamnball and that pesky “catching the ball” thing when they do throw it, they’re still our Titans.

Busy Mom is a native Nashvillian, a Titans fan (and a Packers fan by marriage). She can also be found at Busymom.net.

Why I Love…Ohio Stadium

Uncle Crappy, one of Pittsburgh’s finest bloggers, joins us for the latest installment of Why I Love. This man loves Ohio Stadium. (And if you’re interested in seeing a nativity scene made out of sausage and bacon? You’ll want to be visiting his blog. Go Bucks!)

By now, you know what Ohio Stadium looks like, even if you’ve never been to a game in Columbus.

You know the Horseshoe, the three decks, the now-permanent stand in the stadium’s open end — the cork that holds in the noise made by 105,000 people.

But unless you’re close to my age, you probably don’t remember what Ohio Stadium used to look like. Unless you’ve seen Ohio State play at home, you haven’t seen the grey, dark underbelly of the 88-year-old building. It’s been dressed up over the years, of course — the expansion that was completed in 2001 included not only a ton of extra seats but a bunch of bells and whistles for those of us who still aren’t sitting in the shiny new suites. But when you’re walking up the ramps and staircases to C Deck, you go past the new exterior and you see it all — dirt, pipes, concrete — a dusty history of college football.

On our way up to 14C, Mrs. Crappy and I always stop here. We’re on a staircase between B Deck and C Deck, and this concrete garland hangs on what was the original facade of the building. We always stop there and tap that part of the old building before we continue to the climb to our seats. See how that one is relatively free of dust? I think we’re not the only ones who stop to make that brief, superstitial connection with the stadium’s past.

From our regular seats, we see what you see — wide open field, band, scarlet-clad fans from the front row of A Deck to the top of the building. A couple weeks ago we gave up our seats to visiting family members and moved down to B Deck, tucked underneath our normal perch. And yeah, there are new scoreboards and video monitors down there, but that’s the building I’ve been visiting since I was seven years old. That’s where I watched Archie Griffin, Chris Spielman, Eddie George, and Orlando Pace. That’s where my father watched Hop Cassady and Vic Janowicz in their Heisman Trophy seasons; it’s where he watched a group of sophomores — Rex Kern, John Brockington and Jack Tatum — bury a top-ranked Purdue team on my second birthday on the way to a national championship.

It was the home to half of the games of the Ten Year War, when Woody Hayes paced one sideline and his protege, Bo Schembechler, paced the other. The Michigan game was often torturous in those years, at least until a coach from Youngstown showed up in Columbus. Jim Tressel’s first season was also the first year we got a look at the “new” Ohio Stadium. the one with the lower field, an extended upper deck and space for 10,000 extra people. And with the Michigan game that season — a 26-20 Ohio State upset that knocked the Wolverines out of contention for the Big Ten title — it became clear that the two-pronged change was going to be more than symbolic.

I love the new building, and it’s built its own history in the last decade. There’s another national title, and another Heisman Trophy. There have been big games, against Texas, Southern Cal, Miami. There have been two other national championship games, BCS bowls. And, in a series of the greatest rivalry in sports, there was The Biggest Game, the 2006 No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup against Michigan. And I’ve been there for all of them.

With the success on the field, Ohio Stadium has become a different place. The expanded upper deck towers over field, which was dropped by 15 feet when the track was removed as part of the renovation. Bleachers in the open end were replaced with a much larger, solid set of stands. The sound has nowhere to go but towards the field. I’ve heard loud in the old building — like when I scored a B Deck student ticket to the 1995 Notre Dame game — but loud in the new building is something else. Ohio State’s defenders often talk about watching the linemen on the other side of the ball, motioning to their quarterback that they can’t hear.

It is the very definition of a home-field advantage, and the guys on the field wouldn’t have it any other way.

But for me, it’s not just a home field. Since 1973, it has been home.

Why I Love…Florida State Football

Kris, our latest guest poster in the Why I Love… series, tells us why she loves a team that the people in Florida go crazy for, the mighty Seminoles. I (Sarah) almost went to FSU. I had a deposit on my dorm room and everything. I changed my mind but this post makes me wonder what it would have been like to be a part of this. I would have been a sophomore when Bobby Bowden won his first National Championship. I also think I would have had one hell of a time going tailgaiting with Kris.

Let me be clear: I don’t love football. I don’t have a pro team that makes me violent when they lose, a player who I’d smack a grandma for dissing. I read ESPN only when there’s a death or a scandal. While the rest of America packs a fridge and a couch on Sundays, I spend the day shopping or catching up on 48 Hours Mystery or clipping my mother’s cats’ nails. Fantasy teams is a term restricted to porn. I just don’t have the lust for the game, the passion that drives the believers to purchase exorbitant cable packages and helmets to house their beer. But I have a college team, one to which I’m faithful. It’s one I wear face paint, metallic pom poms, and every viable shade of garnet for. I’ve wilted in 100 degree heat for this team, celebrated them to a national championship at their height and defended them when the going got rough. It continues to be rough. So no, I don’t love just football. I love Florida State football.

I love Florida State football because it brought my spirit back. In high school, I was the picture of faith and support. Never a cheerleader or bandie, I nonetheless sat on the sidelines to support our Wildcats. I traveled to away games, forced to ride the hump in the back of whatever Taurus or K Car’s owner agreed to drive. We knew every word to We Didn’t Start the Fire and even cooler, most REM songs, even the ones they didn’t play on the radio. We went to games wearing whatever was closest to J. Crew at the time, filling our falls with pegged jeans, crew necked sweaters and barn jackets. We drank hot cocoa in the days before coffee was cool and screamed in high pitches when a skinny senior got the 70-yard touchdown. We clipped the article when a friend signed on the dotted line for the 1990 Boston College team. For a few months each year, under canopy of blazing red and orange leaves, we loved football.

I went to college the picture of spirit. I wanted to tailgate, to wear gray sweatshirts bearing my school’s name, to eat 7-layer dip out of the back of a wood-paneled station wagon. I pictured college would be what it might have been in the early 60s: letterman’s jackets and all the pomp and circumstance a proud community could display. It wasn’t to be. Football wasn’t a thing at my school; sports weren’t remotely their forte. I spent four years barely existing at that college – scotch taping my university sticker to the back window rather than displaying it proudly. My dissatisfaction was the result of so many things, of course – of a bad academic fit and a heart that was elsewhere – but I hated it. As I’ve heard so many say about their experiences in high school, I couldn’t wait to get out of college. I just knew there were bigger and better things. Turns out there were.

I went to my first FSU game in 1998. Dozens would follow. I don’t think I’ll ever forget those games at Doak; 80,000 fans strong, there wasn’t an open seat in the house. Before each and every match up, a van would drive through town with the opposing team’s mascot impaled on its roof. Tailgating began at breakfast, at times simply a continuation of a Friday night out. Students stood in long lines to translate coupons into tickets, walked in throngs to the stadium, packs of khaki shorts and caps and visors. And these fans were rabid. Both young and ancient, they were on their feet for all quarters, often in the unmerciful panhandle sun, their hairlines dampened by sweat. These people didn’t just love football; they lived it. And I did too. In my mid-twenties, I learned to light a grill and make a proper hamburger. I ate my family’s weight in tater tots and grew something of a right arm muscle from doing the tomahawk chop. I felt the roar of the faithful when we scored and held my head up proudly when we lost. When out of town, I refreshed my browser for scores more than a sane person should. Florida State football gave me a home, a place to pledge my loyalty. Florida State, in its late-90’s heyday, brought my spirit back.

I too love Florida State football because it connected me to my father. Since he was a child, my dad loved the sport. He played it on the farm as a boy, watched his local high school games with great dedication, and while at college at the University of Pittsburgh, found his own home team. He was fiercely loyal to his chosen few – most notably the Steelers – but cheered on our locals, as well. Dad was an engineer and was meticulous, detailed in all things. He was sure to tell me that while New York always laid claim to the Giants, that they weren’t theirs at all, but in fact played in my motherland of New Jersey and were technically “the Football Giants.” I cared not.

As a young girl, I cared about sticker books and grading fake papers and learning to bake muffins with a light bulb. I read constantly and grimaced when he encouraged any physical activity. Soccer? Fail. Softball? I’m glad there isn’t photographic evidence. Dad fared no better with my older sister, a woman who chose books over basketball, nor my mother, who has never, to my extensive knowledge, worn a pair of jeans or sneakers. On Sunday nights, he’d be banished to the den, snack basket in hand, while we watched Murder She Wrote and ironed the next day’s clothing. My father’s loud claps would shake the living room door and I’d grin and wonder just what was so special about men running around on the grass. I’d join him for a few minutes at a time, hoping to gain some insight if only by osmosis alone. Football? It was something of a special club to which only men belonged. There had to be something to it. Turns out there was.

It didn’t happen until I was 28, but it happened. My parents had moved to Virginia by then, to the condo where they would soon retire and where, sadly, my father would pass away in 2008. Home for Thanksgiving, we watched our first Florida State game together. He explained the nuances of the game to me, why running up the middle hardly works and just how far you really want to kick a ball down the field. One game became a few, became halftime conversations courtesy of archaic cell phones and the post-game retelling of where I was when. Over my time in Tallahassee, Dad amassed quite a collection of fan fare: an FSU Dad pin, a garnet and gold foam finger, a pair of truly awful socks that somehow turned out to be a lucky charm. When I was at school for a losing home game, my father would call apologetically, confessing he’d forgotten to don his socks for the first two quarters. I’d instruct him to rectify the situation quickly. He’d chuckle and oblige. It often worked. When I was on his couch for games, we’d tailgate off my parents’ kitchen table and high five when appropriate. When the game wasn’t televised, we’d listen to the live streaming of each play as drives unfolded. And in the days before the dawn of DVR, when a particularly important episode of Something struck my mother’s fancy, my father and I would retire to the den, chips and salsa in hand, to clap loudly until the door shook.

So yes. I love Florida State football. I love it for the pride it brings its fans, for the absurd narcissism it brings its players, for the passion it lends the name of the university. I love it for bringing my heart back to stories about my years at school, for the ties it’s afforded me, for the hangers in my closet devoted to all things garnet and the countless hours I’ve spent drinking cheap beer in its honor. Few things make me as feisty, as defensive in my loyalty. Let the record show that I’d never really smack a grandma for mocking one of our Seminoles. Unless, of course, she was a Florida fan.