Thursday, April 2, 2009

Hockey Orphan: The Couch Tarts on the San Jose Sharks

(Click on Sleek's logo above for all the Hockey Orphan entries)

So here you are, a lonely former sports fan with no recollection of your past life. Your friends are trying to stir your memories and lure you back into the fold, but you aren't sure. There are other teams, other fan cultures to explore. Maybe you live someplace snowy and cold and yearn for sunshine. Sunshine, but not smog. Deserts aren't really your thing and humidity is just the worst in your book. You X out the two southern California teams, ditch the desert dogs and go nova on the Stars. You settle you sights on the usually sunny, occasionally foggy, reaches of the south bay area. You pack your things and make the long (or short) trek to the south bay area in search of a new, teal life.

Magically, you find yourself walking the Teal Mile. It's just before game time and the place is an explosion of teal and Thornton. You make a mental note to pick a more original jersey and follow the masses to your new home. The Tank rises like a beacon of light next to the Guadalupe River.* You enter the sacred building and walk in to find a writhing mass of fans and concession stands, Una Mas nachos and tasteless puck like burgers. You ascend to the upper bowl and find your place amongst kings. Here, in the upper reaches of the Tank is where the reputation of the loud and boisterous Tank is born.

Smelling the clean, fresh scent of “new fan”, a nice person takes you under their wing and leads you to your seat. How fortunate! You're in 208! The perfect section to be introduced to the rituals of the Tank. Your mysterious guide hands you a pamphlet. In it you find a list of tips and important information for all Sharks fans.

1st (and foremost): Thou-est must not-ith lean-ith forward! NO LEANING!!

Denizens of the upper levels will raise quite a raucous if you lean forward during the game. We don't pay to see the back of your head Mr. or Ms. New fan!

2nd: all must boo Pronger when he touch-ith the puck and must continually boo until it leaves his grasp.

3rd: If thou-est playing the Stars, thou must boo the word “star” in the National Anthem. Delicious sacrilege is at home here.

4th: If thou shall be sitting in 209 thou must arrive on time lest thou be subject to merciless taunts for the rest of the game. Also, thou shall be warned that 209 will yell “YOU SUCK” at the opposing team before the start of the anthem(s) and thou shalt be required to participate. 209 is the leader of the upper bowl and its traditions. Thou must follow the lead of 209.

5th: If at any time during intermission there is competition between the upper and lower bowl, thou must vote for the upper bowl. When the lower bowl wins a jersey, thou must complain about how they never give prizes to the “real fans” and that the lower bowl “can afford to buy their own jerseys.”

6th: Thou must hate-ith the following teams: Anaheim, Detroit, Dallas.

Thou may also hate-ith any of the other remaining teams as appropriate.

7th: Thou shalt worry endlessly when facing the Coyotes.

You look up as cheers erupt from the crowd. The team streams out of the smoking, glowing head of a Shark. How's that for an entrance? You can look but you won't find a better one anywhere in the NHL.

Suddenly it sounds like folks are booing? What's this? Ah, they're actually shouting “Cheeeeeeeechooooooooooooooooooooooooo” They take their train metaphors seriously here.

As you discover through dutiful observation as the period ticks by, Sharks fans are an emotional lot. They ride the ebbs and flows of the game as if they were a roller coaster. They are a passionate bunch, far better educated in the ways of hockey than most realize or give them credit for.

Cheers arise when bitter rivals are shown to have lost on the “out of town score board.” These fans know who is where in the standings, and who stands in their team's way of greatness.

You feel overwhelmed and look back down at your pamphlet and read the following words of wisdom:

17,496. Get used to that number. It's a sell out and you'll hear it more often than not at games.

Yes, even here in sunny San Jose, fans stream in from all points of the bay to watch their beloved Sharkies. The Sharks have quite the following and a great deal of support from their fans both in and around the South Bay.

The buzzer sounds indicating your first period has come to a close. More time to consult your fandom pamphlet!

It's not all rainbows and butterflies in the land of teal. Nay, there are some downsides to being a Sharks fan.

Despite the large and passionate fan base the Sharks have, the team remains one of the best kept sports secrets in the Bay Area. The lack of local coverage is astounding.

Second round taunts are common throughout the season. It doesn't matter that the Sharks did, in fact, advance to the Conference Finals only to be defeated at the hands of the Flames in 2004. It's all about those 3 consecutive second round eliminations.

Those three early bows have also left Sharks fans with a bit of a complex. They whine relentlessly if their team doesn't win all 82 games. Come playoff time, it's all woe is me and “we'll never make it out of the second round.”, unless of course it's, “this is our year!” and “nothing can stop us now!”

Sharks fans have a lot of pride in their team, and often take out their frustrations over not being taken seriously on the player/current position in the standings/Detroit/Ron Wilson.**

You will have to become used to hearing the following things:

not a real hockey market, it never snows there (ignore that the mountains surrounding the South Bay indicate otherwise), Californians don't know jack about hockey, they shouldn't have a team, they shouldn't have three teams, all the fans are transplanted Canadians, the Tanks never sells out, no one there plays hockey, “disappearing Joe”, no heart...

It doesn't matter that these fact aren't true, you will hear them.

As the second period begins, you settle in. You feel welcomed in this new teal family and despite the downfalls, you're going to stick it out. This seems like a good place. A season or two under your belt will only make it better.

*This is the Bay Area. It's really more like a stream with mood swings.

** Only valid in the years 2003 through 2008.

(Thanks a bunch to Gray and the gang at Couch Tarts. Make sure to follow them and their great coverage of the San Jose Sharks.)


jamestobrien said...

That shark biting the lady picture is the gift that keeps giving.

AmyB said...

That picture is quite charming. I don't know much about the Sharks but every once in a while when I get to watch a Sharks game here in the east i definitely watch it. I never knew their fans were so adorable. We also talk shit on the rich folks down in the lower sections.

(Unless Student Rush was kind to me and I got seats in the lower section. Then I'm all over it.)