I have some pretty good friends–good enough that last October, as a birthday present, two of those friends took me to see an NHL game in person for the first time in decades.
Yes, that’s right–decades. It had been over thirty years since I had last witnessed an NHL game in person. That previous game–Canadiens vs. Flyers at the Spectrum, January 19, 1978–is one of the cherished memories of my life. It was brilliant fun, a wild night at an old barn of an arena, with two classic teams meeting in a hard fought mid-season battle–the kind of night that makes a kid a hockey fan for life.
And it has never bothered me one bit that the game ended in a tie.
My uncle Marty took me to that game back in 1978. We sat in possibly the worst seats in the arena: the very last row of the top deck, directly behind the goal. It didn’t matter; I was deliriously happy to be there watching my favorite team while seated among 17,000 raving lunatics who were screaming at the top of their lungs, pounding on the huge air conditioning duct bolted to the wall behind us, and calling for blood any chance they could get. (And with the Flyers in those days, blood was always a possibility.)
One look at the rosters tells you that that game could hardly have been anything other than terrific. The Flyers, a couple of years removed from their Stanley Cup victories, featured Hall of Famers Bobby Clarke, Bill Barber, and Bernie Parent, along with All-Star calibers like Rick MacLeish, Reggie Leach, and Paul Holmgren. Even so, the home team’s roster paled in comparison to the visiting Canadiens, who were in the midst of winning four straight Cups: Gainey, Lafleur, Lemaire, Dryden, Robinson, Savard, Shutt, Cournoyer–all Hall of Famers. Oh, yeah–the coaches were Fred Shero and Scotty Bowman, both now immortalized as well.
“…don’t get too high, nor too low, if you want to last in this world….Unfortunately, today we seem to have lost that perspective–in our society in general, and in the sports world in particular.”
Seriously, with star power like that in the building, did it really matter that no one won the game? Of course not. It was a privilege just to watch the teams skate to a 1-1 tie. And, if my Flyers didn’t beat the mighty Canadiens that night, we all could still believe, on the slow drive home that night (through a major blizzard), that our team could have won the game with just one more lucky bounce of the puck.
Actually, a lot of life is like that. Most days are neither glorious victories nor crushing defeats; we just get along, day in day out, fighting life to a draw. That perspective is good to have: don’t get too high, nor too low, if you want to last in this world. And don’t take anything as a do or die situation, because almost all situations aren’t.
Unfortunately, today we seem to have lost that perspective–in our society in general, and in the sports world in particular. Nowadays we almost never get to see a tie game. The NHL ditched ties several years ago for the shootout, a crackpot skills competition that has more to do with carnival games than deciding legitimate athletic competition. Basketball and baseball have never allowed ties (though with baseball there are ties in Spring Training, one of the refreshing aspects of this time of year). And of course in football–a sport that once famously featured ties in regular season games–the colleges have outlawed ties in favor of more gimmick games, while the rare NFL tie leaves everyone in the stadium scratching their heads, trying to fathom the fact that the game actually ended with no one winning.
The move away from allowing ties seems to parallel a more general trend in our society, wherein we see–as with the NFL’s brutal devotion to triumph at all costs–everything in terms of winning or nothing. Even our so-called leaders have taken up this banner; members of Congress from both parties (but, it must be said, particularly “conservatives”) demand uncompromising acquiescence to their demands, whatever the policy implications may be. Shut down the government, unilaterally negotiate with foreign powers, let the most vulnerable among us die for the sake of ideological purity–just don’t compromise on your principles in any way.
But life is compromise. And, certainly, politics is compromise. Again: on almost every day we fight life to a draw; we don’t get everything we want, but we don’t lose everything we have, either. We play life to a tie, every time we lay our heads on the pillow without everything having gone horribly wrong. Ties, like the proverbial sister-kissing, may not be satisfying, but at least you survive them to fight another day.
I can’t help but think that, in deciding that tie games weren’t good enough, we set the stage for the polarized, ungovernable mess that our nation has become today. These games do matter, folks; we watch them, play them, love them, because they reflect our nature. It may be naive to believe this, but if we could relax a bit about our sports and let a run-of-the-mill Thursday night regular season game end in a tie, we just might make our games, our country, our lives a little better, too.
I can vouch for one thing, taken from that personal experience 37 years ago: sometimes a tie is just as good as a win–and better for you in the long run.
Photo credit: the author took that photo from his seat at SAP Center at San Jose during the Columbus Blue Jackets vs. San Jose Sharks game, October 23, 2014.