by Clark Groome
Stupidity, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. Here are a couple of things that strike this beholder as stupid or at least ill-advised.
In the last few years many players who spent a number of years with one team but played elsewhere, have opted to retire as a member of the team with which they were most associated.
Locally Brian Dawkins’ retirement as a Philadelphia Eagle and Pat Burrell’s as a Phillie are two recent examples. This summer reliever Brad Lidge has announced that he will retire as a Phillie.
The Eagles’ long-term quarterback Donovan McNabb will hang ‘em up in Eagle green. So, I hear you muttering, what’s wrong with his intention to retire as an Eagle? Nothing at all. The problem isn’t the “what” – it’s the “when.”
Reports have the retirement celebration scheduled for the Eagles’ nationally televised Thursday night game on Sept. 19. The opponent that night? The Kansas City Chiefs. You probably don’t need to be reminded that their head coach, Andy Reid, was McNabb’s boss when he played in Philadelphia.
While at one level it makes sense to have Reid part of the ceremony, on another it’ll be a real distraction for new head coach Chip Kelly. This will be Kelly’s third regular season game in his first season, a season that follows Reid’s 14 years at the Eagles’ helm.
Why not have McNabb’s ceremony later in the year? Andy could record a nice tribute to be played on the video at the stadium. Kelly would have settled in. We’d know how the team was doing. Any game but the one in which Reid and the Chiefs are actually in the house would work fine. What they’re planning makes no sense. It pulls the focus for their new coach and his almost completely revamped team.
While that’s a case of bad timing, the NHL has opted to break the old rule “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
The first outdoor regular-season game in the NHL’s modern era took place at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, on Nov. 22, 2003. It was a huge success. A year later there was no NHL hockey, either indoors or out, due to a season-long lockout.
When the lockout ended and hockey resumed, the powers-that-be were looking for something to grab the fans’ attention. Their solution? A New Year’s Day game played outdoors.
The NHL Winter Classic was born in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2008 when the Sabres hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The 71,217 people who attended the game got a great hockey game in a magnificent setting. The Penguins’ shootout win came on a goal by Sydney Crosby, widely thought to be the league’s best player.
There were even snow flurries to make the scene complete.
The next year the Winter Classic moved to Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Boston’s Fenway Park, Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field and Philadelphia’s Citizens Bank Park followed. All of the games were very successful.
With the diminution of the traditional New Year’s Day college football bowl games’ importance, the Winter Classic became a must-see sports event. NBC did a terrific job with all of them. Five of the six highest-rated NHL games in the last 38 years have been Winter Classics.
Because of another lockout, the 2013 Winter Classic in Detroit was canceled and rescheduled for January 1, 2014.
The game has been such a hit that the NHL has announced that in addition to the Red Wings/Toronto Maple Leafs game on New Year’s Day, there will be five more outdoor games next season.
In The Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, the Anaheim Ducks will face off against the Los Angeles Kings at Dodger Stadium Jan. 25; the New York Rangers will play two at Yankee Stadium, against the New Jersey Devils Jan. 26 and against the New York Islanders Jan. 29; and the series will end at Chicago’s Soldier Field March 1 when the Blackhawks host the Penguins. The sixth outdoor game, the third Heritage Classic, is set for BC Place in Vancouver, British Columbia on March 2 (Ottawa Senators v. Vancouver Canucks).
With the exception of the game in Vancouver (there was a Heritage Classic in Calgary in 2011), the addition of four outdoor games in the United States diminishes the import and the impact of the Winter Classic. The special will become the ordinary.
I understand the desire to give more people in more markets the opportunity to experience outdoor hockey. The likelihood is that these games will make tons of money and attract thousands of fans. But won’t the Winter Classic lose the fans’ attention? Doesn’t it risk not grabbing casual viewers looking for something to watch while recovering from their New Year’s Eve celebrations? I think it will. What was a must-see event will become an if-I-can’t-see-that-one-I’ll-catch-one-of-the-others game.
As someone blessed to have attended all of the events at the Winter Classic when it was here two years ago, I can attest to how special it is. I would hate to see that special quality, the fun of it, diminished by greed. And that’s exactly what will happen if this ill-conceived four-game outdoor add-on becomes a permanent addition to the NHL’s annual schedule.