Thursday, March 12, 2009

An Ode To The Fans

As I watched our beloved Panthers blow a game in which they had every opportunity to turn a six-team-for-four-spot-mad-scramble into a five-team-for-four-spot-more-comfortable-race, my thoughts turned from the team to the fans. Before I go on, I would like to acknowledge that a Florida win tonight would not have eliminated Buffalo by any stretch, but looking at the standings, the gap would have been quite overwhelming. The gap is now nearly gone.

But what about the fans? In my last blog I wrote about what an easy job we have, but tonight it didn't seem like that made sense anymore. After thrashing my desk multiple times, throwing my remote across the room, and making enough bruises in my thighs to make grape jelly look silly, I realized the job of a fan isn't always easy. Maybe in some places it is. Detroit fans sure have it nice. What about Devils fans? The Canadiens fans have certainly had their share of joy to last a franchise. They have it easy.

Panthers fans have it rough. Maybe rougher than any other NHL team, save the Blue Jackets, who have never even experienced the postseason. The Cats have played, including tonight's contest, 642 games (this is the ninth year, eight full seasons, minus one for the lockout, plus 68 games this season) without a taste of playoff hockey. That means the fans have had to cheer their hearts out in 642 games, over 38,500 minutes, without a chance to wave a rally towel over their heads. Many opportunities to get our collective hopes up, only to be cheering for nothing but pride on the season's final battle.

Maybe this can give you an insight into a Panthers fan. Maybe this can show you a little bit of why I bitch and complain about the officiating when it goes bad. Maybe this can serve as a small, dim light as to why I didn't utter a sound for over an hour after tonight's loss. As the noose that is the playoff line got a little tighter around our necks, it is common for panic to set in. With so much disappointment, and so many rough stretches that most fans dare not dream of, there is not a team that needs a playoff berth more than us.

I hope these players can fathom these numbers. They need to know that they can not only be warriors on the ice for us, but also heroes for a lifetime, finally making a dream come true that shouldn't be so hard to ask for. Over half of the NHL will make the playoffs, as always, again this April. If Florida ends up, all too familiarly, without an X by its name as the games played column strikes 82, midnight on the proverbial clock, Panthers fans everywhere will be filled with a sense of emptiness again, as we watch our rivals battle it out for Lord Stanley's Cup.

Florida has 14 games left, 28 points, to change the fate of this once promising franchise. For the consequences of another postseason-less season may have grave effects, the likes of which not even the best franchises could bounce back from. Every player donning the leaping cat on his sweater does so with the fate of a franchise on his shoulders.

This is a battle royale, in which only the strong survive. It no longer matters who we take down, nor in what fashion we do so. Ninth place is not an option. As I have written so many times, and will write again so many more...

Playoffs or bust.

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