Yes, this is a sports post. A hockey post, to be precise. But you don't have to be a sports fan, let alone a hockey fan, to appreciate what winning the Stanley Cup means to hockey players.
Hockey is what's called a "niche sport." It doesn't have much of a "casual fan" base to speak of. It has painfully low TV numbers. (I'm talking about here in the States, of course... not in our neighbors' country to the north) It has a rabid core fan base, but compared to the other big three sports it pales in comparison.
And yet Lord Stanley's Cup is widely regarded as the single greatest trophy in all of sports, the world over. First, it's the oldest professional trophy competed for in North America. Second, it has the names of the men who won it engraved it. And third, every player from the winning team gets to take the Cup for a day.
Hockey players don't get gigantic Nike shoe endorsements. They're not plastered all over billboards and TV and magazine ads. Sure, NHL players make good money, but nothing like the money made by players in the other big three sports. They don't play for glory.
They play for the Cup.
Until he wins the right to hoist it over their head, an NHL player won't touch that Cup. Will not touch it, no matter how close to it he gets. It's part superstition, and part deference. I don't want to jinx myself, and besides, I haven't earned the right.
Ask Rob Niedermayer. His brother, Scott, won the damn thing three times with New Jersey. In 2003, big brother Scott's Devils beat little brother Rob's Anaheim Ducks in game 7 of the finals. Rob's brother Scott had the Cup in his possession three times and Rob wouldn't touch it.
Last night, when the final horn blew and Anaheim had beaten Ottawa to win the series, Scott (named MVP of the playoffs) picked up that Cup, raised it over his head, and then handed it to little brother Rob, tears streaming down his face.
Hell, I wanted Ottawa to win and I had tears in my eyes.
But it's always that way. No matter whom I'm rooting for, no matter who's on the winning team, I get chills when I see that Cup being raised. I think to myself, there can't be a more awesome feeling of victory. Of reaching a monumental goal.
As a hockey player myself -- a sorry excuse for a hack of a weekend warrior hockey player -- I daydream of lifting that Cup over my head and skating around the ice.
Of course, given that that'll never happen, if I ever get close to that thing I'm touching the hell out of it.