There was a lot of hubbub — some might even go so far as to say hullabaloo — this week about the fact that Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara had the nerve to actually be photographed at the Stanley Cup party of his neighbor and best friend Marian Hossa.
What temerity it must take to show that he has not spent the summer doing nothing but riding an exercise bike in a sweltering basement 20 hours a day, then crying in agony another three, before sleeping un-fitfully through the remaining 60 minutes, so haunted should he be by nightmares of losing in by the narrowest of margins, the most agonizing fashion imaginable, in a series in which his team won two out of six games.
Except not really, of course.
This was and, I suppose, still is a product of the fact that the photo came out on Aug. 12, when the only other notable news was that the Maple Leafs signed MLSE president Tim Leiweke's future son-in-law despite underwhelming AHL numbers as a 28-year-old. And that minor embarrassment to the worst-run organization in the league only came several hours after Chara humiliated himself by being photographed with the guy who was best man at his wedding on a day of celebration had broken, allowing everyone to get their dander up about something this insipid.
This is the kind of thing that makes crybaby hometown fans and bored sportswriters (who are sometimes one in the same) stuck in their summer doldrums all upset.
Doesn't Chara know what this looks like? Isn't he so wounded by having lost some hockey games just a matter of months ago that he should have been compelled to wander the Slovakian countryside flagellating himself in penance for getting smoked to the outside for all those Blackhawks goals? Doesn't he care about what his fans, who've had a gorgeous summer and super-successful baseball team to help them get over it, will think of his turn-coatery?
The answer to all those questions is no. What people who care about sports teams tend to forget is that the guys they spend so much time and energy and money supporting and rooting for and caring about is that this is just a job. It's a high-paying and high-profile job, to be sure, but a job nonetheless. They can't spend every hour of every day being torn apart by failure, in the same way that these same people would excoriate them for resting on their laurels and reveling in wins, however glorious they may have been. You can't ask for that kind of "Ya gotta want it!" compartmentalization from winners only. Otherwise everyone would spend all year dwelling on a loss suffered Oct. 2 and no one would accomplish anything.
Chara, you'll recall, knows fairly well the ins and outs of everything that goes with winning and losing a Stanley Cup, having done a bit of both in his career. He's also one of the best captains in the league, if not its foremost. No Bruins player, and you can bet your life on this, looked at the photo of Chara hanging out with his friend, the guy who was best man at his wedding, who lives across the freakin' street and thought, "Well, I don't buy him as a team leader any more."
I don't care how many times Tuukka Rask told everyone this summer how much it sucks losing like that. The guy's name is on the damn trophy he was photographed in front of. Why is this a controversy?
Everyone obviously still sees him as a preeminent leader. And they should. Had he not been slowed by a bum hip in the latter parts of the playoffs, the Bruins probably compete in that series. Maybe they win it. If Gregory Campbell was "a hero" or whatever for playing a shift with a broken leg, Chara's insistence on playing through a hip flexor against the best team on the planet, with speed to burn, falls under the same category.
There was, during the Maple Leafs/Bruins series this spring, when the Leafs seemed unwilling to just roll over and die so Boston could ascend to its rightful spot atop the hockey universe once more, an honest-to-god belief from some in the Boston media and fanbase that Chara should be removed as captain (in favor of Patrice Bergeron) for, you know, reasons.
This latest occurrence likely validates everything they felt about why he's a quittah and a loozah and makes it so easy to forget how happy they were with his puhfawmince this time two summahs ago.
Here's a hypothetical Zdeno Chara quote that would turn the whole thing on its ear, and I hope he says this to the first Boston media phony who has the stones to actually call and ask him about going to a party across the street from his house:
"Yes, I went to Marian's party to help him celebrate because we are good friends, but also to remind myself that the Stanley Cup is the ultimate goal for any NHL player. I want to remember what it felt like to fall just short, so I have the motivation to not fall that short again."
Sounds like a bunch of excuse-making, or rationalization, right? Only a step above keeping your stick on the ice and being fortunate your teammates got you the puck. But that's exactly the kind of quote writers and fans would eat up happily and ask for seconds.
What heart. What honesty. What a will to never fail again.
What a load of crap. The fact is that it doesn't matter why or even whether Chara went to Hossa's party. He could have picked the Cup up over his head and tried on Hossa's championship ring and it wouldn't have made a difference the second training camp opened a month from now. Last season is over, isn't it? Shouldn't Chara be focused on next year? That's the pablum we're fed every summer.
I guess it comes down to what we want from our athletes. We apparently need them to simultaneously live spartan lives, subsisting only on the glory of victory, while also being eternally down-to-earth and considerate of what is irrationally expected of them. It gets to that whole issue of why we'd ever want sports stars to be role models; they cannot simultaneously be "just like us," but also better than us. It's an impossible standard.
If you and your friend had similar jobs and applied for the same position at another company, but you lost out, would you not be happy for him or her? Maybe not at first, but, oh I don't know, a few months down the road perhaps? If you weren't, and simmered eternally over it, as Boston fans seem to want Chara to do, you'd be a pretty lousy friend.
To be fair, there are many people who are praising Chara for his sportsmanship in this instance, as well they should. I have no doubt that Hossa still better keep his head up when he comes across the blue line against the Bruins, but that still won't be enough for some people.
If Hossa ever wins the Cup again, Chara better be prepared to drive a bulldozer through his house, lest once again face the wrath of a pack of bored, braying morons with nothing better to do than moralize to no one in particular about it.
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