Mon Apr 12 06:11pm EDT
Travis Hair, 29, has been a Phoenix Coyotes fan since the franchise relocated from Winnipeg in 1997. In the last year, he's witnessed the team declare bankruptcy, nearly leave for Canada in a court battle, get purchased by the NHL and then have its ownership remain uncertain for the entirety of the 2009-10 season.
Oh, yeah: He also witnessed the Coyotes post a franchise-best 50 wins and 107 points, earning a Stanley Cup playoff seed for the first time since 2002.
Hair, who runs the Coyotes blog Five For Howling on the SB Nation network, enthusiastically purchased playoff tickets for Phoenix's Western Conference playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings, beginning at home on Wednesday night.
This gave "Chemmy," a blogger for the Toronto Maple Leafs site Pension Plan Puppets, an inspired moment of lunacy: If Detroit fans at the game dared continue the Red Wings tradition of throwing an octopus on the ice during a road game, shouldn't the Phoenix fans have their own tradition?
RT if you want @TravisHair to throw a rattlesnake on the ice for game one of Wings - Coyotes. #ThrowTheSnake
For the uninitiated, "RT" means "re-tweet" the message to others on the social media network, while "#ThrowTheSnake" provides an easy-to-locate way for anyone to find all the messages pertaining to the tossing of a serpent on the Phoenix home rink.
For a while, this appeared to be a fleeting source of great comedy, like so many distracting topics on Twitter. That was until some people told other people, who told more people, who told bloggers, who spread "Throw The Snake" and Travis Hair's sudden mission to the point of ridiculous infamy in a matter of hours. Even Coyotes broadcaster Tyson Nash was endorsing snake-tossing.
"It really was bigger than me," said Hair, whose wife offered an endorsement. "I had people offering to send me hundreds of plastic snakes on their own dime.
"We were trending No. 1 in Canada for '#throwthesnake'. How dumb is that? I mean, it's awesome. But at the same time it's the dumbest thing in the world," said Hair. "Well, I guess it's not as dumb as Justin Bieber."
Only it's not dumb. At all. And it's too bad the Coyotes management doesn't understand that, because they've decided not to embrace and to outright discourage "Throw The Snake," even if it may be too late to stop it.
Why "Throw The Snake" isn't dumb:
The Coyotes' primary playoff fan tradition is the "Whiteout," in which the crowd wears matching white T-shirts. Two problems: First, it's Winnipeg's fan tradition that relocated with the team, so it's second-hand; and second, Detroit fans will be in the house en masse, making the "Whiteout" look more like a cherry vanilla sundae.
Plus, how perfect is a rattlesnake to represent the resiliency of Phoenix fans and their franchise, in that "Don't Tread on Me" way?
It's downright inspiring, like a sudden battle cry: ‘They throw an octopus, you throw a rattlesnake ... that's the Glendale way!'
"There's going to be some moron there with an octopus who's going to throw it on the ice. Why not have one little octopus look pathetic next to a thousand rubber snakes? Why not?" said Hair. "It's stupid, but you're on the news. It's already going to be a big hockey event, so why not have it be a really cool, funny event that'll be talked about for years."
But Hair knew that piles of rubber snakes on the ice would be frowned upon by the NHL, as explicitly expressed in Rule 63.4:
63.4 Objects Thrown on the Ice - In the event that objects are thrown on the ice that interfere with the progress of the game, the Referee shall blow the whistle and stop the play and the puck shall be faced-off at a face-off spot in the zone nearest to the spot where play is stopped. When objects are thrown on the ice during a stoppage in play, including after the scoring of a goal, the Referee shall have announced over the public address system that any further occurrences will result in a bench minor penalty being assessed to the home Team. Articles thrown onto the ice following a special occasion (i.e. hat trick) will not result in a bench minor penalty being assessed.
Yet sensing the wave of momentum behind "Throw The Snake," Hair decided to reach out to the Coyotes in an effort to find a way for the snakes to hit the ice without delaying the game or causing a Coyotes fan to get ejected from the arena.
"After the crappy summer, the payoff for me was to see a playoff game. I didn't want to get tossed out of a game, and I didn't want to see anyone else ejected over a plastic snake. So I figured I'd call the team, call the marketing department, and see if there was a way to do this with them that was acceptable to the team and the NHL," he said.
His idea: "What if we did it after warm-ups, before they clean the ice?"
The Coyotes' response, according to Hair: No, and anyone that tosses a snake on the ice will be ejected, per team policy. Including Hair. They may not be able to return for other playoff games.
He's using social media and his blog to pass the team's word along, but acknowledges that the snake might be out of the bag (ala Jake Roberts). "It could be that people have their gross of snakes and don't have anything to do with them. So they'll just toss them anyway."
If so, then the Coyotes have missed their opportunity to prevent this snake charmer of a story from delaying a playoff game, by instead supporting a cathartic moment of fan participation in the arena before the puck is dropped.
They're refusing to embrace what could help do what this franchise has failed to do for a decade -- create a sense of loyalty, of belonging amongst a majority of the paying customers through fan culture. It's chosen to be stodgy about grassroots enthusiasm. (Hair said he was denied a credential for this season as a blogger.)
Either way, rubber reptiles are hitting the ice. The thing's taken off in ways no one anticipated, and that's a good thing. Because the intensions aren't nefarious, the fan base deserves a loopy moment of singular identity and, perhaps most of all, a desert team using a rattlesnake as an unofficial symbol is [expletive] cool.
Even of your team isn't down with it, we've got three words, Coyotes fans.
Throw. The. Snake.