Culbreath: Blue over lack of Blue Jackets coverageWritten by Matt 'Shaggy' Culbreath | | firstname.lastname@example.org
After four months of “Will they? Won’t they?” the NHL owners and players finally came to a new collective bargaining agreement, and the league launched its 48-game regular season last week. So begins a breakneck sprint to the playoffs, with every win meaning twice as much as it did the year before. Last year, the lowest-ranked team only had 65 points. This year, 50 will be plenty to get you in.
With the start of the new season began my annual tradition. I get off the air at 1370 WSPD, race home and turn on the TV. I find Fox Sports Ohio and pray that this is the year the Columbus Blue Jackets are shown in Toledo. And every year, I’m greeted with the same disappointment: poker on TV.
“Columbus?” I hear you all ask. Allow me to explain.
A few years back, I decided I wanted to follow hockey more closely, and in order to accomplish that, you need to follow a team. It’s easy to watch a star play — I’m not the biggest basketball fan, but I could watch LeBron James or Kobe Bryant highlight reels all day. To really understand a sport, however, you need to get to know the role players. The sixth man. The trench guys. The enforcer.
How do you pick a favorite team when you’re in your mid-20s, though? Particularly when a pro-level team isn’t in your town, and nobody in your family was a fan of the sport before you? Jumping on to follow the Detroit Red Wings felt disingenuous, simply because they’ve been so good for so long. There was no suffering required to get into that fanbase, you just hop on and enjoy the winning!
No, I needed a little more at stake. So my eyes drifted south, toward the upstart Blue Jackets. Only a few years old, the team had just drafted this slick Russian named Nikolai Zherdev in the draft, and this Rick Nash kid was pretty good, too. It wasn’t the best team, but it had the foundation to build a contender. Yes, I’ll suffer now, but it will pay off in success in a few years.
That was 2003. I’m still suffering.
I’m not worried about the quality of the team. The Blue Jackets hired John Davidson in the front office, and he’ll turn the team around just like he turned around St. Louis. It traded Rick Nash for building blocks to finally lay that foundation it supposedly had in 2003. I really do believe in this team, or else I wouldn’t have worn my jersey in the headshot that’s attached to this column. What I’m worried about is how it’s still nigh impossible for me to watch this team on television. The NHL has decided Toledo is a Red Wings market, and there will be no others. In fact, as far as I can tell, Lucas County is the only market that won’t carry the Jackets —friends in Wood County report that the CBJ play on their television sets.
I guess I’m just a bit flustered because Toledo is a battleground in nearly every other sport. Buckeyes and Wolverines. Tigers and Indians. Lions and Browns. Pistons and Cavaliers (at least, during the LeBron years). Since when has distance or success dictated anything when it comes to rooting interests in this town? The only thing that’s keeping Columbus out of the market is that it is an expansion team of only 11 years. Its fanbase has struggled through some terrible years. Why cut off one of Ohio’s big cities simply because of old allegiances?
I know this might be a pipe dream for me. I know the fanbase is miniscule in the 419, and it’s not about to get any bigger unless the team starts winning. I still think this team is poised to make some noise in the near future, and the NHL is missing out on a real opportunity. Nobody is going to stop rooting for a successful franchise like the Wings, even if it’s stumbled out of the gate this season. You can only make more fans out of those who want to check out the youngest team in the league. At the very least, you’re serving us Glass City Gunners — we who turned away from the easy path, because it will make success that much more sweet.
Matt “Shaggy” Culbreath is sports director at 1370 WSPD. Email him at email@example.com.