Paul Kariya Retires
In The Tenth Inning, Ken Burns' recent addendum to his Baseball documentary, a sportswriter compares his relationship with the lovable-loser Red Sox to the relationship he shares with his kids. At the end of the day, they won't love him and respect him for the awards he won and the accolades he amassed, but just for the time they spent with him, the moments that make up that relationship, both fulfilling and disappointing.
And that is the relationship we all share with a bad team, sometimes a bad franchise. We mark time through them, but not in a negative way-- not unless we insist upon it.
Through seemingly interminable seasons of so-so Ducks teams, many fans marked time through Paul Kariya. The Kariya-Selanne show was reason, in and of itself, to show up at the Pond. You just never knew what they were going to do, but you knew you were going to see some s*** you've never seen before. The Dynamic Duo made the seasons worthwhile, as the team built (and sometimes rebuilt) toward the playoffs.
My own time as a fan is easily marked through Paul Kariya. When I first started watching hockey, he was the main event of the NCAA ranks. I still have not seen a better college player. Through the Dead Puck era, he and Selanne gave me a reason not to do homework in high school. In college, when the Ducks made their run to the Stanley Cup Finals, I called in sick to one of my three jobs to sit in front of the television. After the latest Lockout, when the rules would supposedly bring offense back to the ice, Kariya found 85 points (in Nashville, of all places), and got me to turn hockey back on, despite a rather busy first year in law school.
For any sports fan, there is some
player career hero or team that marks the times of their life; Kariya just happens to be mine. Paul Kariya's battles with concussions, through a series of independently reprehensible incidents, became the story of his career. Still, it's not without some shock that I approach the announcement of his retirement. Perhaps, in Doc Emrick's call: Off the floor, on the board, Paul Kariya!!!, I began to wonder if headshots had any effect on number 9. You could apparently damage his brain quite severely, but the part that knew how to play hockey would continue unharmed.
A Gretzky fan once told me that he had a hard time accepting Gretzky in a suit, if only because it reminded him of his age, the fact that he no longer lived in a time when he could turn on a television and see The Great One swinging a hockey stick. I have no idea how that guy marks time now; I'm tempted to call him and ask.