When Lightning and Panthers meet

“How could you possibly root for the Panthers?!?” a friend asked, fully aware of my long-standing Lightning allegiances.  He was disgusted at the thought.  Far be it from me to elaborate on why I cheer for the Panthers… until now. 

Not only are my beloved Bolts sworn in-state rivals to the potentially, soon to become Stanley Cup Champions, but the Florida Panthers also ousted the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of this year’s playoffs. Blasphemy!

Old school hockey fans from way up north might still object to hockey down south but despite not being part of the Original Six, Lightning-Panthers face-offs are downright physical, talented, and much to their dismay, winners of three of the last four Stanley Cups, again potentially.  The Southern bling is strong this spring!  Here’s hoping South Florida hosts a boat parade of equal merit.

But back to the question at hand.  How could I root for the Panthers?  Did the Hatfields root for the McCoys?

Well, the answer is easy.  To the common fan who can’t handle the truth, I’ll sugar coat an answer so as not to get into the emotions. 

“Well, my best friend is a Panthers fan, and his son is a Panthers fan, so that kind of makes me a Panthers fan by default.”

What I haven’t done, until now, is get into the fact that my best friend passed away last October.  Such a detail unexpectedly complicates things for the listener, dampens Lord Stanley’s spirit and makes the inquisitor sorry they engaged in the conversation in the first place.  Or, as I’m slowly learning through grief therapy, perhaps these conversations uplift others, proving there can be meaning and more than just a final score to a sporting event.

What I can tell you, and what I won’t share with the random stranger but perhaps I should, is what Kid Sheraton, Jr’s texts during this Stanley Cup run have meant to me.

I met his dad when young Michael was not even a thought, when his father and I were both younger than him, when no professional hockey, basketball, or even baseball teams existed in the state of Florida.  Only two NFL teams did.

At 15, Kid Sheraton and I were trading baseball cards, playing little league, being stupid, and fully unaware not only of what ice hockey was, but how forty years later it could cast an icy shadow over the hottest state in the United States, and forge a bond between me and his future son.

Prior to last October, it’s probably excessive to say I hated the Florida Panthers, but I certainly wasn’t a fan.  With the passing of a loved one, all that has changed.

Both young Michael’s father and my best friend, and my father and someone Michael never knew, passed away one month apart from each other last year.  Sports became a distraction for us, a deep dive of highs and lows, tears of joy to accompany our tears of sorrow.

After the Panthers held a two a two-games-to-nothing lead, I’d sssshhh young Michael as he bragged about the Panthers’ inevitable first championship.  They were playing better than their opponent but still, sports jinxes are nothing to be messed with, especially when it comes to the Stanley Cup.  A stellar high school athlete himself, he understood.

Up three games to nothing, with a seemingly comfortable three goal lead, the Panthers seemed destined for their first Cup ever.  I prematurely shot him a text suggesting it was safe to talk shit.

It wasn’t.

In the end, one win away, we texted, celebrated, smiled and probably cried, days before our first Father’s Day without fathers, all thanks to a hockey game.  That is what is so glorious about sports, the moments I’d shared with my dad tossing a baseball in Central Park and those Michael had shared with his father, both traveling countless miles to his soccer matches.

I miss those guys.  I celebrate their love this Father’s Day and every day forth.  To all of those with and without Fathers, all those who suffered from the incessant and inconsiderate bombardment of Father’s Day ads, I wish you all a happy and healthy Father’s Day in the loving memory of ours and yours… and Go Panthers!

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6 Replies to “When Lightning and Panthers meet”

  1. Mario was a complete class act and his presence is surely missed…but I’m grateful that you have kept the love going with Mikey. Mario would be quite proud.

  2. The Tampa Bay Lightning accomplished everything we could ever ask them to accomplish. After the first time the Lightning won the Stanley Cup, a Tampa Bay fan didn’t want anything to do with bandwagoners. And now that the Lightning have permanently done everything to please us, I also want all the bandwagoners in Tampa and Florida to die. You cheer for the Panthers, because their fans endured 26 years of utter misery. We’ll never feel the horrid misery that Panthers fans always felt for 26 years.

  3. I never thought that I would say this but , GO PANTHERS !
    Was that picture taken at the Town and Country field ?

  4. Deac…

    That picture was actually taken overseas, in Santiago, Chile, circa 1983, at the baseball parks right next to their Olympic Stadium.

    See if you can spot me.

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