Monday, May 21, 2012

We Are The Champions!

So...based on the title you can see that Saturday was a good day, but here's the rundown.  Bear with me--I'm probably going to go into great detail here, but I want to document this fully before I forget the details :)

Craig was off bright and early for a big championship gameday, and Jacob and I were on our own.  He slept in until after 8am, so our morning got off to a wonderfully slow start.  We snuggled on the couch and watched "old hockey guys" on a Sabres DVD we have before getting ourselves ready and out to door to head to the library.  A book I've been waiting to get was back in at the library and I'd been meaning to get there for some new books for Jacob as well.  I picked up my book, as well as an assortment for Jacob--everything from the Berenstain Bears and two of Mo Willems' Knuffle Bunny books to a hockey-themed I Spy book and an old favorite, Dino-Soccer.  We headed home for a quick lunch and Jacob went down for a very necessary nap.  In the meantime, I was all over the house.  I washed winter clothes, dusted the main floor, cleaned up the kitchen, and reorganized Jacob's toys into similarly grouped bins.  By the time I was done, my parents arrived for the Knighthawks game and shortly thereafter, Jacob woke up. 

We decided to do some geocaching before the game, so we headed downtown to hit up a series of them in close proximity.  They were all tiny ones--a few just smaller than pill canisters and two others the size of the tip of your pinkie--so Jacob couldn't really do much looking and settled instead for finding sticks and other objects, and throwing pinecones, much to mommy's dismay.  Still, it was cool to check out places I'd passed by previously and never checked out, or places I'd never noticed at all.  Here's a shot of Jacob in motion near a statue just across the way from my gym...
Captures him perfectly...he never stops!
And here's an artsy-ish shot from a park inside the preserved remains of a burned out church...
The church burned down in the 70s and they kept what they could and turned it into an urban park.  I never should have told Jacob what it was, because he was obsessed with the church having had a fire for the rest of the night.  Oops.  I guess I was hoping it would just go over his head.  Guess not.
After dinner down the street from the arena, we enjoyed a walk in the lovely weather down to the game.  By that point the nerves began to take over and I spent a good portion of the rest of the night hoping my digestive system would cooperate.  There was a great crowd and everyone was visibly pumped.  The good news about playing a team from far away (in this case, Edmonton) was that 99% of the fans in the arena were cheering for the home team.  That made it less competitive in the stands (fun in its own way, when your team is winning), but like one big party. 

The game started out very competitively.  Our goalie was making awesome saves and while we weren't getting a lot of shots, we had a few great chances.  Craig had told me that if we stayed close early on, we'd have a good shot at taking it.  Apparently Edmonton's style of play lends itself to tiring out later in the game.  Unfortunately, Edmonton scored first.  When they scored another goal, I started to get nervous.  We just weren't getting chances, or many bounces, and that usually spells disaster.  This was reminiscent of the 2003 Championship Game against Toronto, which a friend and fellow co-worker likes to remind me was the night I slammed my clipboard on the desk in frustration.  That game ended up as an 8-5 loss, and one of the hardest games I've ever had to watch.  I literally couldn't bring myself to watch the celebration on the floor afterward. 

Anyway, by the end of the first half it was 5-1 and the way the game had been going, I was pretty sure it didn't bode well.  Lacrosse is a funny sport--a game of runs--but there are times when no matter what you do, a run never comes.  Usually the Knighthawks run into that at the most inopportune time, so I was pretty sure we could add this one to the list.  However, when I ran into the Knighthawks' biggest fan (and a good friend of ours) on a walk around the arena at halftime, he was genuinely confident that we had them right where we wanted them.  I hoped he was right.

After Jacob played his usual halftime lacrosse game in a corner of the arena, we headed upstairs to change up the luck.  We had brought with us Jacob's little stuffed hawk, who seemed to be a strange little good luck charm after Craig bought him before a game about a month ago.  We'd brought him to every game since (and Craig took him to Toronto, site of the improbable win that sent us to the finals), and I decided that it was time to leave the Hawk with Craig, just in case it did more good in his care than in ours.  Craig was mid-broadcast so I dropped the Hawk on his table with nothing more than a look, and then Jacob and I walked down to the arena production booth.  Usually we try to stop in and visit a few old friends, and for whatever reason, the Knighthawks tend to score more when we're up there.  Go figure. 

I think the rest of the arena had ideas to switch things up and change the luck, as well (Craig has examples from behind the scenes, too), because collectively it seemed to work.  Either that or it was one heck of a halftime speech in the locker room.  During the course of the third quarter, the Knighthawks chipped away at the deficit...and suddenly, we were WINNING.  Of course, somewhere in the middle of it, my friend (the clipboard story guy) said, "You can't leave now!" as I was sitting there thinking about my parents waiting for us down in the seats.  However, by the end of the third I believe we were up by two goals and it seemed like the tide had officially turned.  I never trust any lead in lacrosse, but it seemed like we were finally getting bounces, consistently scoring, and still seeing great saves by our goalie.  So, down we went, with full intentions of heading back up if the situation warranted.  If, indeed, the Knighthawks could pull this off, I wanted to be down in the crowd to experience it.  After all, among all the reasons I wanted the Knighthawks to win this time, the top one was that I wanted the fans to experience it.  Nothing could beat the win in Phoenix (for many reasons), but knowing that the fans had been cheated out of that one (because the circus was in town and the game had to move), I really wanted this for them.

The Knighthawks clung to their slim lead for the entire fourth quarter, and I can't even describe the nerves I was feeling.  I was already in shock that the Knighthawks were even in a championship game, let alone in our own arena, and the fact that we were losing so handily at the end of the first half made the slim late-game lead that much more amazing.  I was in total disbelief that we could actually win this game.  Sure enough, though, time ticked down.  Near the end of the game the Knighthawks scored one more which pretty much clinched it, and I spent the last minute or so savoring the moment.  The crowd was going nuts.  I picked up Jacob to make sure he could appreciate it (though later handed him off to my dad so I could take pictures and video), and thought back to those last moments in Phoenix five years ago when I realized that my dream was coming true and we were actually going to be the champions.  And now it was happening again!

The game ended, the crowd roared, and the celebration was on!

Jacob was apparently just taking it all in, because despite our best attempts, it was like pulling teeth to get a smile out of him...
Closest we got...
Jacob and I had passes to go on the field, so shortly after the initial celebration, we headed down.  It took a couple minutes, but eventually we found Craig and got a good spot for the cup presentation.  It was great to see it all happening again.  Here's one of the veterans hoisting the cup:
Mike Accursi was on the 2007 championship team, then ended up with Buffalo the next year.  He won a championship there in 2008, and eventually ended up back in Rochester, much to my delight.  I swear the guy is a little bit of playoff magic.
 And here's the traditional championship photo:
Craig is in the back row, just to the left of the middle.
Jacob cracked a couple smiles while we were down there, but I think mostly he was taking it all in.  It was pure chaos, so I can't blame him.  I probably should have picked him up more, but I suppose I felt like it was more important to capture the photos for posterity so we can both have a way to remember the events of the night.  He did get a chance to touch the cup, with the promise that he'll get to drink out of it sometime this summer.  Milk is apparently his beverage of choice! 

Here's another unsuccessful attempt to capture Jacob enjoying the celebration.  I can't remember what goofy thing Jacob did to elicit the look on Craig's face, but rest assured it was pure Jacob.

During the trophy presentation Craig flashed open his suit coat and showed me Jacob's hawk inside his pocket.  Maybe that hawk does have a special gift!  Jacob was happily reunited with him, and here he is showing him off...
This is what I get when I tell Jacob to stand there, show me his hawk, and smile!
I think this picture just captures our little boy better than maybe any other...animal in hand, quietly checking out the turf in the midst of a giant, chaotic celebration...
Notice he's wearing his special pass...and the same t-shirt and jersey he wore for just about every other game this season.
After a while the arena started to clear out, and I dispatched Jacob to my parents' care (my mom stayed over).  At some point both Craig and the cup disappeared.  Craig had a press conference to run, and the team had retreated to the locker room to celebrate.  The families and staff were left on the turf for a pizza party.  Understandably, the staff was a little disappointed.  After all, in Phoenix we had a small, intimate group--a handful of staff and a few wives/girlfriends--and pretty much everyone was in the locker room for the champagne spraying scenes you see on TV when major league teams win.  That didn't happen this time, and the staff was visibly worried they were going to miss all the fun.

A little while later, Craig returned and so did the cup.  We all took turns getting the pictures we wanted...particularly this one...

Craig had to finish up some work before he could officially get back to celebrating, and we ended up spending some time at the office, where the staff had retreated with a couple cases of beer.  We looked at some of the awesome pictures one of the photographers had captured, had a couple celebratory beverages, and finally wrapped up the working part of the evening. 

We headed off to a local bar/restaurant whose owner is a huge fan, and Craig called one of the players to check the status of the cup, knowing that the fans at this place (the die-hards) would be jonesing for a chance to party with it.  Shortly thereafter, the players and hardware arrived, and we had a great time.  We caught up with the players, saw a couple blasts from the past, and just enjoyed the general merriment.  The local 24-hour TV news station was running a story every half hour on the bar TV that just happened to have Jacob and me VERY clearly in the background during a player interview.  Lovely.  It reminded me of my TV hosting days when we'd be out after Knighthawks' games and the replay of my show would come on at the bar (on the same channel as the game) at midnight, and half the bar would do a double-take as they looked at the TV and back at me.  Awkward.

Anyway, we also got to do this:
This photo (taken by someone else) got quite a response on Facebook.  I guess people aren't used to seeing me drinking anything, let alone something that big.  Rest assured, though, there wasn't much champagne left in the bowl.  It was leaking out of the handles, and between the weight of the trophy and the angle it needed to be tipped at to get close enough to slurp, it was the most awkward drink ever!  Oh, and I didn't drink out of it last time, so this is my first-ever championship drink!
It was a pretty low-key celebration, with just enough odd randomness to make it the unique evening I'd expect for a championship celebration.  We were out until after 4am and didn't make it to bed until 5am, when it was just starting to get light!  We had to drive to Buffalo Sunday afternoon for our nephew's birthday party (dropping my mom off on the way), so we fit in as much sleep as we could and relied on adrenaline to get us the rest of the way.  I was tired by the end of yesterday and absolutely exhausted today.  I had to buy a 20 oz. Diet Mountain Dew around noon because I could barely keep my eyes open.  Still, it was all worth it.  We had a blast.

That said, this one was quite different than the last one.  The last one was my first real championship (by a team I really truly cared about), and after all of the losses that that core group of players had endured, that one was well-deserved.  It was a fantastic team that earned every win, and the championship was long overdue.  I had worked with all of the staff that made the trip, so there was a special family element to it all.  We were celebrating in paradise with a small, intimate group in the midst of a whirlwind fantasy weekend.  It was all surreal and is literally one of the most amazing times of my life.  This time around was so different.  We were at home, and the celebration included countless family members, friends, and fans.  The no-alcohol policy that had surrounded the team all year (especially following the fight in Minnesota that saw players get arrested) kept things a bit lower key than before.  This team wasn't nearly as successful as the last one (15-2 record vs. 7-9), but the team they beat was even worse (6-10), so it was an odd final to begin with.  I don't know as many of the faces on this team (as I said, the core of the last team had been intact for a long time and after working there, I knew most of them), so it wasn't quite as personal of a win.  However, this one was all about the fans, and honestly, that's who I was happiest to celebrate with at the end of the night.  Still, the improbable playoff run and the second-half comeback made this one special in its own way.  And as always, I'm so happy for Craig.  A championship is pretty much the best payoff you can get after a long, difficult season.  It was an unforgettable night, for sure.  There's nothing like winning the last game of the season, and I'm thrilled we got to experience it again. 

I'm also happy we got to share the experience with Jacob this time, and look forward to a couple more encounters with the cup soon.  The photo ops are endless!  Something to look forward to, for sure!  But until then, pardon me while I go marvel a little more at the fact that this all actually happened...

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