COLUMN: Only the joy of the unexpected could make sports fandom worth it

COLUMN: Only the joy of the unexpected could make sports fandom worth it

From Pavel Bure to Alphonso Davies, transcendent sports experiences overcome the pain of B.C. fandom

I was seven years old on March 1, 1992, when I attended my first Canucks game. My dad, uncle and I drove six hours from our home in Vernon to watch Vancouver play the Calgary Flames.

I had cheered for the Flames for a couple years thanks to the influence of my Alberta-bred father and my Theo Fleury-loving grandma. But I converted to Canucks fandom once I realized that I lived in the same province as Vancouver – no matter that the Pacific Coliseum was hardly any closer to my home than the Saddledome.

With the Flames’ 1989 Stanley Cup win in the rearview mirror, and the benefit of nearly three decades of painful hindsight, I now realize that I was damned either way.

No matter. I was a diehard hockey fan of all sorts by the time I turned seven. I had hundreds of hockey cards, which I organized and re-organized obsessively.

And so that first NHL game was always going to leave an impression. It would have been hard to disappoint me. I surely didn’t need the Canucks to beat the Flames by some outlandish scoreline like 11-0, for there to be a line brawl, or for Pavel Bure to score on a breakaway and have the goal upheld after video review.

But that’s what happened. The game is likely to remain the most-lopsided win in Canucks history as long as hockey is played in Vancouver.

I was thinking of that game this weekend, as I took my daughter to her first professional sporting event – a Vancouver Whitecaps game at BC Place.

Just five, my daughter probably wasn’t as attuned to the actual game as she would have been if she was a couple years older. Her memory is certain to be a little fuzzier, and who knows if the name Alphonso Davies will have the same caché in 2045 as Bure’s does today.

Between the Skytrain, face-painting, and an autograph by the Whitecaps’ mascot, there was a whole lot else going on than some guys kicking a ball around.

But what a game.

For those who missed it, Davies – a 17-year-old kid born in a refugee camp in Ghana who moved to Canada when he was five – returned to action days after signing a contract with Bayern Munich, one of the five largest soccer clubs in the world.

He was sold – soccer transfers are weirdly commercial – for more than $12 million, but won’t actually head to Germany until next spring.

Davies is the brightest soccer prospect Canada has ever produced, and he has just a handful of games left to play for the Whitecaps.

(At this point, you may be getting the impression that maaaaybe the decision to head to the game was not entirely due to my child’s affection for kicking a ball around.)

Anyway, Davies scored two jaw-dropping goals Saturday and assisted two more as the Whitecaps won 4-2.

I watch far too much soccer, and I’ve never seen an individual performance like that which Davies produced. It was, above all, a demonstration of complete superiority over his opposition. In junior hockey, a scout would say he was like “a man playing with boys.”

But Davies is still not a man. He is 17, and was virtually unstoppable by men a decade older. (He’s also remarkably likable, full of joy and humanity when a microphone is thrust in his face.)

It was a single game unlikely to be repeated.

And, like that Canucks explosion in 1992, it was one of those times when sports fandom finally delivers.

It doesn’t really make logical sense to cheer for a sports team. What makes one group of men or women more worthy of victory than another?

As any Canucks fan knows, moments to cheer can come sporadically and be separated by years of suffering.

And yet, it is inescapable for many of us because there are many of us. Because we cheer together and suffer together. We don’t know the story is going to end happily – in fact, we are pretty sure it won’t end well.

You don’t know you will see something amazing when you start watching, but that makes it all the sweeter when you see something remarkable.

Tyler Olsen is a reporter for the Abbotsford News.