Who knew it would come to this? As a lifelong Los Angeles Kings fan who attended her first game at the age of five in 1968, here I sit, a resident of New Jersey, enduring Devils fans and their daily taunts.
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But of course, I’m ready for it. I’ve been waiting decades for this moment.
For all original season tickets holders of the LA Kings (what — maybe 900 of us?), this year’s trip to the Stanley Cup Final is the moment of a lifetime. Talk about dyed-in-the-purple-and-gold-wool, I was there for years, watching the originals duke it out in front of a tiny, LA audience.
Back then, the “Fabulous Forum” as it was known drew fans to a dicey neighborhood of Inglewood, a down-and-out suburb on the way to the airport. My dad, who was among the first in line when Canadian Jack Kent Cooke brought the franchise team to LA, was a transplanted Canadian himself. My dad and mom were born and raised in Saskatchewan, but in 1962 decided to move to Southern California. When ticket sales were announced, it was as if the whole world stopped. Dad rushed to Inglewood to sign up. He returned showing great concern. “There were people in shorts,” he lamented, shaking his head. “It’s too hot. I’m worried no one will like hockey here.” He was right. For a while.
When I think of my childhood, I think of schlepping to Kings games. In LA where today it’s never “Where’d you sit,” it’s “Where’d you park,” I think of our little corner of real-estate at the Forum: “Loge” Section 7, row J, watching Rogie Vachon, Marcel Dionne, Butch Goring, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer give it their all. You could still smoke in the Forum in the ‘70s, and middle-aged men would chomp on cigars, screaming at the players. Even on school nights, my mother, not a huge hockey fan, dutifully bundled up my three sisters and me and came along. She’d bring a mohair blanket and a book, usually something uplifting and light like Howard Fast’s “The Immigrants” or “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” We all endured the cheering, swearing and smoke. When my little brother Brook was born, she swaddled him up and added him to the pile. Celebrities? Try Jamie Farr from M*A*S*H, Peanuts creator Charles Schultz, and Meg Foster, best known as the actress with the weirdly blue eyes from “Here Come the Brides.” That was basically it.
Throughout the early years, our car radio was perpetually tuned to the various stations that would deign to pick up Kings games. We were Jewish, but you can bet we knew where to find the Christian station during the years when only they would carry Kings games. Every morning after a game, we’d have to listen to my dad rail against the Los Angeles Times for its “anti-hockey bias.” “Ya see that?” he’d seethe. “We finally won a game and there’s no mention of it until the back of the sports section!”
Fast-forward 21 years later, and the Kings finally got some respect when the team paid to bring Wayne Gretzky, known as “The Great One,” from Edmonton. Ironically, that was the beginning of the end for us. Suddenly, ticket prices skyrocketed as bigger celebrities like Michael J. Fox and Jack Nicholson jumped on and nudged us off the bandwagon we had ridden for decades. My siblings and I were either in college or starting careers so Dad gave up the seats.
And so, we kind of soured on the Kings. Suddenly our underdogs were too cool. It was now chic to go to a game, but we knew we had been there all along through very little thick and lots of thin. In 1993 when Wayne Gretzky led the Kings to the Stanley Cup Final which they lost to the Montreal Canadiens, my brother refused to root for the Kings. For the purists, it was almost like watching the Edmonton Oilers take on the Canadiens. So many transplanted Oilers were on that team that it didn’t really feel like our Kings. It felt like the best team money could buy, jam-packed with carpet-baggers. Of course we know that’s irrational and that today, the Kings have their share of Philadelphia Flyers on the team. But for some reason, this time it feels so right. Kings history reveals they lost their very first game in December of 1968 to the Flyers, so original fans are just fine with bringing Flyers aboard now.
This year, all season long, I watched from my New Jersey home as the Kings looked better and better. In the playoffs when they skated over the 2011 Western Conference champion Canucks, I began for the first time ever to allow myself to believe that maybe, just maybe, the Kings might do it.
I hauled out my vintage purple and gold sweater. “Kings suck!” is what I got when I walked on the streets. It was a lonely feeling until two weeks ago when, amazingly, I found myself surrounded by a legion supporters who suddenly materialized and formed a protective, blue circle around me:
New York Ranger fans were coming to my rescue.
I can’t count how many Ranger fans — my 10-year-old daughter Gabrielle included — have walked up to me, tweeted or called to say, “Go Kings.” After watching their team lose to the Devils in the semi-finals, they’re using their big New York voices to cheer for the purple and gold. I’ll be needing their support here because, as a 14-year resident of New Jersey, I shouldn’t have been surprised to find out on the night of Game 1 I had a Devils fan right under my roof. “Sorry, mom” my eight-year-old son Julian said when I asked if he was “with me” regarding the Kings. “Devils. They’re my hometown team.”
Ok, Julian. You stick with your hometown team. I’ll stick with mine.