Hockey’s greatest rivalry

By Lawrence Bailey

Tuesday evening I settled down in front of my television for the latest installment in a time-honoured tradition, one of sport’s greatest rivalries: The Battle of Alberta.

While Stamps-Eskies clashes, Dinos-Bears battles and, most inexplicably, Cannons-Trappers tilts, have all been sucked into the whole arena of Calgary and Edmonton’s sports rivalry, we all know the only one that really matters.

The Flames and the Oilers.

As a young child who grew up in the glorious 1980s in Edmonton, my allegiances are unflappable. I will be an Oiler fanatic until the day I die.

I remember sitting in stunned disbelief watching Steve Smith celebrate his 23rd birthday by banking a shot in off the back of Grant Fuhr, costing the Oilers the game, the series and (in my opinion) the Stanley Cup.

I remember the immeasurable rage that built up within me as Theoren Fleury slid halfway across the ice in celebration of the Flames’ game six victory in the 1991 Smythe Division Semi-Finals. I wanted to rip that little puke’s head off, I was so angry. Esa Tikkanen’s goal over Mike Vernon’s shoulder two nights later, in front of a sold out Saddledome (yes, it used to sell out), in overtime, exacted some revenge but not nearly enough. I still hate Fleury to this very day.

Such is life as an Oiler fan, bred on the hatred of “that team” from “down there.”

However, after living in Calgary since 1988, I must admit that I have mellowed over the past 15 years, much to the chagrin of many childhood friends. My everyday loathing of the flaming ‘C’, and more recently, the non-sensical flaming horse head, has dwindled to a deep, deep pity for the poor die-hard fans of so lowly a team.

But every time the two face off, the rage returns, just like it did when I was a wee lad.

Which brings us back to Tuesday, March 11, 2003. It was Deadline Day, and the Oilers had ruined my day by dealing two of their best players for nowhere near equal value. It made me sick to my stomach and hopelessly lethargic all day. It is truly unfortunate to have one’s fortunes tied so closely and inexplicably to a professional sports team.

I spent the day in a defeated haze. I would have been angry, enraged even, if only I had the energy. I tried to work to no avail. I was terrible conversation. I was a crestfallen, shell of a human being.

I headed home to talk to my younger brother who shares my accursed affliction. We exchanged knowing, almost comforting glances when we saw each other and began to take the positives out of the day’s events. I began making dinner and an event overshadowed by the doom and gloom of Deadline Day began to draw near.

7:30 p.m.: Edmonton Oilers at Calgary Flames on Sportsnet West.

I felt my spirits lifting, my headache started slipping away. By game time I was seated, my brothers beside me, in front of the television, that same passion for my Oilers and hatred for the dastardly Flames coursing through my veins.

The game was glorious. Why? Because the Oilers won 5-2, plain and simple. My day was completely salvaged. More than that, the rest of my week was made.

As I sit here writing this, almost a day after a basically meaningless regular season meeting, I am still basking in the afterglow. Had they lost, I would still be sporting my plastic smile.

I am well aware of the fact that this is a sad life to lead. I have been told this by friends, family and any girlfriend who’s ever bothered putting up with me. But alas, it is who I am, and likely who I will always be.

“Now it seems to me that growing up is governed by the will, that one can choose to become an adult, but only at given moments. These moments come along fairly infrequently.”

– Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch


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