Why do I watch the Penguins play the Flyers? It’s not because the Penguins ever win. It’s more like seeing a disaster unfold and being unable to look away – if you’ve ever been around when a flaming asteroid obliterated a theme park.
Now, I could watch because I hate the Flyers. They always do just what I thought they would do. (Cue Zac Rinaldo.) But even being proven right gets old and I think I’m over it. The games are all reruns. My ragetank is full. What pours in now just overflows and runs onto the ground, a sad waste rather than a useful resource. I used to backhandedly relish every cheap shot and dirty hit by the Flyers, because they were always writing themselves as villains. Now I worry the Pens are one play, one lost cool, away from becoming that which I have always loved to hate.
I could watch because rivalries generate high-stakes, hate-laced hockey simmering with the potential for glory and storylines that live in a fandom’s heart forever. The Penguins/Flyers are not that, not in a long time. Instead of reading like chapters in a book, their box scores read like rap sheets to be held against players in court.
A lot of people in our Twitter feed who were not watching said, “Sounds like I’m missing a good game!” They missed a wild one, for sure, but not good. If you’ve ever been to Medieval Times and seen the jousting knights miss each other completely, only to “fall” theatrically off their horses as required by the script and rush into mock-battle, that’s what last night’s game looked like. Less mock in the battle, of course. But it was predictable, and even laughable at times.
My interest might hold if the Penguins ever won, or if they were playing better hockey of late. Yet they can always be counted on to come apart against Philly. I used to do the same. It used to bother me that we weren’t winning games 10-0 based simply on moral superiority. But we play our worst against them, and they play their worst against us (which is the same as their best, because Flyers). It’s not fun. If the Pens had won in OT last night, instead of taking extraordinarily timed back-to-back penalties, I would have enjoyed a short revenge. But it wears off quickly now, harkening back to the awful 2012 playoff series that made me ashamed of hockey in general. (Obligatory reminder that I am not over James Neal’s behavior in that series and I never will be. Every time I despise a Flyer, my conscience rightly whispers, “Hypocrite.”)
I realized last night: I want to hate the Flyers the way I used to, when the games were at least a little about hockey and not just about bloodlust. When being right felt smug instead of sickening, and what happened on the scoreboard meant as much as what happened on the ice. Now, regardless of the outcome, I just feel dirty. My fight for this fight is worn out.
If only the Penguins felt the same, maybe they could win one.
Tags: philadelphia flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins