The expansion franchise experience is one of misery that in time builds into joy, if done right. The team begins its story as a literal roster of cast-offs from the pre-existing teams, builds through the draft as fans around the rest of the league constantly question whether or not they actually belong. It’s not fair, and it’s frustrating how fans who complain that not enough people like hockey, but then condemn newcomers to the game for not knowing enough, but this is the sort of initiation the people of Las Vegas are about to experience.
In baseball, it is possible to become a contender in just a few years as the 1997 Florida Marlins and 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks proved. But most cases, if the team sticks with its original city, a slow start followed by middling returns is the best to expect. The closest thing hockey has to early expansion success like that is the early success of the Colorado Avalanche, but they were the relocated Quebec Nordiques, and not a true expansion. Storied franchises like the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, New York Islanders, and Chicago Blackhawks go through decades of struggles, too. The years of trying, and the years of failing make the eventual playoff successes, like what we saw from the electrified fan base of the Nashville Predators last spring all the more exciting once it does happen.
Fortunately for the Golden Knights, they landed one of hockey’s great play-by-play announcers. Dave Goucher had been the radio voice of the Boston Bruins for 17 years, and it was announced last month that he was leaving the Bruins to be the TV play-by-play man for the new franchise in Vegas. During his time in Boston, Goucher made some of the most iconic calls in the history of Boston sports. For me, Goucher’s “GET THE DUCKBOATS READY!!!” at the end of Game 7 of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final is right up there with Gil Santos’ “IT’S GOOD!!! IT’S GOOD!!! IT’S GOOD !!!” at the end of Super Bowl XXXVI, Johnny Most’s “HAVLICEK STOLE THE BALL!!!” in the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals.
My first hockey post on this blog was in reaction to the Bruins’ Game 7 comeback against the Leafs in May of 2013, and while I headlined the post with a line from Bruins TV play-by-play man and Revolutionary War enthusiast Jack Edwards, the iconic call from that game was Goucher’s. That night it was “BERGERON!!! BERGERON!!!” Aside from his game calls, Goucher’s other great achievement in broadcasting was a hilarious recurring segment on 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich morning show called “Dave Goucher Goes to the Movies” in which he would do play-by-play of a famous movie scene, and contestants would have to guess the movie (although the version I linked is actually the ‘television edition”).
I grew up in a house without cable and therefore, grew up listening to the Bruins, Red Sox, and Celtics more than I watched them. Even in college, I didn’t have a TV in my dorm room more semesters than I did, so Goucher’s radio calls were how I consumed Bruins games most of the time from 2008 to 2012 when I lived on campus, and that was quite the time to be a hockey fan in Massachusetts. The Bruins became respectable for the first time since trading Ray Bourque, and won the Stanley Cup in 2011. The best hockey my hometown team did in my lifetime was chronicled by Dave Goucher, and his passion and enthusiasm is something Vegas really needs if hockey is going to work there.
My readers may have noticed over the years that even though the NFL is a juggernaut of a league, and even though my favorite team in said league is the most consistently competitive, I write about the Patriots less than I do the Red Sox, Bruins, or Celtics. This is partly due to my disillusionment with the NFL. Since Roger Goodell took over a decade ago, football, which was my favorite sport as a kid and the mechanism with which I impressed a bunch of strangers in my college dorm suite as a freshman at UMass Dartmouth with my knowledge of every NFL roster in 2008, has fallen out of favor with me due to their disregard for player safety and livelihood, and bad priorities when it comes to real world issues like domestic violence.
It is also partly due to my inherent superstition. As an aspiring sports writer, I want to be objective. I want to be able to be critical, to see the bigger picture, with regard to the team and the rest of the league. It’s much easier to be critical of the Bruins or the Celtics because in the years I have been following them, they have never had the best player in the league, let alone all time, nor the best coach in the league, let alone of all time. Ever since this run began for the New England Patriots in 2002–with the Tuck Rule, and the Steelers booking their flight to New Orleans for the Super Bowl before they played the AFC Championship Game, and Ty Law’s momentum-swinging pick-six, and Tom Brady’s drive down the field to set up one more game-winning kick for Adam Vinatieri (seriously, I watch the America’s Game documentary on the Super Bowl XXXVI team at least once a year and it never gets old)–the Patriots have been the standard bearers of the NFL, and Brady and Bill Belichick have been consistently making their case for greatest QB and greatest coach of all time, and as someone with a rooting interest in that happening, I do not want that to end.
Now it’s 2017, and before the start of next season, Brady will turn 40, and Belichick will turn 65. Any rational, reasonable Patriots fan has to think there are fewer of these days ahead of them than behind them, or if this run does continue, it would eventually be with someone like Jacoby Brissett at quarterback and someone like Matt Patricia as head coach. If this year is then end, it’s been an incredible run.
The numbers are staggering. With their upcoming game next week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Brady and Belichick have been to 11 AFC Championship Games in 16 seasons, including each of the last six. Brady and Belichick have more 10 win seasons together than the Detroit Lions have in their 80 plus year history. Bill Belichick has not had a losing season since Bill Clinton was president.
The Pats’ divisional round game against the Houston Texans was not pretty, but they still won by a larger margin than the historically high spread Vegas set for this playoff game. In some respects, the game was only tight, and only had Patriots fans worried because of the standard of excellence we have set for the team. This Houston team is littered with ex-Patriots from Bill O’Brien to Romeo Crennel to Mike Vrabel to Larry Izzo to Vince Wilfork, but with a quarterback as not-ready-for-primetime as Brock Osweiler, none of that institutional knowledge could make a difference. Sure, they fared better than they did in the regular season, when they were shut out 27-0 without even having to deal with New England’s first or second choice QB, but even with Brady throwing as many interceptions in that game as he did the whole season, and Dion Lewis putting the ball on the ground twice (Houston recovered one, New England kept the other), it was still a two-score game at the end. Even when they are bad, they are better than most, and that is special.
Next week, the Patriots will have their hands full with a better Steelers team, but the Steelers seem to find new and creative ways to generate bulletin board material for Belichick. In 2002, it was the confidence and the audacity to book a flight to New Orleans before even playing the game, but now they’re broadcasting their true feelings about the NFL’s scheduling policy, albeit inadvertently, on Facebook Live, complete with Mike Tomlin simultaneously warning the players to not do anything stupid on social media. The Steelers, like the Patriots, are one of the NFL’s model franchises, and have been since the 1970s. When the San Francisco 49ers hire their next coach, they will have had more head coaches in four years than the Steelers have had since Watergate. But things like this, broadcasting their own trivial locker room talk to the world through Antonio Brown’s phone, is what keeps them a notch below the Patriots in the Belichick Era.
My biggest takeaway from the Divisional Round Weekend is just how scary good Aaron Rodgers is right now. I already knew that, but the end of yesterday’s game in Dallas reinforced that. This is a quarterback who has not been afforded the luxury of playing for a coach of Bill Belichick’s caliber. Mike McCarthy is a solid NFL coach, but had the Green Bay Packers not run the table, as Rodgers declared they would after starting the season 4-6, the Packers may very well be waiting for the Patriots’ season to end to introduce Josh McDaniels as their new head coach. Rodgers is the most talented person to play the QB position ever, and has not had the kind of running game Elway, Aikman, or Peyton Manning had in their best years, nor the superstar receivers of any other superstar QB. He is doing it all himself and making the players and coaches around him better in a way I have never seen, and oh, by the way, he regularly completes Hail Mary passes.
All of that I knew going into the Packers’ Divisional Round match up against the Dallas Cowboys, but then after rookie QB Dak Prescott rallied back to tie the game for Dallas, Rodgers had just enough time to get Green Bay into field goal range, with an incredible throw downfield to Jared Cook, who made a great dance move to keep his toes in bounds. Just like that, the Packers were kicking a field goal and getting ready to face the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome next week in the NFC Championship Game.
Some may say Brady has nothing left to prove to anyone. He won more games than Peyton Manning in 30 fewer games, he played in more Super Bowls than any other QB and won as many as Joe Montana and Terry Bradshaw. But the NFL dragged his name through the mud over air pressure in a football and suspended him for as many games as they suspended Greg Hardy for something that should have put him in prison. And already, despite only playing in one Super Bowl, talk of Aaron Rodgers being the greatest ever is picking up steam. The thing that makes Tom Brady great is that at age 39, when he should not have to prove anything to anyone in the game of football, he is burning to prove the haters wrong just as intensely as he was when he was picked 199th overall. Brady is at his best when he is overlooked, and that is what makes him the best.