The details belong to history. The memories are all yours.
To me, that’s the coolest thing about the Lightning’s Game 7 victory against Calgary in the Stanley Cup final on June 7, 2004.
It doesn’t matter if you were in the arena or standing outside. It doesn’t matter if you watched from your living room, your neighborhood pub, or if you listened to Dave Mishkin shout on the radio.
Everyone who cared has their own memory of that moment, and all those memories are unique. All these years later, they may not even be completely accurate, but that’s beside the point.
The beauty of that night resides in the emotion, not the facts. The hug shared between a child and parent. The feeling of vindication after so many years of ridicule from hockey fans outside Tampa Bay. Maybe even the sense that you had grown up with Marty, Vinny and Brad, and now you had shared a moment with them that would last forever.
Our stories are all different but somehow the same. They are the story of a franchise that never had enough money playing in a market that never had enough fans with a coach who never had enough patience and a group of players who never had enough sense to realize this should have been impossible.
So what is my memory of Game 7?
The fear that I was in deep doo-doo.
The last few games of that series were nuts. Overtime in Game 5 and double overtime in Game 6. Newspaper deadlines hanging over our heads like guillotines, forcing us to write three possible outcomes simultaneously: one version for the Lightning winning, one version for the Lightning losing and one version if they were still playing past deadline.
Once Marty St. Louis staved off elimination with the winner in Game 6 in Calgary, I was convinced the Lightning were going to pull this off. Why? Heck if I know. Tampa Bay had not won back-to-back games in a month.
That’s not hyperbole. Their past 13 games, going back to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference final against Philadelphia, looked like this: W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W-L-W. They did not win two in a row against Philly, and they had not yet done it against Calgary.
And yet when I got to the arena early on the afternoon of June 7, I was completely focused on writing a column about the Lightning winning the Stanley Cup. Maybe I had a hunch. Maybe it was wishful thinking. Maybe I was a nitwit.
Throughout the series, then-Times columnist Gary Shelton and I had traded duties on game night. One of us would write a big-picture column and the other would write about something specific. Gary had the big-picture assignment for Game 7, so I was focused on writing about Dave Andreychuk’s lifelong pursuit of the Stanley Cup.
I spent the afternoon stalking the NHL officials who had been in charge of whisking the Cup out of the building in Calgary after the Flames lost Game 6 and delivering it to Tampa the next day. The Cup had spent the previous night at the Marriott Waterside and was then placed in the referee’s dressing room shortly before Game 7 began.
When Ruslan Fedotenko put Tampa Bay up 2-0 in the second period with his second goal of the night, I was feeling pretty good about the lone column on my computer screen. When Calgary cut the score to 2-1 in the third, I began to panic.
What if the game went to overtime and I missed deadline because I didn’t have a non-committal column written? What if, even worse, the Flames won Game 7 and I didn’t have a column reflecting a Lightning loss? What if I got in my car and drove far enough that my boss could never find me?
I hurriedly began rewriting my column to lament another near miss for Andreychuk, but to my eternal gratitude, the Lightning held off the Flames for the final 10 minutes. I stayed in the press box long enough to watch Andreychuk lift the Cup above his head and then raced downstairs to talk to his father, his wife and a handful of his teammates. The column was filed, the deadline was met and my heart was still racing an hour later.
That’s my story, but it really matters to only me.
Your story, whatever it may be, is bound to be better. Because you had your own hopes, fears and escapades. Just like the person to your right and to your left.
That’s what sports can do for us. They can bring us together to share a moment and then allow us to frame it in our hearts and minds however we might choose. I bet yours is special, too.