The clock radio explodes. You pop out of bed. The same song is playing. The same clouds hover outside your window.
“What day is it?” you ask.
Your coffee tastes like yesterday’s. The clothes you pull on look eerily familiar. You grab a newspaper and the headline seems … redundant.
Wings lose to Sharks by a goal
You drive to the rink and catch the same red lights. The guys on sports radio use the same words on the same topics.
“Bad puck luck,” they say. “Another heartbreaker,” they say. “They just as easily could have won that one,” they say.
You rub your eyes.
“What game is it?” you ask.
You are a Detroit hockey player. You are stuck in “Groundhog Day.” The guard at the rink nods and says, “You’ll get ’em next game.” Next game? Next game? How come every game feels like the same game?
“What time is it?” you scream. “What day is it? What game is it?”
It’s the same old time. The same old game. You are in a rut of monumental proportions, down once again to the same team in the same way on the same day as last year.
And the ending doesn’t look good.
Deja vu all over again
You walk into the locker room. The guys have a familiar “chins-up” attitude. They talk about coming back. They talk about how close it has been. They talk about a bounce here or there.
Didn’t they say that yesterday? And the day before? And last year? Your team, the Red Wings, lost the first three games of this second round to the Sharks just as they lost the first three games of the second round to the Sharks last year.
They lost each game by one goal, just as they lost each game by a goal last year.
Last year’s Game 3 was played May 4 and was lost, in overtime, by a score of 4-3. This year’s Game 3 was played May 4 and was lost, in overtime, by a score of…
Tonight you play Game 4, at Joe Louis Arena, on the same day – May 6 – that they played Game 4 at Joe Louis last year. And your doughnut has the same sprinkles, and your shin pad has the same rip and your phone has the same messages and – wait a second – wasn’t Kid Rock playing over the speakers last year, too, the exact same song?
The agony of repeat defeat
“You don’t want to end as fast as you did last year,” Henrik Zetterberg said earlier this week. “You grind through 82 games in the regular season. You want to play until June.”
But June is like a flotilla on the ocean that never quite comes into shore. Between you and it are these sharks from San Jose, and they keep on biting. Whatever you do, they do one better. Whatever you stop, they stop one more.
You talk about pride. You talk about the unlikely. You talk about winning four straight, starting tonight. And it is possible you will win tonight. It is even likely. Last year, on this very day, you pummeled San Jose, 7-1.
And then you went to the Sharks’ place and lost the series – by dropping another one-goal heartbreaker.
You are Zetterberg, you are Pavel Datsyuk, you are Johan Franzen and Jimmy Howard. You are Nicklas Lidstrom, doing the captain’s duty of urging them on. You are Mike Babcock, demanding your players live up to who they are.
You look the same. You feel the same. You are the men in red, talented and experienced. But in this, you are too experienced. You cannot stop repeating your pattern. Seven one-goal playoff losses to the same team over two seasons? Isn’t that some kind of record?
You pull on your skates. You tug down your helmet. You tell yourself, “A man makes his own fate. We are going to win tonight.”
But that’s what you said last year. And you won. And then you didn’t.
The lights flash. The tunnel beckons. The crowd is on its feet chanting “let’s go Red Wings!” You skate out hard.
But deep down, you are thinking about that clock radio tomorrow morning and praying you wake up to a different song.
Contact Mitch Albom: 313-223-4581 or firstname.lastname@example.org. His new play, “Ernie,” runs through June at City Theatre in Detroit. For information, go to www.ernietheplay.com. Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).