by | May 21, 1996 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

It’s fast. It’s thrilling. And you can jump on anyone you want.

No, I’m not talking about a Michael Irvin house party. I’m talking about playoff hockey — specifically overtime playoff hockey — which is proving to be so deeply moving that I would like to nominate it for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Well, OK. You probably need your teeth for a Nobel Peace Prize.

But someone, somewhere, needs to acknowledge how America is falling in love with hockey. It’s not just the dramatic Game 7 double-overtime miracle shot by Steve Yzerman last week, or the equally dramatic Chris Osgood diving save in overtime Sunday. I’m telling you, wherever I go, people who wouldn’t know a five hole from a blowhole are saying, “Wow, I stayed up and watched the end of that hockey game! I was hooked!”

(By the way, a five hole is hockey talk for the space between a goalie’s legs; a blowhole is where hot air comes from on large mammals, such as Marge Schott.)

Anyhow, I think it is high time for America’s Big Three of professional sports to take some cues from what makes hockey work. The simple truth is — cover your ears, Tagliabue, Stern and Selig — playoff hockey is better than baseball, football and basketball now, for several reasons:

1. TIME-OUTS: Let’s take your typical basketball game. It reaches the last two minutes — which, let’s face it, is when many people first turn it on — and what do you see? One team walking to its bench, huddling up, walking back out, then the other team calling time, walking to its bench, huddling up. Gee. What a thrill. How many time-outs do these teams get? Forty?

It is no better in football. Your team is charging for a winning score, and as soon as it makes a good play — tweet! — time-out. Another play — tweet!
— time-out. Two minutes of waiting for 10 seconds of action. Let’s face it. If not for replays, we’d be switching to Masterpiece Theatre.

And don’t get me started on pitching changes in baseball. Do the words
“caffeinated coffee” mean anything to you?

In hockey, there is no such problem. They keep skating and skating until somebody wins. Time-outs? You get one, and that’s it. And the action is so furious, sometimes it’s the fans who yell for a break. Hockey is also not polluted with the TV Time- Out, which has ruined college basketball, along with Dick Vitale impersonators.

2. FOULS: Check out the end of a typical NFL game. Fourth down, quarterback drops to pass, he needs 50 yards, he heaves it downfield to a speedy receiver, and what is the receiver doing? He’s in a hotel room with two exotic dancers. No, wait. That’s Michael Irvin. Sorry.

What is he doing? He’s pleading with the referee to throw a flag, because how else could he possibly have missed that ball that went sailing over his head?

How disgraceful! What’s worse is that the flag often comes! Basketball is equally dumb. You can intentionally foul guys to 1) cut a lead, 2) protect a lead, 3) force a guy to make free throws instead of a basket. Let’s face it, there are more reasons for basketball players to foul than there are for them to score.

No such problem in hockey. Oh, you may get penalties in the first period, and perhaps in the second. But late in the game, you have a better chance of hearing a whistle in an opera. And in order to draw a penalty in overtime, you must stab your stick through your opponent’s chest, then use him to knock over the Zamboni. This results in a two-minute minor, for tripping.

Let’s be honest. Hockey referees are stealing money in OT. Their only job is to get out of the way. There are times when you hate this as a hockey fan, and times when you love it, depending of course, on the important thing: How much money you have on the game. No, wait. That’s Pete Rose. Depending, of course, on which team you are rooting for. Either way, you admire the fact that the refs let the players play.




Let the best man win.

Do I sound like the Ultimate Fighting Championship here?

Let’s move on to . . . 3. SUDDEN DEATH: This is what makes hockey most magical. Next goal wins. Any shot, any player. You don’t find this is baseball, where the visiting team can have a dramatic grand slam, and it still has to finish the inning with a pop-up, then pitch to three guys who are already thinking about what food they’ll serve on the airplane.

Or basketball, where the extra period must be played to its completion, no matter what. This way, a dramatic tie at the end of regulation can be a 14-point blowout by the end of overtime. What’s the point?

No such problem in hockey. Next goal wins, and nobody gets a second chance. When that extra period begins, you can drop all the strategy. It’s a pound of meat and a cage full of lions. Whatever works. Skate until you score.

This is why people will always remember where they were when Yzerman slapped that 55-footer. That kind of thrill doesn’t come in everyday life.

(And don’t tell me about NFL sudden death. It’s usually a field goal by some guy named Enrico.)

Anyhow, there you have it. Just a few simple points for the NBA, NFL and MLB. Don’t be haughty, Big Three. There’s a lot you can learn from hockey.

And I haven’t even mentioned throwing an octopus at Dennis Rodman.


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