Friday, April 27, 2012

Nature vs. Nurture

As has been well documented, I was born and raised “somewhere in the swamps of Jersey”.  Some say my accent gives me away, but I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout no Joisey accent.   Everybody else talks funny. 
Like any reputable Jersey boy, I was raised to love the New York Rangers (and by extension, hate the New York Islanders, those expansion rats.  There were no New Jersey Devils to hate back in my day.  They didn’t move to Jersey from Colorado until 1982).  My brothers would take me on the 12 minute train ride from the shadows of the Elizabeth station to Penn Station, and then a short escalator ride upstairs to the World’s Most Famous Arena, Madison Square Garden.  It was in the blue seats in the MSG rafters that I learned to sprinkle colorful profanities into everyday sports debates and it was in those seats that I learned the true meaning of the taunts, “Shoot the puck, Barry!” and “Potvin Sucks!”  There were a few other expressions of constructive feedback for the referees I learned that I’ll not print here.

I loved the Rangers.  Over the years, I stalked many a Blue Shirt after the game for his autograph – Lady Bing nominee Jean Ratelle, 50 goal scorer Vic Hadfield, human punching bag Dale Rolfe, garbage man Steve Vickers, and super model husband Ron Greshner.  (I have a 1972 yearbook signed by just about every player from that season).  I felt betrayed to the core when they traded Ratelle and Park for Esposito, Hodge and Vadnais, and I always considered Tkaczuk and Fairbairn to be the best one-two penalty killing pairing in the history of the game.  OK, I’m biased but that doesn’t make me wrong. 

I was a long suffering fan who survived a thousand cuts from the “1940” chant that haunted me until 1994, when Mark Messier slayed those demons by hoisting the Cup on home ice.  My wife can tell you all about how I paced back and forth across our new sectional for the entirety of that Game 7 against the Canucks, only stopping during intermissions for a few Tums and some cold refreshment.  The Broadway Blue Shirts finally won, and I have lived to bear witness.

End of first period.

I have lived in the DC market since 1988.  I have been to dozens of Washington Capitals’ games, both at the suburban Cap Centre and downtown at the Phone Booth (formerly MCI and now Verizon Center).  At first, I was in attendance in body but not in spirit.  In the past, I no doubt booed the dirty play of current coach and former goon Dale Hunter.  If the Caps were playing an Original Six franchise, out of respect for the game, I cheered for the other team.  I was a Ranger fan first, hockey fan second, and Caps fan third.  It’s how I rolled.

It’s 2012, and I am now raising a Capitals fan.  He has the Backstrom and Ovechkin t-shirts.  He has a team jersey so he is styling whenever we “Rock the Red” downtown.  We’ve been to the practice facility to watch training camp, and he gets text alerts whenever the team scores.  He’s never heard of Eddie Giacomin or Emile Francis or Ron Duguay.  He is a Caps fan, and I can’t blame him for that.  He was born this way.

Truth be told, I haven’t seen a Ranger game at the Garden in maybe 25 years.  This season, I probably watched all or part of at least 70 Capitals games.  I can name every player on the squad and dissect their strengths and weaknesses.  I know when Semin will try the curl and drag (right before he takes an offensive zone hooking penalty) and when Hendricks will score in the shootout (right after he pulls that little fake shot/hesitation move that freezes the goalie).  If it hadn’t been for the Winter Classic show on HBO this fall, I couldn’t have named 5 players on today’s NY Rangers team.  Geography has made it hard to keep up.

End of second period.
Now it is the New York Rangers versus the Washington Capitals in the NHL playoffs for the 3rd time in the past 4 seasons.  My son the Caps fan and I will be watching all of the games on the big screen in our basement, in full view of the framed Mark Messier Sports Illustrated cover and the authentic Brook Laich autographed puck.  There we will sit as old loyalties battle new realities.  One of us will probably end up pacing the sofa before it is all said and done.

So who do I root for?

This is an updated version of the age-old debate of nature versus nurture.  Am I a product of my genetics and early childhood experiences, or am I a product of my environment?  Which influence is the strongest?  If you drop a perfectly good New York Ranger fan into an environment dominated by Washington Capitals fans, will he adapt and change?  Or is his Ranger fandom part of his DNA?

I queried my friends, Randolph and Mortimer Duke, and as you could imagine, they disagreed with one another on the correct answer.  They suggested a sociological experiment that involved dropping my son off in Manhattan with nothing but a 1994 Ranger yearbook, a Henrik Lundquist signed jersey, and Jamie Lee Curtis, but I rejected that idea.  There is only one way to settle this question, and it is not with some silly $1 bet.

End of regulation.

I predict a grinding, defensive-minded 7 game series, and I will be happy with the result regardless as long as it goes the distance.  I am too old and mature to pace the couches for either team anymore.  I cannot speak for my son, however.  For him, I predict – guarantee - tears…of either joy or sadness.

One day, Thomas may have a son of his own and one day, they may live in another city.  He may one day face the dilemma of raising a son that cheers for a team other than the Capitals.  It could happen.
Unless he ends up living in Pittsburgh.  My son will never allow my grandson to root for the Penguins.  Some DNA strands are too powerful.


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