Of Sharks and Seals

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Here at the sports desk located somewhere beneath decks of the Good Pirate Ship RedState, we freely admit that the very temporary bragging rights it gave Sammy the Shark over Karl the Kraken aside, in terms of importance the December 13th 3-2 win by the San José Sharks over the Arizona Coyotes is significant solely for its lack thereof. Perhaps uniqueness, given how dreadful the Sharks are this season, but let’s not go there (please). With Arizona in full-blown rebuild mode and San José in an as-yet unadmitted variation of the same, it is highly doubtful either team will spend any time working on ice once the regular season ends save for that in their drinks after a golf outing.


And yet, the game did have significance for those whose knowledge of San Francisco Bay Area sports extends beyond the San Francisco Giants attempting to console themselves after losing out on the Aaron Judge sweepstakes by signing (so they thought) Carlos Correa on December 13th to a modest 13 year, $350M deal. So much for any bad luck associated with the date, at least for Correa and his agent’s bank accounts. As it turned out, there were one or two too many 13’s in there, as on December 21st Correa signed with the Mets. But I digress; back to the Sharks.

What made the victory significant for Los Tiburones was it was their first one at home while wearing this season’s Reverse Retro jersey. For the non-hockey initiated, a brief primer. The NHL, in its pursuit of at least some of the sports fan’s dollars freely tossed about on the 857 different jerseys every NBA team concocts each season, started the Reverse Retro series last year with every team reaching into its vault, pulling out a jersey design from days gone by, and swapping some element color-wise within the design. For example, an area originally blue would now be red, and vice versa. This serves two purposes: 1) paying homage to the team’s past and 2) preventing fans from digging into the closet and pulling out an old jersey that exactly matched this year’s model. Also, no yellow roses allowed.


Some teams try harder than others to come up with something different. Last season, the Montréal Canadiens went the logical route with their familiar bleu et rouge (blanc stayed put). This year, bleu went back and the red was replaced with powder blue, thus signifying the team’s strong connection with the UCLA Bruins and Los Angeles Chargers. Just kidding; it’s actually an homage to the late and lamented by some Montréal Expos. That said, given the option of February in Quebec or February in Southern California, one can hardly blame Youppi for dreaming about catching some rays.

Last year, the Sharks dusted off their second primary jersey (counting the one introduced this year, the team has had five primary jerseys in their 33-year history), did some color switching, and called it a day. This year, they did it right by acknowledging their Bay Area predecessors the Oakland (later California Golden) Seals.

The Seals were part of the NHL’s 1967 expansion which saw the league double in size to a whopping twelve teams. Alas, the Seals were decidedly the runt of the litter, running through multiple owners before finally moving to Cleveland in 1976 and then, in 1978, disappearing altogether, “merging” with the then-Minnesota North Stars. In an ironic twist, the Barons’ owners were brothers George and Gordon Gund, who became majority owners of the North Stars as part of the merger. Over a decade later, due to low attendance, the Gund brothers threatened to move the North Stars to … Oakland. The NHL, not wishing to see the team leave Minnesota, in 1990 gave the Gund brothers dibs on an expansion franchise to start play the following year in the San Francisco Bay Area. San José had a new arena already under construction, which became the new team’s new home after a couple of years at the venerable Cow Palace in Daly City just south of San Francisco. Meanwhile, the North Stars’ eventual new owner moved the team in 1993 to Dallas.


When I was in the days of my youth, I fell in love with hockey in general and the Seals in particular. It didn’t matter that they were seldom better than mediocre. This was my team, my sport. I read and re-read every word about them in the local paper. I did the old transistor radio under the pillow trick so I could listen to the games undisturbed well past my assigned bedtime. The team was usually dreadful, but I didn’t care. When the Seals moved to Cleveland, I was devastated even beyond the obligatory teenage angst permeating my being during those days. My fondest live sports moment came in 1991 when the Sharks played their first home pre-season game in their inaugural year. As the team took the ice for pregame warmup, the fans in attendance spontaneously stood as one and applauded, me with them, as the joy of finally having a hockey team I could call my own took hold.

So yes, even as fiercely mediocre as the Sharks are this year, I still root for them while hoping for better days ahead. This is what sports should be about. Never let them steal your joy.


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