Being a sports fan, in this case a Red Wings fan, you have this unexplainable love for the boys of Hockeytown. We are all their biggest cheerleaders and their biggest critics. But do you ever sit back and take a moment to reflect on how and why you became a fan in the first place?
If I would have had to answer this question about eight years ago, I would have simply laughed and said, “Umm, because they are the Red Wings and we win all the time, that’s why I’m a fan.” Fast forward eight years with a dash of maturity, I have a more elaborate answer to this question; all thanks to an event that took place just about eight years ago.
July 12th, 2009. A date that will always weight heavy with me. It’s the day I lost my father, Ted Dudley. My Dad, he was the best; plain and simple. A police officer by day, an avid hockey fan by night and on a few nights a week, he would embrace his inner Steve Yzerman in the beer leagues. My dad lived and breathed hockey. So much so, that my mother, sister and I chose to have my father laid to rest in his favorite jersey, his sacred and beloved Yzerman jersey. Years prior to his death, my dad made sure that everyone around knew how much he loved the Wings. My Dad wanted to paint the Wings emblem on our garage for everyone in Dearborn Heights to see, however my mother had veto power and instead, my Dad decorated our front yard and porch each season before the playoffs. I’m talking about hockey skates hanging around our mailbox, jerseys in the window, hockey sticks planted in our front lawn and Red Wings flags on each side of our garage. Theo was indeed a Wingnut, and it’s because of him and everything he did in my childhood that has turned me into the hockey fan and lover I am today.
My dad worked in a dangerous profession, he was a police officer for 24 ½ years. There was always the fear that he wouldn’t come home, a fear that my mom, sister and I just accepted because that’s just what police families do. Never in my life did I think the greatest sport to ever be played would take my Dad.
Yes, you read that correctly. But I guess I should elaborate; my father died of a massive heart attack while playing hockey – the championship game of the beer league he played in, I should add. His team was down 4-0 in the first, and in the blink of an eye, he collapsed. He was gone before he hit the ice. Just a few weeks prior to his death, my dad made a comment that if he had a choice of how he had to die, he said “I’d want to go playing the greatest sport ever; let me go on the ice.”
As you can imagine, losing a parent suddenly when you’re young is devastating however that story is for another time, perhaps a novel I’ll write one day. Anyways, as the years have gone on I have come to have a new love for the sport of hockey and the Red Wings. It’s not how it was when I was younger, when the Wings dominated the sport and everyone hated us or wanted to be us. This new found love and appreciation I have stems from how my Dad loved the sport when he was a 24 year old. When he was 24, Stevie was still young and only captain for a few seasons and making the playoffs weren’t a regular thing. When the Wings won the cup in 1997, my Dad cried tears of happiness. Now here I am, 24 years of age. I’ve had the privilege to grow up and watch the playoff streak, I watched our boys raise the cup four times over the span of 15 years…that is pretty insane. After the ’15-’16 season, looking back at those privileges brings even more meaning now as the Wings are entering this uncharted territory of rebuild and transition. Even though it may seem weird to us spoiled Wings fans, to those fans who grew up in my Dad’s time, they’d probably say “Been there, done that, we will be great again.” As I write those words, I can vividly hear my Dad’s voice in the back of my head uttering those exact words and I can picture him sitting right next to me on this couch with a beer in his hand, a smirk on his face, reassuring that our beloved Red Wings, will indeed be great once again.
*My dad and I at a Yum-Yum Donuts in the 90’s; in almost every childhood photo I have, he always wore a Red Wings shirt and hat. He took great pride in representing his favorite team.*
How did you become a fan? Was it someone in your family who passed down their love for the team? Was it your passion for the sport? We’d love to hear from you and how the Red Wings captured your heart!