Atlanta Thrashers fans have planned one last tailgate at The Gulch near Philips Arena Saturday afternoon in support of their likely departing team. (The world is also ending on this date.) Not many people are expected to attend, but really, how many people should show up to a May hockey tailgate for a team with nine toes out the door?
Oh, I see. Once you frame this event as a save-our-Thrashers rally, then we have to start whipping out numbers, as if this is spring college football game attendance we're talking about <-- sacred ground, friend, and we have spreadsheets to prove it. Because the last necessary step in the death march of any fanbase is the embarrassing save-our-team rally, which never, ever works. Your team is moving, and you will rally to save it.
Winnipeg Jets fans themselves turned out an estimated crowd of 35,000 strong -- or almost three times their average game attendance -- for their final show of strength. Fifteen years later, they talk about it every few hours. Compare that to Hartford Whalers fans, who produced about 400 at their rally, or that Houston Oilers rally that barely filled a street corner.
To ESPN, TSN and the Associated Press, the desperate save-our-team rally is the coup de grâce of team relocation coverage conventions. It's a formal piece of a digestible narrative package that's been honed to perfection over the decades -- it has to happen. It's a chance to put a video with text. If they can film wide patches of asphalt and grass between pockets of fans, that's a story, as nobody can look away from a car wreck. If people pack an entire park, that's a story, as the masses are sticking it to the man.
I'm not saying it's unfair. I'm just saying that the announcement of a rally, even if fans try to brand it as a tailgate --which, again, sacred lexicon -- still perks the ears of every national media producer.
"Did they have their save-the-team rally yet? We need save-the-team-rally video."
Especially when we're talking about fans of a decade-old team that plays a sport without deep roots in a town with a particular reputation lobbying for their team on a 90-degree day.
"Oh, this is gonna be especially good save-the-team-rally footage. Make sure we can get photos of that."
I don't know what I expect to see this afternoon, as far as numbers go, since that's what we're told matters here. I expect to see some of the most save-the-team-rally sights I've ever witnessed, but I mostly expect to see people who give a s--- about a thing and don't want to be told they have no reason to care about it anymore.
I expect 11 and 39 years of history to be compressed into four seconds of sign-waving video to fulfill SportsCenter's obligation, and I expect fans from far away or Atlantans who've never cared about hockey to look at it, ignore the background and context, and just laugh at people who are losing something. I'm sure I've done the same thing before today.
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