Tonight's events in Dallas brings you back to a side of sports we often don't think about; it's often there, but not on on the forefront of the mind: The human side. It's not very often that we genuinely watch a game in fear and shock, but tonight most people did. Rich Peverley is thankfully in stable condition, and we hope his condition improves soon. But watching both the feeds from Dallas and Columbus brought me back to a place that I never wanted to revisit, and one that still gives me chills when I remember this name.
When those of an older generation think of players collapsing on the field/court/ice, they may think of Hank Gathers, and rightfully so. That name and those moments on TV for many are still haunting to recount, and for obvious reasons. Many hockey fans also will remember the incident with Jiri Fischer of the Detroit Red Wings back in 2005, which is the closest parallel to the situation tonight in Dallas. Fischer ended up retiring after that incident for health purposes. But for me, my mind immediately goes back to one name: Fabrice Muamba.
During Tottenham and Bolton's FA Cup Quarterfinal in 2012, Muamba collapsed on the field and laid motionless on the field for 6 minutes. I was not watching the game since I was at an amusement park with friends and was tracking the game on twitter. Even though I was not watching the game, the tweets had a sense of shock, fear, and impending dread that no one should ever feel watching a sporting event, or ever in life. It was madness; people were concerned about his health because for awhile everyone thought he had died on the pitch. I had to ask my friends to sit down for awhile, because I was not in a state of mind to do anything other than sit quietly and think. I knew of what had happened to Hank Gathers, but obviously was not alive to see it happen. This was the moment for me when sports and the real world crossed in a way I hadn't seen before, or since, until tonight. And just hearing the name "Fabrice Muamba" gives me chills and has me ponder life for a moment.
Tonight was different, yet the same. On twitter you could see and feel the fear, dread, and angst about what was going on. Everyone was genuinely frightened. And when you would turn to the local feeds of the Stars or Jackets, that didn't help matters. The Stars feed was dead silent, with only interspersed shots of shocked fans to break the monotony of hearing nothing. The looks on the fans faces were genuinely frightening, and gave me the flashbacks to the Muamba incident that I had hoped I'd never have again. I had to change over to the Columbus feed because the cascading fear of silence was making me sick. The Jackets feed wasn't silent; but the same sense of fear came across in just the genuine shock you could tell the announcers had. But everyone went about their professional duty to find out about the condition of Peverley, and the game in the way that is hoped for, but not expected in times like these. Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge in Columbus, and Ralph Strangis and Daryl Reaugh in Dallas all did exceptional jobs trying to present everything going on without showing the smallest signs of fear that everyone else had, and they should all be commended greatly for what they were able to do.
Both teams have a game tomorrow night, but that feels insignificant now. The human side of sports is often not thought of unless a case like the Peverley or Muamba one arises, and tonight was no exception. One can't imagine what the players on the ice were thinking, whether they were current or past teammates or just comrades who all play the game they love at the highest level. Like I was with the Muamba incident, everyone who was watching and tracking the game tonight will be scarred in some way, but we will be comforted in knowing that Peverley is in good health and good spirits (including his crack about wanting to play again... save your "hockey players are tough" commentaries for later, please).
When sports and real life cross, it's never usually in times of triumph, and tonight was no different. Whether it was me reading and watching in fear because of past memories, or whether it was a fan at the game tonight watching in shock as the ice emptied and players screamed for help, we were all touched tonight by the side of sports we don't see. Hockey fans as a collective came together tonight to hope/pray/remember/honor, just as most English football fans did 2 years ago on that fateful Saturday, and that should help the healing process. There are games tomorrow night, and ones going on as I type this, but we'll be all be reminded of what happened tonight, since everyone of us won't and can't forget.
Maybe the healing process for me starts when I type out the last letter. Words are often the first means of acceptance.