NASHVILLE, TN - APRIL 24: David Legwand #11 of the Nashville Predators is congratulated by teammates after scoring an open net goal against the Anaheim Ducks in Game Six of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bridgestone Arena on April 24, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
I hopped in the car yesterday afternoon, turned the radio dial to 104.5 FM, and expected to hear George Plaster opining about the Atlanta Braves, or perhaps introducing someone on a ‘car phone'. Instead, I listened as Nashville Predators assistant coach Peter Horachek discussed faceoff tactics, after which Plaster and Willy Daunic discussed how much they appreciated the commitment of Nashville's coaching staff.
Soon after, I pulled into the local barbecue joint to pick up some dinner. On the bar was a copy of yesterday's Tennessean, with a photo of celebrating Preds accompanying a David Climer column, all on the very front page. I looked up at the TV, and the local news was broadcasting fan reaction from the night before, complete with game highlights on a loop.
As is my custom, I was sporting Predators gear, but this time was a bit different from the norm. Even just filling the car up with gas, I received one high five, two comments about the win, and one woman who thought Shea Weber was handsome (she has good taste, clearly).
All of this came in the space of about 90 minutes, and was rather shocking. It's not that people around Middle Tennessee don't support the Predators - if you ask them, they'd say that yes, they were fans, but to name a player or recall the last time they had attended a game would be nearly impossible. Let's face it - this is Titans town, for a variety of reasons, the main one being that football is simply more popular in the South than hockey.
The Titans, though, are, in rebuilding mode. Don't get me wrong, because I support the Titans and wish them well, but they're dealing with their fair share of troubles on and off the field. Additionally, the NFL is tussling with the idea of a lockout, and so, our friends across the river are no longer first in mind.
The Preds, on the other hand, have made franchise history and aren't displaying any desire to slow down. They've built the organization from the ground up, and turned it into one of the classiest franchises in professional sports. It's only now that the results are mimicking the effort placed, but in turn, the populace is buying what the Nashville Predators are selling.
To be clear, this is not "Predators vs. Titans". No, the two teams can peacefully coexist, despite what I or anyone else may chirp. In actuality, it's similar to "if you build it, they will come", except in this case, transpose "win" with "build". The fact is that folks don't want to support a team that can't win when it counts, and while many of us will, I can't entirely blame the people that won't, either.
Sunday afternoon, the Nashville Predators finally found playoff success, albeit not on a large scale. In doing so, the added recognition has opened the eyes of many people who would not otherwise care. Sure, the novelty might create a bandwagon feel, but that's no problem at all - how else do fanbases grow?
It's hard to say just how far this Stanley Cup Playoffs ride will take us. It could end in four losses, or it could even end twelve wins from now. Along the way, though, the Predators are picking up tangible success, national recognition, community notoriety, but perhaps most importantly, more than a few fans who may well stick around for the long haul.
Yep, it's likely to be aggravating if you have to explain icing to the person sitting next to you, or maybe put up with hearing someone say "Sutter" as opposed to "Suter", but at the end of the day, it's good for the game of hockey. When the Nashville Predators win, we all do - and I could certainly stand for more of that as spring ages into summer.