I remember when I attended the Red Wedding.
Even in book form, the shocking turn of events which takes place in A Storm of Swords, the third installation of the Game of Thrones series, hits readers in a way that very few fictional entertainments do. TV viewers experienced it for themselves Sunday night on HBO, and reaction from the audience was predictably histrionic:
While folks watching a TV drama were stunned by the surprising and sudden tragedy, sports fans should be all too familiar with this phenomenon. Real life very rarely conforms to classic ideals of drama, with a conflict between protagonist and antagonist building to a cathartic climax with good defeating evil.
No, reality can get awfully messy at times, and sudden reversals can occur at the most inopportune moments...
The Red Wedding In Various Forms
For Nashville Predators fans, a version of the Red Wedding took place on April 24, 2010, in Game 5 of the first playoff round against Chicago. The Predators had fought back to take a 3rd period lead on the road at the United Center against a heavily favored Blackhawks team with the series tied at two games apiece. For the faithful back in Smashville, tuning in to a TV broadcast which was repeatedly interrupted for severe weather updates, it was a white-knuckle ride which appeared to be headed into bold new territory, with the Preds finally seizing command of a playoff series for the first time in their history. Nashville had been awarded a five-minute power play with just over a minute left to play, so melting the clock should have been an easy task, right?
Wrong. In a matter of moments, it all turned very, very wrong.
Despite having a man advantage, the Predators turned the puck over and let Patrick Kane score the tying goal with just 14 seconds left in regulation, and even though they started OT with another 3:57 of power play time, Nashville failed to put away the Hawks. Instead, Chicago killed it off and Marian Hossa came right out of the penalty box to score the winning goal, turning that series around in an instant and making the Predators' elimination in Game 6 shortly thereafter a fait accompli.
For the Detroit Red Wings what springs to mind is Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Finals, in which Claude Lemieux smashed Kris Draper's face into the dasher and a record-setting 62-win team was knocked out of the playoffs. In Toronto, they can point to this year's Game 7 against Boston in the first round, when the Leafs held a 4-1 lead with 11 minutes left to play only to see the Bruins rise up and tear the hearts out of Maple Leafs fans by winning in overtime.
In short, we've all been there, folks. Being a sports fan can take you to the highest of highs, but when you make that emotional investment in your favorite team there's also the risk of heart-wrenching disappointment. That feeling doesn't just fade into distant memory, either. It serves as fuel for, well... revenge for lack of a better word. Seeing a team rise above past failures can make victory all the sweeter for its ability to wash away the bitter aftertaste of defeat.
In situations involving genuine life & death, this emotional swing can lead to blood feuds and sectarian violence which goes on for generations. At least in our cushy First World society people can channel those emotions into trifling activities like cheering for sports teams. The underlying feelings are very real, however, and provide the kind of intense shared experience that binds communities together. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, GoT author George R.R. Martin makes no apologies for the unpredictable and at times unpopular plot twists which define his epic:
"I try to make the readers feel they’ve lived the events of the book. Just as you grieve if a friend is killed, you should grieve if a fictional character is killed. You should care. If somebody dies and you just go get more popcorn, it’s a superficial experience isn’t it?"
As we Nashville Predators fans watch the NHL Conference Finals, it's worth keeping this in mind as fans of the Kings, Blackhawks, Bruins & Penguins collectively lose their minds over every twist and turn along the way. They're on one hell of a ride right now, and only a minority of them will be cheering at the end of it.