The other day I attended a funeral and a hockey game broke out.
Okay, to be fair it was a hockey game all along but the funeral feel came from the knowledge that it was the last home game of the season for the Houston Aeros who by most accounts will be leaving for Des Moines, Iowa upon the completion of the current season.
While sports franchises move for myriad reasons the Aeros are not moving by choice.
After calling Houston home since the mid ninties, their lease is not being renewed at their home arena.
Comparable in town venues were looked at but no suitable site could be located. So, short of a last minute reprieve the pucks and the trucks filled with the rest of the equipment are heading north once the season is over and the era of minor league hockey in Houston will come to an end..
Of course with the Aeros out of the way it leaves certain parties free to pursue a National Hockey League team to replace the minor league Aeros. There are many factors that would need to fall into place for that to occur but step one to kick out the current tenet appears well underway.
This is certainly not the first time that Houston has dealt with a sports franchise leaving. The Houston Oilers relocated to Tennessee following the 1996 season. And after a season as the strangely named Tennessee Oilers they became the Titans.
Nearly a decade later, and despite getting the expansion team Houston Texans, there are still people angered by the loss of the Oilers. This anger is even more easy to spot when the Titans come to town to play the Texans.
I had a similar experience as a youngster in Maryland when on March 28, 1984 the owner of the Baltimore Colts packed up the team and shipped them to Indianapolis in the middle of the night. And much like the case in Houston, Baltimore eventually was awarded another team but the betrayal of the midnight run is still felt nearly 30 years later.
The largest crowd in the history of the Aeros was on hand to send them off. I thought that this was fitting since unlike the examples of the Oilers and the Colts the team was not quitting on the city.
The fans cheered each goal loudly and seemed to soak in every moment. I attend around three hockey games a year on average so relatively speaking the loss of the Aeros will not put a huge void in my sports calendar but it will be felt nonetheless.
There was an excitement and an electricity that I felt when I attended the games and while there are certainly those fans who attend for the fights I also found poetry on the ice as people did things on skates that few of us less snow bound state dwellers can dream of.
Unlike other sports that I watch such as baseball and basketball I never played hockey. In fact, every time I even tried to ice skate it usually ended up with me brushing ice off of the bottom of my pants since I struggled to stay upright.
I did play soccer though and I have long thought that hockey is basically soccer on ice. While there are certain differences between the two sports by and large one can draw many similarities between the two if they think about it.
Plus, hockey occurs in air-conditioned comfort and there is the entertainment of watching the Zamboni go around in circles.
If a NHL team does come to Houston, I will still probably go to about as many games as I did for the Aeros. I do not foresee myself becoming a season ticket holder but I can feel the pain of the season ticket holders who had followed the Aeros for many years.
There were many signs of support held up inside the arena and various fans were overheard talking about the finality of it all. For them the loss of the team runs deeper than for a casual fan like me.
During every stoppage of play the promotions department used the t-shirt cannons to get rid of the excess inventory of shirts. While it was certainly a nice gesture it was also practical. When the moving vans take the team north there will be little need for items marked Houston.
The pending relocation while still not 100 percent fully confirmed reminded me of a famous episode of the Simpsons. In the episode Homer learns of a plan for the Springfield Isotopes minor league baseball team to relocate to Albuquerque, New Mexico.
No one believes Homer at first and the typical hijinks ensue until the concession stand full of foods made up of “delicious southwestern ingredients” gives them away and the town folk apologize for not believing Homer.
As a side note, in response to that episode a team did in fact move to Albuquerque New Mexico and became the Isotopes. Sometimes art really does imitate life.
While the last Aeros game in Houston felt like a funeral at times it did end in a win for the home team who kept their playoff chances alive.
It also ended with the players lingering on the ice just a bit longer than usual to thank the fans and of course to throw out some more promotional items.
The lingering of the players on the ice also gave the fans a chance to thank the players with a rousing standing ovation.
As with most minor league teams, many of the players will never make it to the rinks in the NHL but they are local favorites nonetheless and just as big in the fan’s eyes as some of those big name NHL stars.
I think I may have even seen some tears shed when all was said and done but then again that could have just been from the cold temperatures coming up from the ice.
Here’s to continued success for the Aeros players for the rest of their run to the playoffs. It was certainly fun while it lasted.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go see if I can get a Zamboni ride before it gets shipped up to Iowa.
Copyright 2013 R. Anderson