Everything Else

The Ombudsman

I wish I could remember the details a little better.

I’ve looked this up on HockeyReference.com, and I’m pretty sure it was December 20th, 1987 and a game against the Bruins. I know it was the Bruins for sure, and that would have made me six-years-old. I don’t remember if it was that night or the one previous that my father came home and asked my brother Adam if he wanted to go to the Hawks game that night. What I do remember is that about 0.8 seconds after Adam said he did, I piped up,
“I do too!” Because if Adam wanted to go, then I wanted to go. That’s how it worked on just about everything in my life then, and it’s pretty much remained that way.

My understanding of hockey then was only cursory. I remember loving the Oilers, because my parents had bought me a Wayne Gretzky floor hockey stick for some reason for Christmas and because at that age you’re a front-runner. But I also knew the Hawks were the local team and I was supposed to root for them. But mostly I knew Adam rooted for them, so I did too.

On this particular occasion, my enthusiasm for going to a Hawks game at the Old Stadium confused if not outright scared my family. The Old Stadium was not somewhere you brought a six-year-old, and it certainly wasn’t supposed to be somewhere he actively wanted to go. But Adam wanted to go, so I wanted to go. I know he was delighted.

My parents, and to a lesser extent my brother, kept warning me about the noise. They said they didn’t think I could handle it. But even at that age, I had spent tons of time in Adam’s room as he blared Master Of Puppets, Appetite For Destruction, and Hysteria (Ok, at the time I didn’t know he was only listening to Def Leppard because of some girl, but at the age of six Steve Clark seemed pretty damn subversive. And Pyromania is still a decent album so fuck you!) Noise? I could handle noise. And Adam would be there with me. What could happen and what could be better?

My parents, quickly figuring out I was my father’s son meaning I was as stubborn as an ox even at six, quickly gave up the fight and there I was in the back seat as Adam hopped out of the car to get tickets off a scalper. Little did he realize he had bought three seats, but only two of them were together. But of course, he and I had the ones sitting together.

I don’t remember too much of the game. I remember not being worried at all that my father basically disappeared because he was sitting by himself somewhere thanks to my brother’s idiocy (a long continuing theme in our lives), which as a small boy I should have been terrified. I was too transfixed by the mayhem on the ice and in the stands. The Hawks lost 4-2, and I remember distinctly as the puck hit the back of the vacated net that 17,000 people stood up in unison. We talked about that, the three of us, for years and years.

But most importantly, one of the main pillars of my brother’s and my relationship was established.

Once my brother saw how quickly I gobbled up his hockey fandom, there was one more step he couldn’t wait to take. But I was the one who said I wanted to watch a game from the standing section at The Stadium. Because if that’s where Adam watched most of his games, that’s where I wanted to watch the games.

If the news of me wanting to go to the Stadium at all was met with hesitancy by my parents, then the desire to be in the standing room was met with outright terror. If the Stadium was an outpost of insanity, then the standing room was its holding cell. But again, there was no talking me out of it. That’s where Adam wanted to be, so that’s where I wanted to be. I can remember the look on my mother’s face, as she realized her older son was basically poisoning her younger son, and the younger one was her last hope at raising a person who would contribute anything to society. Oh well.

That’s where Adam and I took in most of our games at the Stadium. I don’t remember how many. God those stairs. My legs burn just thinking about it. We were up there the night the Hawks scored four goals in a 1:56 to beat the Blues 9-6 (Hull only had four that night) and one of his buddies up there lifted me over his head to celebrate, my brother constructing just how he was going to tell our mother that her youngest had been thrown on the ice from the second deck in the celebration. We were up there when Steve Thomas scored four against the Devils. We were up there on a Valentine’s Day when Steve Yzerman turned Karl Dykhuis into a fine paste on his way to a hat trick, five point virtuoso performance. We were up there when Eddie Belfour assaulted Pat LaFontaine in the corner out of frustration of giving up four goals in a period and started a full line brawl. And so many other nights.

Even when my brother left for college, he made sure my father, not much of a hockey fan but always willing to do things for his boys, still maintained my hockey fandom, In accordance, Dad took me to see Guy LaFleur as a Ranger and Wayne Gretzky’s first trip in as a King (only had a hat trick that day, my father beamed for days after. Saw that in the Mora seats. Thank your father for me, Josh).

But Adam and I went every time he came home from school. Before we flew up for his graduation, he called me specifically at home and made sure that I brought his Hawks hat with me. I had been wearing that hat ever since he left, partly because it was a Hawks hat but mostly because it was Adam’s.

He wore it instead of his graduation cap as he gave his speech as senior speaker during commencement. I saw him before the ceremony, it was the day after the Hawks had won Game 1 against the Oilers in the conference final 8-2. Back then the only way to get out of town scores was to wait until the next morning or maybe late that night, and I waited dutifully I the hotel room to get it before seeing Adam. I of course had no idea that Adam had probably spent that night drinking all the booze, but whatever. When I told him the score he looked at me and said, “SAM WE’RE GONNA WIN THE STANLEY CUP!!!” Oh Larmer, why didn’t you cover Lemieux at the net on that faceoff?

As we both got older, hockey was always a center for us. Right after he graduated was the at least very good mid-90’s Hawks teams. The highlight being the Bernie Nicholls era, of course. While baseball was both our first passions, there was something about hockey and the Hawks that felt a little more alive. Probably that it was in line with both of our outsider status. Wherever life took us, we had hockey to get us back to the teenager and his little brother at that first game.

We listened on the radio as the Penguins put us to the sword. We were devastated as the Blues swept the Hawks next year. We said goodbye to the old Stadium as the Leafs simply outclassed the Hawks. We watched with utter glee as with Nicholls came an actual power play in 1995. The night I graduated from middle school, Adam wasn’t there. He was at Game 4 against the Wings. I understood.

A mere four days after our mother passed away, our father sent us to the United Center for Game 6 against the Avs (fucking Sandis Ozolinch). He didn’t suggest. He didn’t ask. He didn’t prod. He sent, because he knew where Adam and I needed to be to at least start to heal. Still one of the best games I’ve been to live (fucking Sandis Ozolinch). Joe Murphy’s equalizer with less than a minute to go is the first time I can remember actually hugging someone after a goal.

Our Hawks and hockey fandom faded a bit after that, which happened to a lot of us around here. Adam moved to New York, and the Rangers were his second team. My first visit there, my first beer in a bar (because New York just didn’t care back then) was followed by my first game in MSG. I strutted around in a Messier jersey I had. The Rangers were garbage by then, but they won 6-1 over the Penguins. It was cool to be in MSG, and yell “POTVIN SUCKS!”

We didn’t see too many Hawks games around then. Wirtz and Pulford had sunk their tentacles as deep as they would go. We had better things to do than the Alop Suhonen Era, I know that. But we always came back. We couldn’t escape. We saw one game in that one playoff year. Theo Fleury had two goals. That was it. But he lockout showed us just how much we missed it.

So we dove full bodied back when hockey returned with those awful, awful Hawks teams. I remember how heartbroken Adam looked during an anthem before a Predators game with 4,000 people cheering. It was a heartbreaking scene, really. I think the Predators scored 18 goals that night. They might as well have.

But then, the revival of course. Kane and Toews showed up, and we called each other after every game. It wasn’t just Daydream Nation though. It was Keith and Seabrook and Bolland and Byfuglien and everyone else. We called each other after every game. It was Adam who paid for those 100-level tickets for that December game in 2007 that I reference so much as the unofficial rebirth of the franchise (and this blog and program) when the Hawks came back out for an encore to a full house. It was Adam who just happened to be in L.A. where I lived, he on business, when that Hawks teams was in Southern California. We sat in the Staples Center as the Hawks blew a 5-1, 3rd period lead but won in overtime in maybe the dumbest Hawks win I’ve ever seen. Our seats were close enough to hear Sharp scream as he slammed home a rebound in OT. We sat the next night in Anaheim as the Pronger and Niedermayer Ducks torched the Hawks thanks to a Teemu Selanne hat trick (BARF) and were serenaded by Orange County high schoolers “Blackhawks Su-uck!” Yep, four syllables. What is with you fucking Californians and your inability to figure out syllables?

It was shortly after that, only a month or two, that I had the idea of trying to exhume The Blue Line, which eventually became this. Every close friend I asked couldn’t have been more enthusiastically supportive. My father too. But Adam took a few days to think about it. He wanted to fully lay it out (little did I know he bought the season tickets he knew I would need during this time). He presented me both the pros and cons, and then gave the go-ahead. Had he said no, I almost certainly never would have done this.

He came back for the first two playoff games in 2009, Andrew Ladd’s winner 16 seconds into OT you’ll remember. One of my favorite moments in the 2010 run was no more than a minute after the Hawks eliminated the Canucks, Adam texted me. All it was was his flight information. He was coming home for the West Final and the Final. We were together the night 49 years of waiting ended. I’m sure a lot of you dreamed one day of being next to your sibling when the Hawks finally won. I hope you got to. I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

We went to pretty much every game the next two years together. We always dreamed of the day we would have season tickets together and could go to every game. We got it for a bit. Eventually he had to move to Ohio. But he was back for the full series against the Kings, the first one, capped by Kane’s double-OT winner.

Our last game together was last January’s shootout win over the Bruins. Not the best game to be the last, but hardly the worst either. It came in a string of games we attended together, as therapy to deal with the passing of our father.

I fucking hate it when people tell me sports don’t matter. It’s usually a rationalization or some hipster fuck trying to feel superior. The last few years of Adam’s life were not kind, and they took a heavy toll on him. Heavier than I ever knew. But when we were sitting together in 320, or just on the couch watching on TV, he was happy. I was happy. How could anyone tell me that didn’t matter?

Today would have been Adam’s 45th birthday. That’s such a stupid number to write. Of all the things that make me ache about him being gone, that might be the biggest. All the things he won’t have. All the things we won’t have.

The phone doesn’t ring after Hawks games now, just like it didn’t when Soler hit one to Des Moines against the Cardinals in August which it assuredly would have (though to be fair, that might have cause Adam to asphyxiate with glee). I can’t get used to it. I’ve given up hope that I ever will. I’m not sure I’d want to get used to it.

I don’t know exactly why I felt compelled to write this. Maybe it’s because I had two chances to eulogize him in the summer but don’t feel like I got it right. The shock was too great. Maybe it’s because none of this would exist, and none of us would be here if it wasn’t for him, and everyone should know that. No matter what role this blog plays in your life, it’s here because of Adam being my brother. Or maybe it’s just because I want everyone to know just how special a person he was, which not nearly enough knew when he was around. Maybe it’s all of it.

Thanks for letting me.

Oh, and the new logo? Yeah, that’s him.

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