I hate the Flyers. I wasn't around in the Broad Street Bullies days, but it doesn't matter. I had 1997, when I was still a Red Wings fan. I had Legion of Doom. And John Leclair's phantom goal, when Sabres fans learned that scoring through the side of the net is not only legal, but also series-changing.
Even one of my proudest moments as a fan came rooting against the orange and black. Amidst a 10-game winning streak to open the 2006-2007 season, the Sabres destroyed the Flyers, 9-1. Ken Hitchcock fired. Bobby Clarke resigned. Life couldn't get better.
But that was then. Now, former Sabres - former Sabres most fans absolutely LOVED - wear that evil sweater. They get cheered and booed by fans wearing "VENGEANCE NOW" t-shirts.
Despite all this, I'm struggling, as are many other Sabres fans. How can you hate Daniel Briere's face? The one that can't grow a playoff beard. He's leading the playoffs in scoring. When he scored last night to recapture the Flyers' lead, I screamed in agony. But I'm not sure if it was sincere. Because at the same time, it reminded me of Briere scoring against Carolina in Game 6 of the 2006 conference finals, which is as far from Philly hatred as you can get.
And then there's Buffalo-backup-now-Philly-starting-netminder Marty Biron. It's Marty. Goofy, loveable ... he's still the same, but he doesn't wear a goatlord anymore. Oh, and all of a sudden he's the biggest story of the playoffs. He looks borderline cocky (which of course, can't be true, because he's Marty) in the crease, but with good reason. He's been outstanding.
And that's just the Flyers/Habs series. The other Eastern Conference series has not just my favorite ex-Sabre, but pretty much my favorite player of all time, Chris Drury. He looked as if he popped his shoulder out of its socket the last game, but struggled back to play in the third period. In Game 4, I just watched him crouch on the ground to block a shot, cringe with pain, and then skate gingerly to the boards. But then he opens the door and sits on the bench, like nothing happened. Just like when he tied Game 5 with 7.7 seconds to go against the Rangers last year. Same Drury, different jersey.
So here's the dilemma: as sports fans, do we cheer for teams? Or do we cheer for individuals?
Or is it possible to do both without driving yourself crazy?
Fellow Michigan grads say they pick their NFL team based on which one has the most former Wolverines, probably since many Detroit natives couldn't find the strength to root for the Lions. This has always sounded absurd to me. But is it?
Cheering for the Sabres through the dark years, could you really have a favorite player? If you did, they probably left, retired or got traded. You were more worried with losing the TEAM. That's when I became a sports fan in camp one, leaving behind my individual player allegiances. I practically disowned Dominik Hasek and Michael Peca.
Could there be middle ground? Can you root against the Flyers, yet cheer for Briere and Biron? It seems mathematically impossible. If Biron stops everything and Briere scores, Flyers win. (The Rangers will probably be eliminated this week, if not tonight, so I'm not as concerned with Drury.)
In sports, you can try to control your emotions. But in the end, it's just like love. Your true feelings will show through. I wonder if that's finally happening to me, and if it is, whether I can be a Sabres fan and live with that.