The year was 1991 and it could be summed up in one word: Anticipation. It was exciting, but I knew it would take time for the San Jose Sharks to build some credibility, to build a team that was a contender for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
I just didn’t realize it would take so long.
Those were the early days of trekking up to Daly City to watch the young team play in their temporary Cow Palace home. The early days of Pat Falloon, Jeff Odgers, Doug Wilson and goalie Jeff Hackett. Not to mention backup goaltender Arturs “Like Wall” Irbe, whose teal No. 32 jersey I proudly wore. A jersey that accumulated various signatures through the years.
Hockey has been with me for as long as I can remember. My dad’s love of the game rubbed off on me and, having spent the early portion of my life in the Los Angeles area, the Kings were my original home team. I was always kind of the oddball during my school years, being a female hockey fan – in California, no less.
But when the Sharks debuted in 1991, 11,089 fledgling fans (and seasoned ones like myself) packed the Cow Palace to capacity – and did so for every game that was held there. It was a tumultuous beginning, with ups (Irbe’s first shutout) and downs (a 17-game losing streak).
The team’s move to the brand-new San Jose Arena two years later was a joyous event – the team finally had an official place to call home. Now, perhaps the players would settle down and give fans the chance to raise them up. That first year they beat the heavily-favored Detroit Red Wings in the first round of the playoffs.
And the frenzy began.
Fans came out in droves, regularly selling out the new arena. And they made noise. Lots of it. So much so that through the years “The Tank” became the talk among sportscasters and players as one of the most raucous and loud buildings in the league.
Maybe we didn’t have a stellar team full of superstars – or really even a single one – but at least we could be proud of having one of the hardest arenas for an opposing team to perform in.
It’s been a wild ride thus far. And when fans are asked to exit the ride at the end of each season, its often a disappointing one.
But isn’t that just part of it?
It’s like I’ve been married to the Sharks for 20 years. And in any marriage, there are highs and lows, moments of disappointment, times of jubilation.
Sure, it would be nice to be married to the top dog, the one with all the finesse, the one who always gets his way.
But I’m not.
I chose the scrappy one, the one who needs to push his way to the top, who struggles with confidence even though he’s tremendously loved – even in times of annoyance and exasperation.
Faces have come and gone: General managers and coaches have been fired and replaced, popular players traded for others whose shoulders carry the hope of both team and fan alike.
But the ups and downs continue for the men in teal, making the playoffs, only to be ousted. Sometimes the they seem to choke against a lesser team; other times it seems they just can’t catch a break or are simply outplayed by a superior one.
Twenty-plus years later – sometimes it feels like 30 – and the Cup has yet to call San Jose home. Is it frustrating? It sure is. Is it enough to make me call it quits? Not even close. I’m in it for the long – really long – haul.
Although the old Irbe jersey has since been retired, I’ll continue to wear my Sharks sweatshirts and yell at the TV when the ref makes a “bad” call. I’ll continue to take in a few games each season at HP Pavilion and cheer on my team alongside 17,495 other fans. All in the hopes that the Stanley Cup will one day find its way to San Jose.
And when that day comes … boy, is it going to be sweet.