Thank you, Tiger Woods: The NHL Needed a Wake-Up Call

Elbow MurderpantsCorrespondent IJune 4, 2008

You know, even though I partially think Tiger Woods was kidding when he smirked, "...I don't think anyone watches hockey anymore...", I'm actually glad he said it.

The truth is, he's probably pointing out the painfully obvious (with a pinch of overstatement).

Hockey will forever be the bastard step-child of the five major sports, especially in the south.

But this is a realization that Gary Bettman and the "Let's-try-to-meddle-with-the-game-to-convert-the-hockey-haters" committee refuses to acknowledge. They hopelessly, and clumsily, continue to "trick-up" the rules and structure of the game to try to appeal to fans who will never embrace it.

Deluded marketing departments have finally gone off their meds and started to overestimate their power to affect the Zeitgeist. They see other sports' fans as a flock of dirty pigeons in a giant Skinner Box that they can force to like hockey, by flogging them with such compelling incentives as Ice-Girls, pimped-out Zambonis, the promise of higher scoring, and side-show, pseudo-soccer shootouts to shorten the games. (Shorter, so "fringe fans" can make a late movie after the game.) (Pathetic!)

It's all been about as effective as a rubber nail so far.

The only way to "grow" the popularity of hockey is through "grass-roots" initiatives. Get American kids playing, get their parents fighting in the stands, and teach the Southerners how to put skates on their sandy bare feet.

Granted, that approach may be tougher than probability math, but it's the only way a vision like this can succeed. And, it's going to take some time. Sorry, Gary; you won't have this problem licked by the time the Versus contract expires.

Selling hockey to Baseball, Football, Basketball, or even Jai Alai fans, is like trying to sell veal to vegetarians.

The critic's spurious snivels of "I can't see the puck" and "there's too much fighting," or "there's not enough scoring" is similar to a child making excuses as to why they won't eat their peas.

It's just another way of saying, "It's not Football/Baseball/Rodeo."

Admittedly, the NHL committed a ridiculous act of self-flagellation by suspending an entire season just to break the NHLPA, but any baseball or football fan that "claims" that's the reason they don't like hockey is so full of dookie that their eyes are quite likely to be brown.

Two years later, the NHL owners who cried poverty were back signing players to $10 million dollar contracts and driving up the market value for talent, again. We, the loyal fans, bought it, even though we were the only ones truly getting boned.

We also "drank the Kool-Aid" when they told us they had to change the game to appeal to fringe fans, by not letting the goalies play the puck in the corners, erasing the red-line, and making neutral ice a "No-Touchy" zone. Now they want to enlarge the net and make the goalies go naked.

After all this bull-butter, scoring is not up appreciably, and the NHL playoffs can barely beat Kimbo Slice in a ratings cage match.

Meanwhile, the Jumbotrons have to go back at least four years to show highlights of a decent hit, and I'm paying loads more for a sticky seat.

There's no point retaliating by pointing out that golf has about as much appeal to me as a skin abrasion, (Confidentially, I'm joking... a skin abrasion is decidedly more stimulating) or that if the game of baseball was any slower, it might actually cause a time vortex that sucks you into the Pre-Cambrian.  

Unlike the other sportsters, I make no excuses. I don't ask the NFL to put goaltenders in the end zones or suggest that the MLB allow body-checks to the batters. I just watch my sport and sit in wonderment of how the game could have survived, mostly unchanged, from 1917 until 2004.

Now, evidently, it's got to be "re-thought" — "re-vamped" — "re-packaged" and… well, "re-tarded".

Thanks Tiger, you spoke the truth— one can only hope the league listens and starts to see the game for what it really is.