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Gazzolo: The fans always come back for more

Last Modified: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 6:38 PM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

Once again the fans have spoken.

For the third time in the last two years, a major professional sport was shut down.

And for the third time in the last two years, the fans have protested by … showing up.

In other words, the leagues really don’t need to learn anything from their mistakes. The players, the same thing.

Sports in America is bigger than labor disputes, bigger than owners and bigger than players.

Last year football took some time off early, but opened the season on schedule. Despite early fan grumblings, they showed up and watched the games just like always.

By the time the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl, all was forgotten and forgiven.

Even this year, when the officials were replaced, that was forgiven, though some of the calls the subs made will never be forgotten.

This is not just football either.

The NBA took on water last year, holding up the start of its season until Christmas Day thanks to a lockout/strike/work stoppage. But the league hardly sunk.

When the finger-pointing had ended and all the signatures were signed on the dotted lines, the game hardly missed a beat.

LeBron James won his title and the fans watched, both in person and at home. The NBA Finals proved witness to the fact the fans had forgotten or forgiven. Maybe both.

Now came the biggest of these tests — hockey.

No longer getting the attention it once received, the NHL had another ugly labor dispute.

Back in 2004, the league was forced to cancel its entire season when the players and owners were at a impasse. With the season lost, the professional sport in America looked doomed.

Yet the fans saved it from itself, showing up the following year and telling the players and owners they were over the mess the two sides had created.

But you figured not again. So when the two sides were at each other one more time this summer, you figured the sport was doomed.

Not so.

After 119 days and the loss of 510 games, the season finally got started last Saturday. Those expecting to see empty arenas were surprised.

The buildings were jammed, the noise at record levels and the fans happy to forget and forgive. They just want their hockey.

And you wonder why nobody takes the fans seriously any more.

Professional sports, both players and owners, have long turned their backs on the fans. They have created new stadiums where big business goes to mix and mingle while cutting a few more deals.

The average guy who wants to take his kids to the places he watched games with his parents have long been priced out of the market.

But you would think that this, with all the ugliness of a mid-70s hockey brawl at center ice would have led to at least a little booing from the fans. If so, I didn’t hear it.

The crowds rose to welcome their boys back on the ice.

The buildings were packed once again and the buzz was back in the air. In fact, with the season cut from 82 to 48 games, there was an added sense of urgency that filtered through the arenas.

The fans realize that every game in this shortened season means that much more in the standings.

The NBA learned this last year, when they cut games off their schedule and it worked.

This goes to show you that life is a lot like sports, the rich get richer.

And the fans, they keep coming back for more.

• • •

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at jgazzolo@americanpress.com

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