Adam Schein is very nice.
It was the winter of 2010 and the Islanders had about 4 years to go on their glacial rebuild. I know this because the Jets were about to play the Colts in the wild card round of the playoffs. Adam Schein predicted they'd win only a day or two before on SNY. And here he was, as my girlfriend (now wife) pointed him out to me in our midtown Starbucks.
"That makes sense," I said to her. "SNY studios are right across the street." We would've left it at that, but then he came right next to our table to dress up his coffee just as we were getting up to leave. "Mr. Schein" I said, "I'm a big fan. And I feel much better about the Jets' chances against the Colts thanks to you." T
o my surprise and delight, he happily recapped his opinions on the matter as he practiced his coffee mixology. "Its just as though he's on the air," I remember thinking. I smiled and thanked him again, content to turn back to my girlfriend. But then he changed the subject.
Adam: I just can't believe you're wearing that Islanders hat!
Me: Ha, yeah. They're uh...
Adam: I mean...I just can't even...
This observation, and those like it, is something we Islanders fans have become more than accustomed to hearing: from fans, former fans, casual observers---pretty much anyone from the past two decades that doesn't share our common obsession. Well versed in responding to such comments, I chose self-congratulation over self-deprecation. Either would have been appropriate.
Me: Yeah. You can't wear this hat and be a front-runner, that's for sure.
Adam: No, man. You're hardcore.
Thus ended my encounter with half the cast of "Loud Mouths." What Mr. Schein didn't know is just how devoted we fans had to be to keep following a franchise that for decades had almost every sports publication un-creatively describing it simply as "lowly" or "beleaguered."The Long, Hard, Arena Ordeal
He also didn't know that about eight months before, I was lucky enough to go to Montreal to see our team draft John Tavares.
My then-roommate won two tickets in a contest on the Islanders website. We couldn't believe it. It was a blast. But a few days before the trip, all the winners were summoned to the Coliseum. Garth Snow was there, as well as some members of the front office and staff. Also, they invited the media. By "the media" for the 2009 Islanders, of course I mean News 12 and TV 55.
Someone from the latter asked if any of the winners or guests wanted to be interviewed on camera. We were all in one big room, so we all watched those brave enough to volunteer. It became clear that they mostly wanted to ask us fans about the Lighthouse Project.
I demured from going up solo. I didn't win the contest, after all. Nor did I have all the facts and figures about the benefits of the proposal in front of me or anything. I knew that I was in favor of it, and I thought it was almost certainly going to happen. TARP and Cash for Clunkers were being debated on a national level as we all dealt with what most knew would be a long-term economic decline. Who would think to turn down what was essentially a privately funded stimulus project in an already struggling area? I didn't volunteer.
I often think about what I should have said if I had. Maybe that it would be phenomenally short-sighted (to say nothing of demoralizing) to get rid of a revenue-generating professional sports franchise? Maybe that while we're at the business of keeping them around, we oughta make it so that we are no longer the only New York area franchise without direct train access? Maybe that it wouldn't be so bad to have an arena whose arm rests can't be easily removed for players to sign after the game (true story).
I didn't speak up. I was sure it was going to get done somehow.The 2013 Playoffs
May 7th, 2013. Brooklyn was already a done deal. That same former-roommate and I were at the Coliseum watching the Islanders tie the Penguins at two games a piece. This was the first time I observed a new complexity to the energy in the arena. The arena that I'd been going to for almost exactly 20 years.
It wasn't just rowdy encouragement or celebration. Not by a long shot. At one point, I turned to my friend and said "I've never been to a riot...but I'm pretty sure this is how they start."
Luckily, it didn't come to that. But mixed in with the encouragement and celebration was anger, frustration, and intense desire the likes of which I'd never been a part of on such a scale. We were willing them to victory: tired of being a laughingstock, tired of being second-rate punchlines. We were speaking with one voice as only you can when 18,000+ people watch a game at the Coliseum.
People that have never been can't understand it: you're so close to the ice no matter where you are, so that everyone in attendance can say the same thing at the same time. Not just "Let's go Islanders" or "Woo" or "Yeah." But spontaneous things like "Shoot!" "Close the gap," "Good keep," and occasionally "What was that!?"--in other words, things that a whole lot of fans that know exactly what they're watching would say.
Even the jubilation had an edge to it. A "We'll show ‘em," or maybe it was more of a "We have to celebrate this place while we can" kind of thing. But it was infectious. It had the bittersweet quality of how I'd imagine a divorcing couple celebrating what they once had.
That night, my friend and I marched with a group of strangers through Penn Station chanting "Let's go Islanders" as we made our way back to our city apartments and regular lives. The same apartments that so many of us wouldn't have moved to if some of our hometown leaders would've been able to say yes to progress.
I've been back a couple of times since, most recently to see the now-overlooked most complete game of our young 2014 season: the 6-0 dismantling of the Colorado Avalanche. The same energy persisted: complex beyond description.
Jerry Seinfeld has a bit about the idea that sports fans are really just cheering for a shirt. Funny, but not-so. Not for us, at least. We're cheering for each other, for our collective childhood, for our region, and for overwhelmed underdogs. We're cheering with the idealistic hope that we can tip the scales if we do it right.
Brooklyn is going to be amazing, especially for people like me--I'm an actor and I need to be in the city most days. But I still can't believe this rollercoaster that our fanbase is on. It's getting awfully real. And if you listen in these last remaining days at our Coliseum, it's all there.
Yes, Mr. Schein. We're hardcore.