You'll pardon me for being away.
I've been a bundle of nerves the last month or so. And since Monday night, I've been in a smiling, happy, emotional, crying trance.
The Kings won the Stanley Cup.
It's nearly four full days later, and I'm still coming to grips with the fact that I'm even typing it.
The Kings won the Stanley Cup.
You see, I'm a die hard. I'm the guy who's out around town wearing his team sweater (jersey). A Kings hat is almost always perched on top of my head (one of the "locker room" championship hats is the current model). And my home is dotted with numerous hats, pennants, photos and other mementos from my years of fandom.
And I mean years. I don't mean Gretzky era. I mean years. About 34 of my 40-plus years at my best guess. My most vivid memory of the Kings in my early years is drawing a picture and writing a "story" about the team on one of those sheets of paper we'd get in school. You know, the ones that had half the page open for drawings and the other half with lines for writing on.
Yep, there was the Kings in their purple and gold glory (sorry, there's no Forum Blue in the crayon box) playing against the Montreal Canadiens. And with what happened Monday night, I kinda wish it was still around.
Being a young, developing fan in those days was pretty rough. First off, we lived in Orange County, and making the drive into Inglewood -- or LA in general -- wasn't something we had much time for. Between Little League and youth soccer and school and dad's weird work hours, we just didn't go too far from home base.
I finally did get to a game in the 1986-87 season. Feb. 14, 1987 to be exact. It's an easy date to figure out: Noted tough guy and top penalty minute leader Dave "Tiger" Williams scored the fastest goal in team history -- 7 seconds into the game.
It was the rookie year of Luc Robitaille, now the team's president of business operations and its most enduring star. His star power at that early stage of his career -- along with the launch of Prime Ticket a year-and-a-half earlier -- made following the Kings that much easier.
Went to one more game the next season, where we got to sit down in the Whistle Stop restaurant and listen to Bob Miller talk before the game. He even mentioned that night that the team may change their uniforms for the next season.
And boy, did they. In a big way.
I remember the day Wayne Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles. It's another vivid memory. The next day, I was out buying newspapers, cutting out the headlines and pasting them in a scrapbook. Oh, and I was at his first home game (won the tickets on the radio).
Along the way, I've made numerous memories with the Kings. Playoff games. Special moments. Group outings with friends. Days of being hoarse after nights of screaming for the home team.
I've become -- in the words of my wife -- an ambassador for the team and the game. Introducing it to friends in college and at work. Getting them out to a game to see it live. To experience what it's like when the crowd is loud, and the boards rattle and the horn sounds after a goal. Hockey is meant to be experienced -- not just watched.
So, yeah, I was one of the estimated 250,000 out early Thursday morning watching them roll by in buses. Celebrating something I thought I might never see.
The Kings having won the Stanley Cup.
Yeah, still gives me chills.