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Saturday, June 28, 2008

Other Jets

In his latest book, God Save the Fan, rabid Arizona Cardinals fan (you are reading correctly) Will Leitch, formerly of Deadspin, recounts a conversation with a dog-faced Cleveland Browns fan who claims that being a modern Browns fan is the worst lot there is. No, Leitch counters, not by many miles. The current Browns are worth grieving over to be sure, but Leitch asserts that the Dogpounder's actual team exists over in Baltimore; they are called the Ravens, and, good news for the pounder, they won a Super Bowl over the Giants. So technically (he wanted to say it but didn't) the lost Cleveland fans should consider themselves Ravens fans. You have a team, he says, and you should follow them even after they move.

To further clarify this challenging point, he presents a drastic example from his own experience growing up in Illinois, between Chicago and St. Louis, a divided identity that creates quandaries over sports teams. In Illinois, Leitch picked the Cardinals over the Cubs just to be a contrarian, much the way some Philadelphians love to up the ante of the city's native grouchiness by embracing the Cowboys. The feelings run that deep. But Leitch also gave his loyalty to the St. Louis football Cardinals, Bill Bidwell's team, especially when Terry Metcalf, OJ Anderson and Stump Mitchell ran the concrete carpet floor at Busch Stadium.

But then Bidwell moved the team to Phoenix - a place, as far as I know, uninhabited by actual avian cardinals. No matter. Though he has never set foot in Arizona, Will Leitch says he remains to this day a devout football Cardinals fan, and even if you know a lot about football, you probably still don't know as much about the Arizona Cardinals as does Leitch. But then who could blame you? It is a team that only its mother could love.

I mention all of this as a stunning prelude to discussing a film that I'm glad I saw this evening, My Winnipeg, which, unintentionally, presents a compelling counter to Leitch's argument. The movie is described by its writer and director Guy Maddin as a "docu-fantasia," and I think its trailer gives insight into Maddin's interpretation of memory's subjective and surreal nature.

To Maddin, Winnipeg is a tragic and mythological place, laced with a sense of missed opportunity and loss. Among other things, this relates to his discussion of the departure of the Jets - the Winnipeg WHA hockey team that got incorporated into the NHL in 1979. In 1996, the Jets moved to yes, Phoenix, home of the Cardinals. (image taken from the Canadian Design Resource webpage) Maddin apparently did not stay loyal to the team when they moved to the southern desert. To him, his city and its original team are forever linked. He makes the point that the Jets were merely the latest manifestation of all the big and small hockey clubs that tied together the Winnipeg community over time. To strip away the contemporary incarnation of that hockey tradition just for the sake of the NHL's short-sighted profits and its desire for luxury boxes was a soulless, inhuman thing.

Maddin talks about the importance of Winnipeg Arena to his family's life (photo from the Manitoban Historical Society website), and he imagines the ghosts of Manitoban hockey legends playing their spectral ice hockey games in the shell of the empty Arena even as it is being demolished. Most especially poignant are his thoughts on the arena's final implosion day (depicted here in a local news report), which did not go as planned. The film's amusing interpretation of this moment is appropriate to Maddin's belief in Winnipeg as a city of ghosts and sleepwalkers.

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