Republican vice presidential candidate Gov. Sarah Palin's relationship with the sport of hockey has become an undeniable facet of the presidential campaign, from those who support her ticket to those who clearly do not. It has also been debated on this blog many times, even by those who don't want politics in their hockey or hockey in their politics.
Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider rendered those arguments pointless this week when his team, the Philadelphia Flyers, announced that Palin would drop the puck at the ceremonial opening face-off for the Flyers' home opener against the New York Rangers at the Wachovia Center on Saturday.
Her appearance coincides with the finale of the team's "Ultimate Hockey Mom" contest; and, of course, with a presidential election less than a month away that promises to make Pennsylvanian an essential "swing state" for the warring political factions.
The Flyers' decision has created a contentious backlash, and some strange bedfellows who oppose Palin's appearance. Larry Brooks of the NY Post blasted the Flyers for not disclosing that Snider is a Republican donor and had hosted a Palin campaign event in September; he also wondered how the NHL felt about the Flyers and Rangers being used as political props in an election year.
Philadelphia Daily News columnist Will Bunch is trying to rally fans to turn their backs on Palin at the game. AJ Daulerio of Deadspin cuts to the core of the controversy, which is that if more attention is being given to the ceremonial face-off than the actual opening face-off between two NHL teams, then the publicity stunt has produced "a level of unnecessary tension overshadowing the game."
Criticism aside, we return to the salient point, which is that Sarah Palin is still scheduled to appear before over 19,000 hockey fans on a Saturday night in Philadelphia, at a game against the hated Rangers. Bodog has placed odds on what might actually happen; it's 10-to-1 that she falls on the ice, and even-money that she gets more boos than cheers.
Anything can happen at the Wachovia Center this weekend, but we wanted some insider analysis on what's likely to happen, and the aftermath. So we enlisted the help of some of our Philadelphia hockey and sports blog colleagues to answer a few candid questions and make a few predictions about Palin's moment in the face-off circle.
Enrico Campitelli Jr. and Matt P. (please recall his Pittsburgh Penguins eulogy for Puck Daddy) write the massively popular The 700 Level. The Rev. Paul Revere is the editor of The House That Glanville Built. Kristin Shaw is the blogger behind the Flyers site eager to go psycho. And here we go:
1. In your opinion, what will the reaction be for Palin in the Wachovia Center on Saturday night? What's the worst case scenario and the best case scenario?
Matt P: I think inviting any polarizing figure to a sporting event brings the big risk for a loud, negative reaction. Add to this the gravity of a season's opening night, the strong feelings of many people toward any politician, and Philly's penchant for vocal reactions, and I think it will be brutal. Best case scenario is they drop the puck an hour before the game starts. If a puck falls on the ice, and no one's there to hear it...
Enrico: Best case scenario they play some [crappy] music loud enough so you can't hear all the boos. Worst case scenario she starts crying and her lipstick starts to run.
Revere: To be honest, I don't think it's going to be all that bad. Although Philadelphia is an overwhelmingly Democratic city, I think there are a good deal of die-hard Flyers fans who may be Republican. However, there will certainly be boos. How many, I don't know. Worst case scenario is a stream of heckles raining down on the hockey mom with some possible debris tossed her way on the ice. The best case scenario is mild boos and general indifference.
Also, there is a very real possibility the crowd will start chanting, "Show your [breasts]! Show your [breasts]!" And if she does (which I'd pay to see by the way), she'll get a standing ovation. If she doesn't, she'll get booed off the ice. I sincerely hope this happens.
Kristin: I have no idea what the overall fan reaction will be. My fear is that I will slowly realize that I am surrounded by 18,000 Palin fans. I guess that would be my worst case scenario. Best case scenario is we boo her like we do everyone and everything else.
2. Can you recall how Philly fans have reacted in the past to divisive public figures appearing at sporting events?
Matt P: I don't recall any quite like this. Every election, you'll see politicians at sporting events or donning a local team's hat on the news, and usually, the fans hate someone trying to fool them into thinking "they're just like us."
Enrico: Typically, they get booed -- unless they're Rocky or seven year's old.
Revere: Well, I really don't remember too many politicians being at sporting events. Of course, Ed Rendell gets cheers out the ass when he's introduced, and I do recall Mayor Street getting lambasted at Eagles rallies and things like that. Otherwise, not too familiar with it. I'm not a political guy.
Kristin: I haven't been a Philly Sports Fan long enough to have witnessed all the legendary booings that Philly is known for. I have seen Philly fans turn on our own within minutes, and hold grudges for stupid things that last for years. Take poor David Bell, former third baseman for the Phillies. He bobbled a play on a Tuesday, and they still booed him on Saturday. When I went to a game three weeks later, they would still boo him when he touched the ball. We just never forget when you eff things up.
3. Should Flyers fans be upset with Comcast-Spectacor Chairman Ed Snider for injecting election year politics into the opening night of the NHL season? Why or why not?
Matt P: Whatever their natural reaction is, they have every right to voice it. Ed knows that as well as anyone. I'm a big fan of Mr. Snider, and the Flyers are his team, but I was disappointed to hear this news. I retreat to sports to get away from the pressures of work, the economy, etc., and injections like this prevent guys like me from achieving my goal of being completely shallow and ignoring "the real world" if I want. I disagree with the minority sentiment that blogs like yours and ours shouldn't give any attention to this news, because it does involve sports now, whether we like it or not.
Enrico: Yes. [Expletive] that [expletive].
Revere: Probably because sports and politics generally don't mix, with all due respect to my good friends over at FreeDarko. But I guess it is Ed Snider's right. After all, it is his team and his building. Still, sports should be a distraction from real life. Not a platform for them.
Kristin: The short answer here is yes. We go to a hockey game to watch some damn hockey, not to see political candidates. Personally, I would not have as much of a problem with this stunt if it happened on a Tuesday three weeks into the season, but having her there on Opening Night is a bit much. I am there to see the game, and the new graphics for the season, and to get excited about our team. The last thing I want to think about is a political candidate dropping the puck.
The only possible saving grace for this event is that it is in conjunction with an "Ultimate Hockey Mom" contest being held by the Flyers. Maybe the emphasis will be more on the winner of the contest than on Palin herself. Aw, hell, who am I kidding ... it's gonna be a train wreck! I wonder if a mass email campaign to Mr. Snider could get him to cancel?
4. Finally, what's the over/under on the number of views the first YouTube video of Palin at the Flyers game receives by the end of next week?
Matt P: Let's just say I hope I have it before you do.
Revere: Um, since I watch YouTube all the time but never notice the views, I'll go with the smartest man alive's quote, Charlie Day, and say: 80,000 hits.
Kristin: Depends on whether or not she has a wardrobe malfunction.
The prediction here is that Palin gets booed. Loudly. There will be some cheers (probably from the lower bowl), but the boos will echo through the arena.
Which brings us to Sunday morning. This clip will be played on every cable station, and perhaps on some of the network news programs like "Meet the Press." Viewers will see a female governor, who will be in line for the presidency if elected, mercilessly jeered by a city in a swing state. And these viewers will have one of three reactions:
"Philly, huh? Typical."
"Finally, someone dragged Palin out of her cocoon and let her have it. Well, besides that nasty attack dog Katie Couric."
"That's completely disrespectful, no way to treat a woman and suddenly I'm thinking this race is about sexism again. But boy, was she tough to hang in there against those Philadelphia fans. Didn't they beat up Santa or something? What a barracuda!"
There are no coincidences this late in the campaign. The McCain/Palin ticket understands what will likely happen this weekend. And it's gambling that there will be some benefit to Palin's image among independent voters because of it.
Meanwhile, Scott Gomez will just have to come to grips that he's clearly the second-most interesting person from Alaska at the rink on Saturday night ...