True brew Bruin

If you pour enough beer into die-hard hockey fans, they’ll put nearly anything on their heads. This true-blue (or make that true brew?) fan sat next to J at Saturday’s game between the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres. Mr. True-Blue Bruin was one of a handful of middle-aged adults (some of them women) who sat on one side of us wearing foam bear-heads throughout the game; on the other side of us, two Army guys and a young family dressed in Sabres jerseys tried their best to cheer against the home team. Sitting between super-fans of opposing camps, J and I were something of a de-militarized zone, making sure True Blue Bruins didn’t claw any Invading Sabres. Hockey is, after all, only a game, so it’s best to leave the roughing to the pros.

Hat trick

This isn’t to say J and I weren’t dressed for the occasion. In the spirit of Almost-True-Blue fans, we both wore Bruins ball-caps, which seem to be the headgear of choice for the well-dressed fan; J additionally wore a long-sleeve Bruins T-shirt and fleece jacket while I sported a Patrice Bergeron jersey. During a year when the Red Sox are champions, the Patriots are undefeated, and Celtic pride has been resurrected by the signing of two new celebrity phenoms, it’s difficult to be a lowly Bruins fan. While every other Boston sports team is kicking butt, the Bruins are merely mediocre. When J and I went in search of Bruins-wear before our first home-game back in October, we had a hard time finding any. After finally finding a tiny section of Bruins paraphernalia at a local sporting goods store filled to the rafters with Red Sox and Patriots logos, we found most of their Bruins-wear was priced at clearance rates. “This is the first Bruins hat I’ve sold in three years,” a bemused cashier remarked as we bought two $15 ball-caps for $5 a piece and an $80 fleece jacket priced at only $10.

Funky headgear

Sporting goods store prices notwithstanding, on Saturday there were plenty of fans sporting Bruins logos. On the T ride from Newton to the TD North Garden, J and I sat surrounded by other gold-and-black bedecked fans. In Boston, Red Sox hats are as common as blue jeans, especially in the aftermath of another World Series win. But when you see someone wearing anything Bruin, you know they grew up playing hockey, have followed the sport since the Bruins dominated, or are simply trying to go against the Everyone-Loves-the-Red-Sox/Go-Patriots grain. At time when everyone is saying how easy it is to be a Boston sports fan, rooting for the Boston Bruins is still something of a statement.

Well-dressed hockey hooligans

Although it’s easy to laugh at well-dressed super-fans, I suspect wearing the colors of your chosen team has a kind of ritual significance. During the rest of our lives, we try to stand out as individuals, striving to excel, outperform, and otherwise shine in our academic, professional, and personal life. When you don the colors of your favorite sports team, though, you immediately assume a group identity with anyone with similar loyalties: with one glance, you can spot your virtual kin by the colors they sport on their sleeves. Last summer in Dublin, I rode a train crammed with soccer fans on their way to watch a national tournament, each wearing the colors of their beloved county. As an outsider, it was fascinating to see regional loyalties literally emblazoned on people’s bodies: “This is who I am; this is who I root for.” One of my favorite sights from the standing-room-only T-ride home from Saturday’s win was that of a foam Bruins bear-claw clinging to one of the trolley hand-holds. We fans not only root as one, we take public transit as a team, too. There is no “I,” after all, in “MBTA.”

Sharing a hockey game with your kid = Priceless

My favorite picture of well-dressed and hatted Bruins fans is this one. Super-fandom is only partly about hats, jerseys, and other logo-laden products; after the cost of your wardrobe has been tallied, spending some one-on-one time with your kid at a hockey game really is priceless. Hockey is, after all, only a game, but the bonds of family and fandom go more than jersey-deep. In a world that admonishes children not to talk to strangers, sporting events allow and even encourage us to scream our lungs out with folks we’ve never seen before. What better sign of unity, at least among fans of the home team, is that split second when the similarly hatted all jump to their feet in response to a well-earned goal?

Bruins win again!