I was angry.
The people around me were more melancholy. I stood in the crowd with my hands on my hips. The sun was shining in my eyes like no other day. It was gorgeous outside but I felt hideous inside. Lindy Ruff appeared at the podium. The crowd went wild. I was bored. Still angry. Still pissed off about what the NHL did to us, how Brett Hull's toe stomped out our dream. Ruff looked at the crowd, stoic, as if he was the captain of a ship that was about to storm the beaches of Normandy, getting ready to speak to his shipmates.
He kind of was when you think about it. He threw out some cliches about how proud he was of the team and how he loved the fans. A smile and nod came across my face, ever so shortly.
"I have two words to close with: No Goal."
That's when Lindy had me. He made me fist pump. A clap, followed by a yell.That's his a defining moment for me. It is his version of Marv Levy's "Where else would you rather be?" It was his go fuck yourself manifesto to the NHL. It wasn't just from him, it was from all of us.
Sure, there a few other great Lindy moments like him demanding suspensions for players or telling Bryan Murray not to go after our fucken captain! But 20 years from now, if I have grandkids and they ask me what my favorite Lindy moment was, it will be that.
His quotable wit and energetic mannerisms have helped make him one of the most popular coaches in Sabres history. Now it feels like his history with the team may be coming to an end and even more shockingly, we are happy to see it.
Buffalo fan reactions are easy to project sometimes. Someone badmouthing the city equals mass chaos. Sabres fans will always bitch about the team not being physical enough. Bills fans will bitch because the team isn't on ESPN enough. Bloggers vs. MSM. Hating athletes once they start really getting paid. Nothing really shocks me when it comes to the instant reaction we get from fans about the 24/7 news cycle.
The turn on Lindy shocks me.
It has been such a sudden reversal of fortune. I never thought I'd see the day when fans not only want Lindy fired but would keep Darcy Regier over him. To quote Peter Venkman, "Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria!"
I can go back to the first 2 or 3 years of the DR/LR empire and find a clear paper trail of fans calling for the head of Darcy because he waited too long on the trading front. You could bet on there being at least 4-5 calls on Hockey Hotline about it every night. It was the same song and dance for the next decade. However, no one seemed to call out Lindy. He was the perfect child who was going to do great things when he grew up while Darcy was the dastardly troublemaker.
Now Darcy is benefiting because Lindy has become a bigger disappointment. There weren't any expectations for Darcy for so long because he was always vilified and nothing was expected from him. Just don't fuck up, Darcy. I think the disappointment in Lindy is being more deeply felt because we had such high hopes for him to make it, to bring us the Cup. He's all failed expectations. It's like the straight A student from high school coming back to the 10-year reunion as a door-to-door salesman.
So what has changed? I mean, we all know this is a bad Sabres team, but I think I've seen worse play from them under Ruff over the years. How could we forget last January? The start of the 2010/2011 season? After the co-captains left? Prior to the lockout? This isn't new. The Sabres have made a living at underachieving.
I think the main reason disappointment is setting in is Terry Pegula.
He brought in mass expectations and a "Yes, we can!" mindset with mega bucks and his declaration that the sole reason the Sabres exist is to win a Stanley Cup. That has become a quote anyone can take comfort in when the team is failing. I know I have. Even though I don't think the Sabres have exactly spoiled us with an influx of talent or moves, they took over our brains like ecstasy. They have us trying to visualize what we want to see. The apex of what the team could be. The problem is that reality isn't living up to those visions.
The other reason is fans are just over Lindy. What did Batman say in The Dark Knight? "You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain."
Lindy Ruff has become the bad guy in all of this. We bitch about his system. We bitch about how he's ruining Grigomania with limited ice time and crappy linemates. We hate that Hecht is playing 20 minutes a night. And you want to know the crazy part? This has all happened before. Lindy not playing offensive players enough because they are liabilities in their own zone? No shock here. Being tough on rookies? See how Vanek was a healthy scratch a bunch of times during 05/06. Hecht is playing way too much? Storylines from 2009. Lindy hates his backup goalies? See: Tweets from 2008.
It doesn't help that we live in a society where we get sick and tired of things that are shoved down our throat, no matter how good or talented they are. It happened with Ben Affleck, Tom Cruise, Jennifer Lopez, boy bands, Tebow and pretty much anything we see constantly on TV. It is about that 24/7 news cycle. We take you in and spit you back out when you become boring. Lindy is going down that same path.
His words aren't captivating like when we first heard them. They're just words, not commandments. We're not entertained by his angry looks, laughing that he's channeling our angry emotions onto the players. Instead, he just looks like some cranky guy yelling at us to get off his lawn.
Sure, some people say he won't get fired. It probably is still up in the air whether the Sabres would make that move. But something feels different in the air. I'd say it's the process of dying, but I just think it is stench of already being dead. Lindy has been dead for so long and now people are finally opening their eyes to see it.
What exactly can Lindy do to recapture the fans? I don't think it's a run to 8th or even a 1st round win anymore. I think the goal of winning a Cup has shattered the heroic run to 8th for Lindy. He knows it. Why do you think he's remaking himself and going down a kinder, gentler road toward his players? He's desperate. He's not as Teflon as he used to be and I think he knows he's going from being a hero to the villain.
What is the goal for the fans to get Lindy back in their graces? It's the cup, right? However when you look at this average roster, the GM and the history, in a way, those two words he mentioned 14 years ago that had me at hello is where the answer to that is… Lindy has "No goal" because he's a beaten man.