In 1978, John Facenda opened up his weekly highlight show by attaching a nickname that they will forever be identified with. “They appear on television so much that their faces are as familiar to the public as Presidents and movie stars”. They are the Dallas Cowboys, “America’s Team”.
From that point on the Cowboys were the standard by which many organization would measure their success. Regardless of your personal preference, they were and are still a huge component of the NFL’s DNA. No other team commands as much passion and opinion.
The National Hockey League certainly has teams that capture that spirit in their region, but I’m not too sure the Montreal Canadiens with all their Stanley Cups moves the meter in Los Angeles like the Sharks, Ducks, or Blackhawks do. The Cowboys move the pendulum everywhere they go no matter their record.
The Blackhawks would certainly be the best current candidate because their fans seem to be everywhere but the question remains, is that just a product of their success?
In 2006, when they were 31-42-9, I just can’t remember this level of support for Martin Havlat who happened to be one of the few Blackhawks that gave the Hawks fans something to be proud of. I’m going to go overboard and guess Chicago was an irrelevant franchise in their own city, let alone anyone outside the ‘Windy City’ giving a flying puck about them.
In order to be a true ruler of a continent or at least two thirds of it because I’m not sure how Mexico felt with the news Denis Savard was let go in 2008, an organization must walk the line between arrogance and confidence something Las Vegas has done since people told Steve Wynn the Mirage would never work here. Sound familiar.
The Creator walked across the desert like a maverick on a mission, cue ‘Blaze of Glory‘, actually he was probably picked up at the airport and dropped off at his hotel, but I digress.
Black hat in one hand, Hounskull in the other. His plan was to land a NHL expansion franchise in a city that caused the entire country of Canada giggle.
Social media blew up with opinions of approval and disbelief. The questions were so primitive to start as we were forced to overcome the label our city has built itself before we could ever get to hockey (ok, that’s not really the label I’m talking about, but that picture was too good NOT to use).
People who live here knew we had to do our part in educating the league about who we are as a town.
As time went on the questions went from silly and uneducated to accepting and intelligent. The negative fire fueled by Google searches were doused and the social media war was won.
The city of Las Vegas drives interest and that quality is as important to Gary Bettman and his 30 owners as the $500 million that Foley has under his couch.
In many ways Las Vegas and the NHL are the same. We are too big to be considered insignificant but not big enough to be take serious among other cities or leagues.
Twenty years ago Las Vegas was a town where cheap buffets, gambling, and cheap lounge acts ruled the Strip and the National Hockey League was finding a small amount of mainstream success with their EA NHL Hockey game plugged into most Sega Genesis systems. This was huge for a league that has always played fourth or fifth fiddle, depending on if it was Daytona week, to other major American sports. They could never wrestle any landscape away from the MLB and NFL although there was a time when they almost found themselves ahead of the NBA but that was killed by a lockout.
Las Vegas and the NHL are about to take the final steps into adulthood as they will now be allowed to eat at the ‘Big Boy’ table while using each others clout to demand respect.
To be ‘America’s Team’ you must make the people who wouldn’t normally care about the sport care about you. Can you ever remember more venom and jubilee spilled by hockey fans after the league announced that Las Vegas and Quebec were the only two cities being considered for expansion. The league just sat back and absorbed an avalanche of attention with just a mere mention of a team in the valley.
With over 40 million visitors a year we are at the cusp of what will be certainly “America’s Team” when every hockey fan that visits our city in the next 5-10 seasons will not only have a Vegas story but they’ll have a Vegas hockey story. By putting a team in a town that everyone loves for one reason or another is how you start to plant the seeds of interest among non-Las Vegas folk.
Everyone who cares about our sport will always have one eye on their team and one eye on the Knights, guaranteed. And even though Quebec would be a fine place to put an expansion team the city doesn’t inspire people to follow the league.
Now that I think of it, Canada’s seven teams or cities aren’t doing anything right now so let’s just go ahead and anoint the Las Vegas Knights, “North America’s Team”.