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The Underdog In Us

Like the swallows returning to Capistrano, the Pittsburgh Penguins, fresh off a Stanley Cup win, have entered the second round of the NHL playoffs.

Wait! Wait, come back, non-hockey fans! I have a point that’s much larger than hockey to share. But since you’re already here, you may as well appreciate a few things about this team. They are not, in general, well-liked by hockey fans outside of Pittsburgh, much in the same way the NFL Patriots are absolutely despised anywhere out of the greater New England area. I get it. This is mostly because of all the winning, and even more mostly about a particularly talented young man named Sidney Crosby.  It’s hard to have haters, but I feel as though he handles it particularly well. Also, the Penguins have won Stanley Cups two years in a row and are now trying for their third. It’s been done before, but not for a long time (the last three and a half decades). So this run is a bigger deal than most.

I did not grow up a hockey fan; in fact, I spent much of my adult life categorizing it as a sport that existed but wasn’t as in your face and all over the TV as football and baseball were. Hockey was like soccer to me, or race-car driving; I knew there were fans of it, but I’d never really met more than one. But the first night of our honeymoon, my husband and I sat down in a Florida bar and noticed a dozen or so other patrons crowded around a TV projector, and found they were watching hockey. And not just any hockey, Pittsburgh hockey. This was 2008, and the Penguins were making their first serious run for the cup in a long, long time, since the Lemieux days. And that excitement of an underdog – this team full of young, though talented, kids – winning big surrounded us when we moved to Pittsburgh a couple of weeks later and never really left.

It’s fair to say now that the Penguins aren’t underdogs – no team fresh off of two championship wins in a row qualifies. But I love underdog stories, don’t you? I don’t really know who doesn’t. Why do we love them so much? I have a few theories. One is, of course, because it’s how we see ourselves. We know how many times in our lives we’ve been kicked down and told we weren’t good enough. We know how we didn’t look the same as others / sound the same as others / have as much money as others, and maybe it lit a fire under us to prove ourselves. Another theory is that we love how hard underdogs fight, even if it’s more than we would. Or maybe we love them because of how much they believe in something. They mirror to us the potential that we could have, too. They fight The Man, and they win.

But underdog stories only work if they overcome their odds, or get very close. They don’t work if The Man keeps kicking them down and they don’t get back up. They don’t work if the Pittsburgh Penguins never win any games. (Then they just become the hockey equivalent of the Cleveland Browns.) They don’t work if there’s no fight left in them.

Which brings me back to us. When was the last time you felt like an underdog? What lit that fire in you to fight back against the lies The Man told you that kept you down, that made you feel less than? What words did you need to tell yourself, or the words someone told you that you needed to hear, that reminded you that you are good, and you are worthy of love, and of living a full life? If you haven’t heard those words yet, then let me tell you, and never mind that I’ve never met you in real life. These words are true anyway, and they’re for you:

You are good. You are worthy of love. You are capable.

You can fight, and you can win. Maybe not today – and that’s okay. Maybe this isn’t the year that the Penguins three-peat.  But the rest still stands, regardless.

Now go out there and get ‘em!

Until next time, be well!