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Rocket's Red Glare: Sorting through a mid-life crisis vicariously thorugh Jaromir Jagr and poker

Posted by: Michael Rand under Sports Updated: November 2, 2011 - 3:31 PM

Commenter Rocket writes every week about the NHL because we so often ignore it. This week, he starts going off the deep end before coming back to the right side of the pool Rocket?

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About half a dozen years or so ago, back when I was still blessedly living in the Twin Cities, I had a regular poker game with a bunch of the boys. It was a very low stakes game, and its purpose was much more social than it was to make money. Once a week we got together, played some cards, made fun of each other, laughed a lot, and traded small bills at the end of the night.

In retrospect (and even at the time I would occasionally reflect upon this), I was living what felt like the perfect life. I had the regular poker game. I was living in a part of the world that I really loved and appreciated. Although I was not nearly as advanced in my career as I am now and was making nowhere near the money I am now making, I was happy with my progress and comfortable in my means. I was dating the woman who would become Rockette. I even had a couple of evenly-matched racquetball partners with whom I would have games regularly; games that felt like wars because of our equal abilities and determination and that offered regular chances to test my mettle and get some good exercise.
 
But life moves on and the world inevitably changes. I eventually moved out of the Twin Cities to another part of the world to do some new things. As a consequence, that wonderful period of time when everything felt like it was the way it ought to be came to an end. I would never say that I am unhappy with the changes that have occurred or that if I could go back I would do things differently, but there are times when I really do miss that poker game.
 
The beauty of youth is that every day you know that the best is yet to come. When you are young, you know that you are destined to get taller and stronger and smarter. In many ways each day opens up a new set of possibilities and accomplishments that were heretofore impossible.
 
Then adulthood happens. There are a lot of great things about being an adult, but perhaps the most disturbing aspect is the unavoidable realization that the best is no longer always yet to come. In fact, the older you get the more times you realize that it has already come and gone. You’re never again going to have the free time you had when you were 12 or the endurance you had when you were 17 or the wild times you had when you were 22 or the prospects you had when you were 30 and so on and so forth.
 
I suppose this is why people have mid-life crises and that every commercial in every medium ever promises to restore or rejuvenate or replenish. Those of us who are no longer solidly in the “youth” demographic – even if we’re not as crusty as the real old-timers – see the writing on the wall and wouldn’t mind reclaiming a little bit of that naïve, ferocious incandescence of days gone by.
 
It is also why old people like to see old people succeed as what are supposedly the pursuits of younger generations. It is why at the time this happened, everybody who was forty or over was on the side of the guy in white:
 
 
It is why my father and his friends cheered when this happened. It is why there will never not be a market for nostalgia merchants and compilations of things past.
 
It is also why I have found myself anywhere from pleasantly delighted to downright giddy to see two things from my teenage years reappear and succeed as well as they have thus far.  The first is these guys. There has not been a television show before or since that has made me laugh as often or as hard; and if their first episode of their reincarnation is any indication, they remain in rare form.
 
The second is Jaromir Jagr. I must confess that I have never been much of a Jagr fan. He was, after all, on the enemy side in the spring of 1991. He also developed a reputation for being a bit of a goofball whose commitment to the game was not always as great as his commitment to his hair.
 
 
There were also allegations of gambling problems, tax problems, and the three years he played with the Washington Capitals and the hideous jerseys they were wearing at the time.
 
But through it all he was an undeniable talent and one of the most exciting players in the league. He scored a minimum of 30 goals – and topped out at 62 in 1995-96 – in all but what looked like would be his last NHL season in 2008. Yet, he still netted 25 that year before high-tailing it off to the Kontinental Hockey League where everybody assumed he would end his career cashing a nice severance check while floating in his own zone waiting for an outlet pass.
 
But this is Jaromir Jagr, who is not only a unique talent but also a unique personality. Three years later he decided to come back to North America, and because it was Jagr and his ridiculous level of talent, he was courted. When it first became clear that he wanted back in the NHL, the most natural fit seemed to be with his first team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. But in typical Jagr fashion, he signed with Pittsburgh’s hated rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. Thus, in one simple signing Jagr was able to alienate the one fan base that still loved him the most and ensure that he would receive the greatest amount of criticism from his new fan base should he fail.
 
Early into the new season it looked like he was going to fail. He looked slow and out of sorts and as if the game had finally passed him by. But then a funny thing happened in the last week of October. After nearly a month of horrible to mediocre play, Jagr exploded. He netted five goals in the span of four games on his way to being named one of NHL’s three stars of the week. This outburst, coupled with six assists currently puts Jagr second on a very talented team in scoring.
 
Jagr is probably too weird to love but still just weird enough to like. And, at 39 and after three years out of the NHL, one has to acknowledge that he is an admirable talent who has managed to turn back the clock. You might not be his biggest fan, like his new team, or appreciate his shenanigans over the years, but if you’re my age it is awfully hard not to root for Jagr.
 
When you start seeing some of those best days in the rear view mirror it is nice to be reminded that every now and then it is possible to recapture some of that old glory that looked like it was gone forever. Thanks, Jaromir, you goofy [redacted]. Now, if I can just find another poker game…
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