Who are you rooting for?

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Every year, the time comes around when we are faced with the big decision – who do we root for in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? The reason I say ‘every year’ of course is because the ‘we’ I belong to is the much beleaguered, much maligned, Leafs Nation. Oh sure, there was an exciting blip in that decade of despondency last year, but it was short-lived and we return once again to the status quo – beginning the second season without a rooting interest.

Usually for me, my standby is the Vancouver Canucks. I can’t really say why this is my backup Canadian team of choice – it just is. This year, they aren’t even an option. As such, it’s time to scour the field of 16 to see if there are any worthy candidates.

For such a task, we must have some criteria – nothing mind-blowing or over-analytical required, just some basic starting points (ed: ok I realize writing a blog may be over-analytical in the first place, but bare with me). The selecting criteria is narrowed down into to three simple items:

  • The worth-watching factor: Pretty self-explanatory – Does this team play exciting hockey? Do they consistently exhibit show some skill?
  • The attachment-clause: Are there players on this team that I’ve rooted for in the past? Notably, this Olympic year has an interesting impact on this factor.
  • The feel-good-story: Somewhat related to the attachment clause, but is there some good reason for me to root for a noteworthy player on this team? A player persevering after injury? A retiring veteran seeking one last chance at glory?

Equipped with our selecting criteria, let’s move on to our candidates. To make it interesting, let’s go in reverse order. First up…

 

The not-a-chance teams

As we are talking about rooting interest here, this ‘not-a-chance’ has nothing to do with their Stanley Cup odds. No, instead this has all to do with the fact that there is not-a-chance-in-hell that I’ll be rooting for these teams.

Philadelphia Flyers

What they have going for them? Claude Giroux is a great player to watch and I’m sure is a man on a mission after his Canadian Olympic snub.

What’s not working for them? Admittedly, I was once a big Flyer fan (back in the 80s). Then they jettisoned my favourite players (Poulin, Kerr, Propp) and in the end, the whole mess that transpired with Lindros and Clarke left a blackeye on the franchise. I don’t see too much redeeming features in this club. The old Broad Street Bullies persona is certainly in full force this season. in the past, teams may have been praised for this kind of toughness, but not so much in this era). The Flyers were the most penalized team in the league, and tough guy Zac Rinaldo is one of the more recent winners of a 4-game suspension for a nasty headshot. I am NOT rooting for this team.

Tampa Bay Lightning

What they have going for them? Steven Stamkos is arguably the most exciting star to watch in this league.

What’s not working for them? Recent falling out with star Martin St Louis certainly doesn’t help. Also, they are that sunshine state team that took away one of Canada’s most recent opportunities of having Lord Stanley’s mug reside north of the border (beating Calgary in 2004). Finally, the real kicker … the following video monstrosity that is a vomit-inducing affront to all hockey fans everywhere.

Boston Bruins

What they have going for them? They are a well-coached talented team that are the odds-on favourite to win the Cup.

What’s not working for them? See above. I hate the Bruins!

The ‘murky middle’ teams

I don’t love them, I don’t hate them. They are the murky middle.

St Louis Blues

What they have going for them? A solid team that was first overall for a good portion of the regular season. Ken Hitchcock is a likable coach and a good interview. His continued participation in Canada Hockey certainly helps.

What’s not working for them? Top players Backes, Oshie and Steen certainly have some skills, but none have really caught on as top stars in the league. Ryan Miller could be an interesting story after so many years of excellent play in Buffalo, but not endearing enough to reach feel-good-story status.

Dallas Stars

What they have going for them? Rising star Jamie Benn is great to watch. Also, you may remember that he scored the lone goal for Canada in the 1-0 Olympic Semifinal win over the US.

What’s not working for them? Just not enough with regards to the other criteria to make this a viable team to cheer for. Though I’m sure he’s probably not that bad a guy, top scorer, Tyler Seguin, left Boston and arrived in Dallas without the best of reputations and as such hasn’t become as big a star as he may yet reach some day.

Chicago Blackhawks

What they have going for them? The defending champions are a great team with all sorts of talented players. Also, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith were once again big contributors to our Olympic victory.

What’s not working for them?  They’re too good, and they just won last year. Perhaps seeing a repeat winner might be interesting, but I like the glory to be spread around a little bit. Reruns get boring.

New York Rangers

What they have going for them? King Henrik  is truly a full blown star in this league, and after 5 Vezina trophy nominations (1 win), it would be great to see the classy netminder be the one to hoist the cup. The addition of Martin St Louis and the Alain Vigneault vindication story make the Rangers a borderline root-for candidate.

What’s not working for them? Not exactly a high-flying team – they are among the bottom half of the league in terms of goals scored, and their top scorer was … Mats Zuccarello?

Columbus Blue Jackets

What they have going for them? They are the plucky underdog team from the struggling franchise that has only been to the playoffs once before this year in their 14 years of existence. They also have one of the best goalies in the league, Sergei Borbrovsky.

What’s not working for them? They are the plucky underdog team with a bunch of guys named Who that make up their roster. Their top 4 point getters through the regular season … Ryan Johansen, James Wisniewski, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson. Not exactly household names.

Pittsburgh Penguins

What they have going for them? Superstar Sidney Crosby is always fun to watch as are the rest of this offensive powerhouse team. Also, there may be a feel-good story here if Letang can be a contributor here after being able to come back after his stroke.

What’s not working for them? The “they-won-recently” issue doesn’t hurt them that much, as I think many would like to see the league’s top star lead his team to another Stanley Cup. Nonetheless, I can’t quite rank them in my top 3 favourites.

San Jose Sharks

What they have going for them? After years of being among the elite teams in the league, will they finally make it to the top?

What’s not working for them? After years of being among the elite teams in the league, will they finally make it to the top? No.

Los Angeles Kings

What they have going for them? The Kings are a strong team with amazing play in net from Jonathan Quick.

What’s not working for them? They won recently – in a not so memorable playoff final. They also are the lowest scoring team among those that made the playoffs. Not exactly fire-wagon hockey.

Minnesota Wild

What they have going for them? They certainly have some notable talent, especially having added Parise and Suter to those huge contracts last season. Also, if soundbite master Ilya Brzygalov makes the final, it would certainly makes things entertaining.

What’s not working for them? The Wild are a small market team with minimal flash. Though no great reason to root against them, hard to jump on their bandwagon.

Detroit Red Wings

What they have going for them? They have shed their elite status in the league and now are a bunch of hard-working young players that accomplished a huge feat by making the playoffs under the leadership of Canadian Olympic coach Mike Babcock? Also, they are playing the Bruins, so you have to root for them.

What’s not working for them? They have shed their elite status in the league and now comprise a hard-working crew of young players that haven’t a chance in hell in getting very far this year (I did mention they were playing the Bruins, right?).

The Contenders

Here are the three finalists that are valiantly vying for my temporary loyalty.

Montreal Canadiens

What they have going for them? They are the official ‘’last remaining Canadian team in the playoffs’. Sadly, they achieved that moniker right from the get go this year, as this was the first season since 1973 that there was only one Canadian team in the playoffs (quite a sorry state of affairs since we now have 7 Canadian teams and back then we only had 3). Speaking of Canada, Carey Price backstopped the Olympic team to hockey gold, and PK Subban admirably rode the pine most of the tournament without complaint (an accomplishment given his brash personality). Though not a high-scoring team throughout the season, by adding sniper Thomas Vanek to a roster that includes 39 goal scorer Max Pacioretty and a wealth of young talent, this should be a fun team to watch. Go Habs!

Anaheim Mighty Ducks

What they have going for them? Anaheim is the highest scoring team in the league. Led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks also have on board future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and former Canadiens Captain Saku Koivu. Here is where the feel-good-story gets amped. Selanne is retiring this year and he came back in style for one last Cup run.  What a great send-off it would to have one of the greatest goal-scorers the league has ever season leave as champion.. Also, it’s hard not to root for Koivu. After his much-publicized battle with cancer, Koivu came back in fine form, and not only won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 2002 (for perseverance), but also the King Clancy Memorial which is awarded “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”  And hey, how can you not love coach Bruce ‘Gabby’ Boudreau?

Colorado Avalanche

What they got going for them? This young talented team finished the season and impressively overtook both the Blackhawks and the Blues to take top spot in the Central Division. They are led by a young core of top-flight talent: Matt duchen (3rd overall pick in 2009), Gabriel Ladeskog (2nd overall pick in 2011), and Nathan Mickinnon (1st overall pick in 2013). Add offensive wepaons Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny, top tier defenceman Erik Jonson (notably 1st overall pick in 2006) and sure Vezina Trophy nominee Semyon Varlamov in net, and you start to realize just how talented this team is. And putting altogether – Hall of Famer Patrick Roy. How can you not want to watch Roy’s feisty presence during the playoffs … not only from behind the bench, but also during the post-game interviews. Topped off by a potential feel-good-story in retiring goaltender JS Giguere, and the Avalanche are truly a team to root for this post-season.

 

The Verdict

Not only would it be great to see Patrick Roy coaching in the Stanely Cup Final.- but wouldn’t it be amazing to see him taking on the Canadiens. I can’t help but root for a Colorado-Montreal final. As it might be a tall order for this to happen, I’m primarily going to root for the Ducks! Sorry to Teemu and company if I just jinxed their chances!

Terrible Team Names … the Ottawa REDBLACKS

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The Ottawa REDBLACKS – ok logo, terrible name

This new year ushers in a new era in the CFL – one that again includes a franchise in Ottawa. Though I’ve lived in Toronto for quite a long time now (it can now be measured in decades), I grew up in Ottawa and during my childhood, the Ottawa Rough Riders were the only game in town. Despite the fact that they amassed a lowly 60-169-1 record during my time as a fan from 1984-1996 (an unbelievably pitiful 0.263 winning percentage), somehow we still loved them. We survived the ownership of the Gliebermans (perhaps a nostalgic blog post in itself), the brief reigns of Horn Chen and Bruce Firestone, and the unsuccessful rebirth as the Renegades from 2002-2005. But it is now time to rejoice, as Ottawa returns to the league with a new stadium and more stable ownership. Or is it? The rebirth of the Ottawa CFL franchise comes with one small wrinkle … no, let’s call it one BIG WRINKLE. The new franchise has a terrible name: the REDBLACKS. Though the name stems from Ottawa CFL tradition – red and black were the traditional colours of the Rough Riders – there are some key problems with it. First off, it is a made-up word, and though I am not against a little creativity, this effort is weak. Second, and perhaps more importantly, team management has put out an edict to the media: the team name is to be spelled with ALL-CAPS. So, essentially, your inner voice should be SHOUTING when you read REDBLACKS. This leads to either sounding very angry, or very annoying (just think of the Aflac Duck, and you’ll be sufficiently agitated).

Bemoaning this significant hurdle to return to Ottawa football fandom, I find myself contemplating,  “just how terrible is this terrible team name?” With this question occupying my consciousness, I set out to determine the worst of the worst: the 5 most terrible team names of pro sports. Though this by nature of course must be a subjective analysis, it does not come without criteria:

1) Does it fit the standard mould of the North American pro sports franchise name? First thing to note is that I have specified North American pro sports as this will be the pool of team names I will be adjudicating. Living within the North American sports culture, I don’t feel qualified to judge the absurdity that abounds internationally. Furthermore, given the plethora of minor league and college sports nonsense, I will be sticking to teams in the MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL, CFL, and MLS (yes, the MLS is just too wonderfully awful not to include).As far as the standard mould goes, there appear to be a few basic models. First are animals (or similar creatures of the past or mythology, e.g. dinosaurs, dragons). Animals are good as they can represent ferocity, strength, speed – things that you’d like to associate with your sports team. Furthermore, some animals, namely birds, fit nicely as being symbolic of the city or region (e.g. Baltimore Orioles, New Orleans Pelicans). This idea is another founding element of the North American team name mould: being symbolic of the city or region. Team names may thereby relate to a people of the area (e.g. Edmonton Oilers, Boston Celtics), or other more symbolic representations (e.g. Philadelphia 76ers, relating to the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence). Lastly, like animals, the team name may refer to someone or something that symbolize strength, speed, power or are in some way fearsome. Notable examples include: the New York Giants, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The large majority of the team names reviewed in some way meet at least one of these criteria. That is not to say that passing this criteria gets you off the hook, but a decent attempt within this mould will likely get you a passing grade (remember, we’re just trying to identify the worst of the worst, we are not trying to find the best).

2) My second criteria involves off-the-board names. If you are going to try something a little different, you better do it right. If you’re going with an abstract concept, an entity that can’t be pluralized, or something otherwise obscure, there better be good reasoning, or a good story behind it. In terms of the latter, names with long-storied traditions like Red Sox and Browns fit an old mould or have a story, and thereby pass my test without much further scrutiny. Newer names like Heat and Magic are certainly a little different but fit well enough and I have no problem with them. As you’ll see, others don’t measure up quite as well.

3) How does it sound? This is a simple criteria for a sports team name. A big part of rooting for a team is well … rooting for a team. You actually have to be able to get the team name out of your mouth, and it should in some way sound right in a phrase like “Go Jets Go!” or “Let’s go Steelers! Let’s go!” As you can see, one or two syllables helps, though a team name that has a simple abbreviation also fills the bill well enough. Names that have too many syllables or are otherwise hard to pronounce are eyesores and earsores.

With our criteria set, on to some team name distinctions. For this we have a couple of categories before we get to the top (bottom) 5.

Category 1: “Get out of Jail Free Card” Names

These team names have been judged by some to have bad names that I’m going to give a passing grade to for one reason or another. Though this may seem like an act of mercy, if I delved deeper into my subconscious I would probably discover that this was just an opportunity to point out flaws.

1) Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz. These two oddities stem from franchise movement. The Lakers originated in Minnesota (where there are many Lakes), and the Jazz started in New Orleans (yes, a greater hotbed of jazz music than Utah). Despite the very odd pairings that these names make, somehow they have entered our consciousness as perfectly good team names. They also pass the “how does it sound” test quite well. Though I am definitely not a fan, who can argue with the rhythm and overall sound of the L.A. Lakers.

2) Toronto Raptors. I am just pointing this one out as my home team Raptors are often maligned in similar team name lists. Yes, it was conceived during the dinosaur hysteria that came from the Jurassic Park movies, but nonetheless, the Raptor represents a fearsome creature, and the franchise’s move from the old cartoonish logo to that of the basktetball claw mark was a step in the right direction. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the Raptors have the best mascot in the league! (BTW, get well soon Raptor!). 

Category 2: Dishonourable Mentions

This category essentially represents the Miss America Runner-up designation for this list of dishonour … should any of the terrible team names not be able to fulfill their duties as terrible team names, one of these awful runner-ups may act as replacement.

1) Brooklyn Nets. Right. I get that “nets” have a lot to do with the sport of basketball, but really? One might give it a passing grade on the sound criteria (“Go Nets Go!” is pretty easy to manage), but would you want to root for the Atlanta Homeplates, or the Chicago Endzones? Terrible name.

2 ) Houston Texans. I know I suggested that it was good to have your team name relate to the people of the area, but this is being way to literal with that idea. Nevertheless, perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky. Among other names that the organization filed for trademark prior to making final decisions: Roustabouts and Colt .45s. Oy.

 

The Worst of the Worst, the Top (Bottom) 5

And finally, here we go – the wonderful worst of the worst. Of course, this is presented to you in ever-exciting reverse order. Also, note that I have taken license and added running mates to a few of these designations as there are a number of these team name terrors that just belong together.

5) Los  Angeles Angels of Anaheim. So wrong in so many ways. First off, Angels is not a great name. Unlike its counterpoint – the New Jersey Devils – it does not really instill fear in opponents. Granted, it does have an obvious link to the city name and its nickname – the ‘City of Angels’ – but in the end there is one too many Angels in there (remember, in translating it all to English, it would be “The Angels Angels of Anaheim”). However, the Angels part is not its crowning achievement in terribleness, that of course goes to the ‘of Anaheim’ qualifier. Make up your mind … Los Angeles or Anaheim! The team’s geographical title has gone from Los Angeles to California to Anaheim before becoming this monstrosity of superfluous syllables that it is now. Given how terrible this name is, it’s actually not surprising that it stemmed from a legal clause agreed to between team ownership and the city of Anaheim (back in 1997 when the city agreed to refurbishment of Anaheim Stadium on condition that Anaheim be included in the name). When Arte Moreno took over the team from Disney in 2004, he wanted to again reference the Los Angeles roots of the team, and the ten-syllabic atrocity was introduced in 2005. Sadly, by next year, we will no longer be able to mock this nonsense, as ‘of Anaheim’ will officially be dropped from the name. We can always hold out hope for a successor  … perhaps the Detroit Pistons of Auburn Hills, the New York Giants of East Rutherford or better yet, the Buffalo Bills of Orchard Park and Toronto.

4) Washington Capitals. Perhaps this is one that you might not have thought of, but c’mon, when you really look at it, it’s rather stupid. Granted it doesn’t sound that bad (especially when shortened to “Caps”) and it of course relates to the capital-ness of Washington itself, but in the end, it doesn’t make any sense. Dictionary.com defines a capital as “the city or town that is the official seat of government in a country state, etc.”, so though this is referring to the capital of the United States, they’ve actually pluralized it. So, are these players representing various world capitals or something? Just nonsense. Many teams diverge from the mould of animals or people and such, but some of those work quite well (I actually like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Orlando Magic, and even the Minnesota Wild). Capitals just doesn’t cut the mustard. Washington’s baseball team has a similar problem – not a fan of “Nationals” – but isn’t quite as bad as the absurdity that is the Washington Capitals.

3) Real Salt Lake. Full disclosure – I am not a fan of the MLS. I actually do watch some soccer when there is the drama and intrigue of the major international tournaments, but I have never fallen in love with the “beautiful game” at the club level. That being said, part of that problem may be the consistent lameness of MLS franchise names. To be honest, though the winner of the 3rd place distinction in this list is Real Salt Lake, this honour is truly shared by around half of the teams in the MLS. It ranges from the utter lack of imagination in Toronto FC and FC Dallas, to the blatant commercialism that is the New York Red Bulls, to the lame UEFA copy-catting that is Sporting Kansas City. Despite these poor efforts, Real Salt Lake stands out to me. Clearly just mimicking the world renown Real Madrid, the name just really doesn’t fit Salt Lake or Utah at all. Real is of course Spanish for royal, and the Madrid team adopted that name in the 1920s in honour of the Spanish King. What that has to do with Salt Lake City, I don’t know. Leniency is given to Chivas USA (which has always been associated with the Mexican club of the same name), but Real Salt Lake took on the name with no real association with the original club, only developing a tenuous relationship with the storied club after the fact. Real Salt Lake, you are the winner of the MLS terrible name derby!

2) REDBLACKS. I’ve already stated my case against this name, but let’s make another point on this one. When referred to in French, this team will actually be known as the Rouge et Noir, a term that is made of real words, and sounds much like Laval University’s Rouge et Or (red and gold). The University of Ottawa’s sports teams also falls under this mould (Gee-Gees is actually short for Garnet and Grey). Though not a fan of the “___ and ___” mould, this is certainly passable in my books. Why they decided to go further off-the-board with this goofy name just doesn’t sit well with me. You’ll also note that I have complied with the over-the-top juvenile request that the team name always be spelt with capital letters to further accentuate its terribleness. EDGY? No. CREATIVE? Not really. LAME? Yes, very lame indeed.

1) Washington Redskins. Over the last few years, the debate about Washington’s football moniker has gained more steam. One can argue that other team names in the same vain are meant to honour Native Americans (e.g. Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Edmonton Eskimos), but you can’t really argue this on behalf of the Redskins. Let us note the online definitions for the term from oft-used sources:

Dictionary.com
Slang: Often Disparaging and Offensive. A North American Indian.

Merriam-Websters
usually offensive. American Indian
(it also adds in its Learner’s Dictionary “The word redskin is very offensive and should be avoided”).

The often maligned owner of the franchise, Dan Snyder, has strongly defended the team name, but his arguments fall short with me and many others. A fairly lengthy Wikipedia page has outlined the significant opposition to the team name. In a notable development, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan both declared that they would no longer print the name “Redskins” in the writing of their articles.  It doesn’t help that the Washington Redskins franchise has the worst record of racial intolerance relating to the inclusion of African American players dating back to the early years of the NFL (see this great article from CNN for more details). Some may feel that it is wrong to wash away the “proud” tradition of the franchise by dropping the team name. I’m sorry, but when the name has its origins in bigotry and racial slurs, that is clearly nothing to be proud of. Terrible, terrible name.

So that’s my rant — do you have any thoughts? What’s your favourite (least favourite) terrible team name?

Being a fan at Fan Expo

Have you ever seen the movie Paul? Well, if you haven’t, it’s about a couple of sci-fi nerds who befriend an alien on the lam trying to escape the powers that be that control Area 51. It’s a fantastic homage to sci-fi replete with all sorts of clever references, particularly relating to Star Wars and Star Trek. In other words, this movie is very dear to my heart. The movie begins with our beloved geeks – ably, and probably aptly, portrayed by comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – at the San Diego Comic-Con, the grand-daddy of all conventions. This was my inspiration – I needed to explore my inner geek. I needed to go to a Comic Con.

Norman Reedus

Norman Reedus of the Walking Dead was certainly a big draw at FanExpo

Though there is a Toronto Comic Con, it is now outshone by a much, much bigger event – Fan Expo Canada. The interesting thing about Fan Expo Canada is that it is truly a free-for-all for the avid fan. Though there is certainly a big focus on comic and sci-fi fare, there are many attractions for the sports fan as well. So not only was there Norman Reedus, Laurie Holden, and Steven Yuen – the Walking Dead’s Daryl, Andrea, and Glenn – there was also hockey greats Joe Sakic, Gordie Howe, and Bobby Orr. Star Trek stars both old and new found themselves rubbing shoulders with Blue Jays Robbie Alomar, Paul Molitor and Tony Fernandez. FanExpo had everything for the geek and jock alike (ok if not jock, at least the sports nut). In truth, I have never been much of celebrity hunter or autograph seeker – never saw what the big fuss was about – but with all the attractions this was clearly the event for me. As such, I took a Friday off work, put on my Stormtrooper T-shirt, and made my way to FanExpo Canada.

The Convention Floor

I got to FanExpo right around 10AM when the doors were set to open. I hadn’t purchased tickets in advance and had no idea what to expect. I was fully prepared to miss out on it completely, as it sounded like there was quite the hype about the lineup of stars coming for the event. The ticket line looped through Olympic Park by the Rogers Centre and spiraled its way down the garage entrance into the Convention Centre. Though I may have covered as much as a mile in this winding line, it took a relatively pain-free hour to get to the ticket booths. The wait was made all the more bearable by the interesting people I got to talk to in line. One guy I spent most of my time chatting with was looking forward to heading to the Hulk Hogan”Uncensored” event that night – an up close and personal experience with the Hulkster.  Though it’s not what I would spend my money on, if you really are a Hulkamaniac,  I can see how it would be a big draw. As well, we were all fans there, and the nice thing about all the people there was that it didn’t matter what you were a fan of, people just enjoyed sharing with others this opportunity of expressing their fandom without judgement. In fact, the only thing you might’ve been judged on was your dedication as a fan. One young woman dressed up as Kaylee from Firefly noted to me that it didn’t matter who or what I showed up as, I just really should’ve made more of an effort than my basic Stormtrooper t-shirt. It was true, amongst the Batmans, Captain Americas, Lara Crofts, and Anime characters I’m unfamiliar with, I was decidedly underdressed.

The Emperor's Throne

The 501st stands guard

As my scheduled activities were later on in the day, my first order of business was just to wander the convention floor (or shall I say floors – Fan Expo took up pretty much the entire Convention Centre). As you might imagine, video game companies showed off the latest games, collectibles were stacked high among the endless rows of vendors, and comic book art exploded out of every corner of the place. Though fun to see, I was not in the market to buy anything (more due to a lack of space in my condo than any other reason).In the end, I found myself more interested in people costume watching and checking out some of the big props on display. One thing I absolutely loved was the omnipresence of the 501st Legion. As you can see on their website, the legion is an international club dedicated to celebrating the Star Wars universe, primarily through making authentic costumes. This focuses on stormtroopers and various other Star Wars universe soldiers, but they’ve developed costuming guidelines for just about every character in the movies (and books, I imagine). They had some cool displays (like the Emperor’s chair), an AT-ST, and various R2 droids roaming about. Any of them on their own was pretty cool; seeing a whole squadron of them march the halls was quite something. Beyond the Star Wars theme, the coolest of all cars were on display: the Batmobile (Tim Burton movies) and the original KITT from Knight Rider! After checking out the convention floor, it was on to my first appointment …

Batmobile

The Batmobile (from the Tim Burton films)

Celebrity Encounters

You may have noticed a heavy Star Wars theme to my recounting of the Fan Expo experience. I am truly a child of Star Wars. The original came out when I was a toddler, and as a child, I lived and breathed everything that was a long long time ago and in a galaxy far far away. As such, if I were to tell you that I actually spent money (and yes, it was a little more than 20$) to have a photo-op with a celebrity, you would guess correctly that it was someone from Star Wars. But who? Though there is photographic evidence below, you may not be sure who my Star Wars idol. Clearly it’s not Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill, neither is it Carrie Fisher or James Earl Jones. No, the celebrity appearance that cinched my attendance at Fan Expo was none other than Ian McDiarmid … the Emperor. Though it is Darth Vader that finds himself ranked third on the American Film Institute’s list of greatest movie villains, I always had a soft spot (or perhaps dark spot) in my heart for the Emperor. In the end, Vader shows remorse, he is redeemed. The Emperor is evil incarnate to the end, and McDiarmid’s portrayal is exquisitely diabolical. Though the photo is great, the encounter as you imagine was short lived. I believe I got to ask him how his day was, but that waspretty much it. Thankfully I got to hear more from him during the Q&A.

The Emperor

Me and the Emperor – just chillin’

Besides the Emperor, I also got to meet another personal favourite – Rudy Ruettiger. Reuttiger is of course the real life inspiration for the movie “Rudy”, which always struck a chord with me. It’s about the little guy who for one shining moment got his own football glory on the field for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. As a university student, I remember much bigger guys referring to me as Rudy on the rugby field and basketball court (none of my own doing – I swear, it was just my stature and hustle). I actually look a little like Sean Astin who portrayed Rudy in the movie; the real Rudy, not so much. Anyway, my encounter with Rudy was a little longer than that with the Emperor. Besides getting his autograph on my Rudy DVD case, I chatted with him briefly about the current state of Notre Dame football, and my own experiences playing rugby and football. Though I grant the experience was made a little awkward by the woman asking for the 40$ payment for the autograph, it was nonetheless an worthwhile experience. Also, the photo I got with him was quite a bonus – he wasn’t too busy when I came by so he was able to take the moment to have the photo taken. Though I’m generally not an autograph-hunter, the DVD and the photo will definitely be great personal keepsakes.

Rudy

Rudy Ruettiger (and me)

The Q&A Sessions

Throughout the day there are Q&A sessions with the various celebrity guests of the expo. Some of the best of course are saved for the end of the day. That is when I headed downstairs to one of the larger convention rooms where the final lineup was to comprise George Takei and Nichelle Nichols – Sulu and Uhura from the original Star Trek – and of course, Emperor McDiarmid. Not wanting to miss George Takei, who I figured might be the biggest draw, I headed down a little early. When I got down to the room a good half hour or more before Takei was to take the stage, the usher noted to me that I was welcome to go in and take in the current guest … David Hasselhoff. To my complete surprise, the Hoff was very genuine, charming, and quite entertaining. When asked about the famous Cronut Burger at the CNE, he was humbly self-deprecating noting that burgers had gotten him in trouble in the past. As well, after a little egging on, he rolled off a couple of verses of “Springtime for Hitler” from Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” (he played Roger Debris in its Las Vegas run). What was most endearing about him was that he was genuinely thankful for everything that his life in showbiz had afforded him. One of his more engaging stories was his recounting of using his celebrity to allow him to “see the people” in South Africa (an earlier retelling of the story is available here).  On a lighter note, he was also thankful to have gotten the opportunity to being a part of the Spongebob movie, and Piranha 3DD. Yes, that was the Hoff.

The Q&A Sessions

Hasselhoff, Takei, McDiarmid (note McDiarmid’s security detail)

George Takei followed Hasselhoff and was equally entertaining. As I had a question ready for George early on, one of the facilitators roving the crowd with a microphone motioned for me to join him to await my chance. George, taking charge himself, proceeded to select people in the first few rows that were within earshot. These questions led to interesting stories regarding his past convention experiences and his opportunity to take part of NASA history. Throughout, I crouched down in the aisle (so as to not block the view of the people in my vicinity), and awaited my chance. Finally, the host declared they had time for one more question. At this point, I now had mic in hand … and it was on. I took my chance and announced, “as I have a microphone, I think I’m getting the last question.” Though there were a handful of disappointed looks turned my way, it appeared that no one was going to challenge my claim to the honour of the final question. I proceeded with my question: ”George, I have to admit, when I log in to Facebook, half of my newsfeed is made up of George Takei posts that my friends have shared with the world … I was wondering, what got you started on your way to becoming the King of Facebook?” Even before George’s response, it was clear that I had asked a good question; after both my initial statement, and my question declaring George the King, there was applause and roars of approval from the crowd. After things settled, George actually had an interesting story to tell. Earlier on in the Q&A he had noted that over the last few years he’d been driving the development of a musical about the Japanese American internment during World War II – its plot is inspired by his own personal experiences. Clearly the project was a labour of love and he is determined to get it to Broadway. How would he do that? The plan was to boost his social media presence and get the word out about the show. As such, he started posting more, using the humorous memes, and the topical fare with his own commentary. As he himself explained, this let him expand his fan base beyond the trekkies to a whole host of new followers of all ages and stripes. Great story – though through this process, I must admit I hadn’t heard of his musical … but I have now! It’s called Allegiance and it opened to rave reviews in San Diego last year. Touché George, well done.

Rebel Scum!

On the lookout for Rebel Scum!

After George came Nichelle Nichols (the original Uhura). Though she did have some inspiring words, and interesting stories as she recounted her journey to becoming one of the first female African American stars on television, I have to admit, I was really now just waiting for the Emperor. It was well worth the wait. Prior to his arrival, the buzz grew as the 501st legion entered the hall. A squad of Stormtroopers and Imperial Guards set post in front of the stage to act as McDiarmid’s security detail, while a handful of troops roamed the aisles (conceivably looking out for rebel scum). Though I don’t see myself joining the 501st anytime soon, seeing the spectacle that they made at this event certainly made me understand the draw of enjoying such a hobby. With the stage set, McDiarmid came on and charmed the audience. Using the eloquence one might expect from a Shakespearean actor, McDiarmid recounted his story of getting the part as the Emperor. It turns out, they did originally cast a much older actor for the part, but McDiarmid was chosen to step in, as the older fellow would not sign on to play the Emperor due to health concerns over having to wear the yellow contact lenses required for the role. McDiarmid who was only 38 at the time, was cast based on his performance of an aging Howard Hughes in a production in London. Being so young when playing the decrepit Emperor allowed for the odd turn of events of then getting to play the younger version of the character – Senator Palpatine – in the prequel trilogy when he was in fifties and early sixties. Among other notable remarks, when McDiarmid was asked about his favourite scene from the movies, he chose the scene in the opera house in Revenge of the Sith, where he is finally able to turn Anakin to the dark side.  All in all, McDiarmid was very entertaining – even doing the Emperor’s voice upon request. A great way to end my Fan Expo experience.

So, would I go again? I think so. As I mentioned, I am rarely an autograph or celebrity seeker, but there was definitely something to exploring your fandom – your inner geek, shall we say – with other people doing the same. Only trick now – got to figure out a costume for next year!