It was sometime around 1995, between periods at a Whalers-Bruins game in the Hartford Civic Center. I was standing in line outside the men’s room. Immediately behind me were two Whalers fans, both about my age. I didn’t know them. Both were dressed in slacks, button down shirts and nice pullover sweaters, probably from Stackpoles or Filene’s. Mine was from Land’s End.
A young man stood in line about 15 feet behind us. He wore a Bruins hockey sweater. He was from Massachusetts and had taken the opportunity to see his favorite team in Hartford, where tickets were more readily available than at the perpetually-sold-out Boston Garden. He went on a twenty- or thirty-second tirade, addressed to no one in particular, that went something like this: “That f****** Sweeney is so f****** horrible! He’s f****** terrible! The f****** Bruins have to get rid that f****** guy! What the f***! The guy is the most f****** awful player I’ve ever f****** seen! F***!”
It was, in its way, quite entertaining.
When Bruins fan finished, one of the pullover sweater guys said simply, “I wonder if that guy has a job.”
And that, my friends, is all you need to know about what’s wrong with greater Hartford.
Hartford is the literal, figurative, and spiritual capital of the land of steady habits. Everything is right in the world in Hartford if you have a job, a spouse, a house and a happy family. There’s a lot to be said about that point of view, but the pullover sweater men completely missed the essence of the fan from Boston.
Sometimes it isn’t about security; sometimes it’s about passion. Greater Hartford could use some passion.
I’ve been driving to Buffalo for six or eight Bills games a year for more than a decade. I love it. Yes, I could save time, money and energy if I bought Direct TV and stayed home, but there is nothing like being in the stadium for the games. The energy, the excitement, the passion is palpable. 50,000 or 60,000 people cheering wildly for their team. I don’t know any of them, but they’re all my friends. The joy when we win, the pain when we lose, we share it all.
When we chant “LET’S GO, BUFFALO! LET’S GO, BUFFALO!,” we aren’t cheering just for our team; we’re cheering for the community, too. We’re together, as one, and it’s about everything the community does together, not just about football. I have a tee shirt that says “BUFFALO vs. EVERYBODY.”
Greater Hartford knew that excitement once. It was the spring of 1986, when the Whalers finished the season one game short of the Stanley Cup finals. Nothing galvanized the city like that playoff run. We were one community, hoping and cheering for our team. Everyone knew what happened in last night’s game, everyone looked forward anxiously to the next game. The city was electric.
Buffalo is one of the smallest cities and has the smallest TV market of any NFL team. For years Buffalo seemed to be at risk of losing their team, but the NFL won’t quickly leave a city with that passion. If greater Hartford had that passion, year after year, the Whalers would still be here.
Everyone tells me we’ll never fix our regional governance problem. Why? Because, they say, most people don’t really care all that much about the problem. That’s what’s wrong with greater Hartford: most people really don’t care that much about any problem, so long as they have a job, a house, a spouse and a family. Most people don’t care that much about the cost of living, about the homeless, about their neighbors’ schools, about the Whalers, about the future of greater Hartford.
If we want a bright future for Hartford, we need some passion. We need a vision, and we need to get excited about that vision. We can do it. All we have to do is lose the pullover sweaters.