Wrapping ourselves in the flag

By PAT WATSON

Yes, it’s true. Some of us are only special occasion hockey fans. We only care about the Leafs when they are in the playoffs, which hasn’t happened since the 2001-2002 National Hockey League (NHL) season.

We jump on the bandwagon when there is something momentous like the unforgettable eighth game win by the Canadian National Hockey team against the Russian national team on Sept. 28, 1972 in that Summit Series. That was a weekday that people took off from work in order to watch the game, and it was understood. In the last seconds of that game, Paul Henderson scored the goal that was heard across two continents at the end of a hard fought series that gave Canada the 6-5 win.

Last Sunday afternoon, we special occasion fans were there again. As the Canadian Olympic hockey team battled with the American side in Vancouver, we laughed and screamed and then fell nervously silent when in the last 25 seconds of regulation time in the final period of the final game of the Vancouver Olympics, American player Zach Parise’s goal tied the score 2-2.

Up to that point, there was enough drama to keep coming back to the game from time to time only to find that the early 2-0 lead by the Canadians had been eaten away. So the high drama that came in the eighth minute of the overtime period with the flash of adrenaline presented by current Canadian hockey idol Sidney Crosby was tremendous. That it was a goal assisted by Jarome Iginla, the only Black player on the team, was also sweet.

Not since the last World Cup was there this much noise on residential streets on a Sunday afternoon. But this time flag wavers were not representing Italy or Brazil. This time it was all about the Red and White – although some flags had been pimped out with a shimmering gold maple leaf.

It sounded strange to hear so many, even days later, saying to each other how proud they felt to be Canadian. This is just not the kind of conversation that usually makes up the buzz in the local coffee shops, or on the buses. Discussions about prorogation, the weather and climate change have been pushed aside to extol Canadian pride. Suddenly, the quiet declaration that “at least we aren’t American” has been replaced with “Proud to be Canadian…”

Over the 17-day period of the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, here in Toronto the talk on the street drifted slowly but surely from cool, distant interest to more and more attention. And in our community, it mattered that Jamaican-born Lascelles Brown was part of a bronze medal-winning Canadian bobsleigh team and that Shelly-Ann Brown of Pickering (no relation) was also part of a silver medal bobsleigh team along with Helen Upperton.

And, it mattered that Toronto-born Vanessa James, 22, and her partner Yannick Bonheur, 27, who skated for France, were the first persons of African heritage to compete together in the Olympic pairs skating competition.

All this during Black History Month.

There was more than enough pride to go around as these remarkable young people and their coaches displayed the results of focused commitment and athletic talent.

So, to all of these amazing athletes, thank you for a thrilling two weeks of visual delights and your great show of heart and spirit. The gold count will matter to some, but the more important reward for participants was the opportunity to live a dream and to accomplish a goal. For the rest of us, it was fun to watch.

On a note of overt race hate…

The burning cross as a symbol of hatred is sadly still alive. It has been alleged that two brothers, Nathan Neil Rehberg, 20, and Justin Chad Rehberg, 19, of Avondale, Nova Scotia, last week set a cross on fire with a noose attached to it on the front lawn of the home of an interracial couple, Michelle Lyon and Shayne Howe. The brothers, who are related to Lyon, who is White, are also alleged to have shouted racist threats.

Understandably, the couple has expressed distress that the brothers have been released on bail to their grandparents since their grandparents live nearby Lyon and Howe’s home.

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