You know that old saying that a picture can be worth a thousand words and that it can speak to someone? Well this may sound corny and cliche, but the above photo did speak to me. This picture of Wild forward Charlie Coyle making a young fan very happy with a simple wave of his hand may not appear to be anything more than a wave, but I view it as being much more than that.
This young man looks completely overjoyed at the fact at having had an interaction with a player from his team, and he probably held onto that feeling of happiness throughout the night, proceeding to tell his parents and schoolmates time and time again in the following days about how he got to say hello to an actual player from the Minnesota Wild. There is a good chance that if he wasn’t already one, that this little guy is now a Wild fan for life after this moment.
That may seem like a bit of a stretch, that a simple wave of a hand could end up having that much an impact on someone, but speaking from experience, I can say that may not be as far a stretch as one may think, as I had an interaction with a player that led me to becoming a fan for life.
To be fair, I was probably destined to become a Leafs fan. My father is a Leafs fan, as was his father, as was my great-grandfather, and my mother saved me the ticket stub from my “first” Leafs game in October of 1991 when she was pregnant with me. To say I grew up in a Leafs-friendly environment would be an understatement. When I first started to play the game around the age of two or three, I fell in love with every aspect of it, especially reading about the stats and facts of the Leafs players at the time: Wendel Clark, Dougie Gilmour, Felix Potvin, and most of all, Mats Sundin. He could score goals, create something out of nothing, led the team in points, and even though he was not the captain when I first began to watch, he sure played like a leader, and he immediately became my favourite player.
When I found out I would be attending my first game against the Panthers on Apr. 2nd, 1997 as an early gift for my fifth birthday, happiness does not even begin to describe how I felt, especially once I was told we would going to the game early in hopes of meeting the players. I went down to the Gardens with my mom, dad, and grandfather, and waited on Church St. for the players to arrive. I met Potvin, Tie Domi, Dmitri Yuskevich, and many others, but the memory of meeting Sundin is something I’ll never forget. I though he was a giant, and was honestly a little nervous at first, but he took the time to talk and say hi to myself and my family, and he signed my Leafs shirt, as well as the back of a Kraft Dinner box with him on it (I actually had quite a large collection of those K.D. cutouts from boxes with the players on them). Sundin may have only chatted with us for 20-30 seconds, but he could not have been nicer. From that moment on, from that simple, yet kind gesture, Mats Sundin was not just my favourite player, but he became my hero as well, and it solidified me as a Sundin/Leafs fan for life.
To this day, that is the only time I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Sundin, but the fact of the matter is that him taking that 20-30 seconds to speak to, and sign a couple autographs for young me, really did have a lasting impression. I’ll always cherish that moment where it was just myself, my family, and Mats, and there is a good chance that the little boy in Minnesota may feel the same way about his moment with Coyle. Kudos to you Charlie Coyle, your simple act may have garnered you a fan for life.
In a way, this could be a message to all players. Talking to fans and signing autographs may get to be tedious and repetitive after awhile, but that quick conversation or signature may mean so much more to young fan, or any fan for that matter. It could be a once in a life chance to meet a favourite player, a hero, an idol, and though the player may forget about meeting a certain fan in the commotion of their busy lives, I know for a fact that the fan certainly will not forget.
Thanks for reading everyone, if you have a memory with a player you would like to share, please do in the comment section below, and as this will be last column before the 25th, I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.