On Cheering For The Little Guy; or, Physics Can Suck It

Andrew Shaw is a hero of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and some people looking at it from the outside might wonder what the hell is going on with that. He was undrafted for ages, then taken late as a gamble. He's small and not exactly an imposing specimen, his moustache is a crime against humanity, he's okay on the ice but nothing spectacular. He's not the brightest bulb lighting up the Hawks' Christmas Tree. He's a utility player on a team full of bona fide hockey superstars, and they get their just dues, but Shaw's fans are fierce and vocal and devoted in a way that's hard to explain. Unless you get it.

There's just something about the little guys.

There are players out there who were born with magic in their hands and wings on their skates. Your Patrick Kanes, your Pavel Datsyuks, your Sidney Crosbys. They're incredible to watch. Our jaws drop, we stand up out of our seats, our eyes never leave the screen when one of these guys gets the puck and starts to roll. They're supernaturally talented and brilliant, with vision and reflexes and a natural gift that takes them past normal and into something close to sublime. And Patrick Kane IS tiny, but it doesn't matter. Those aren't the players I'm talking about here. Most people don't watch them and say, "I can do that!" Because most of us will never, ever be able to. They've got a gift of birth and talent that puts them above and beyond the normal.

Hang in there for a second, because we're going on a short trip to personal anecdote land. I promise it's relevant.

Not everyone is born with natural size and incredible levels of athletic ability. If we were, the Olympics would be a whole lot more crowded. I have great reflexes and balance and the ability to gain muscle really quickly, but I'm only 5'1. That's really, really small, even for a girl. And yet I was also born with a love for sports, all sports and any sports, and I learned pretty quickly that the ice is tilted for the bigger, stronger kids. But if you love what you're doing, and you don't want to give up, you adjust pretty damn fast to the idea that you're just going to have to work harder, fight grittier, dig a little deeper to play with the big kids. I played football and basketball, soccer and volleyball. I learned to work around not having a vertical leap that wasn't laughable and facing off against people who stood head and shoulders over me. It was harder, but I loved it, loved the work and being able to prove the doubters wrong.

And somewhere along the way, I learned that you can tell physics to fuck right off.

You can't think about how much bigger the other guy is. You can't even admit to yourself that it matters. In your head, you're 6'4" and 230 of solid muscle, and that's how you play the game. So at some point, if you believe that hard enough, it becomes an occasional reality. You block someone who by all rights you should just bounce off of, and they go down. You stand fast when a giant is headed for you, and they chicken out first. Someone slams into you and you pop right up and grin and you just keep playing.

Physics looks away for just a moment. The big guy falls down. The faster player is beaten. Someone who shouldn't be able to score has just scored.

Part of it is working on mechanics and skill--you've gotta be quicker, slicker, more correct positionally to make any of this work. But part of it is just plain grit, and every time it works out, it feels like you've just put one over on the universe.

This is the kind of thing that we cheer for Andrew Shaw for. Talking about Zdeno Chara--at least a foot taller, who knows how much heavier--as 'just a bigger target.' Throwing himself into the crease and refusing to be moved, even when getting hammered by guys who tower over him physically. He's the poster boy for No Fear and No Quit and every other sports cliche there is. He's scrappy and kind of dumb, raw around the edges, too quick to get angry. But he plays big. He plays HUGE. He has told physics to suck it, and he's made it work.

So for all of us out there who weren't born big and strong, who kicked soccer balls against the wall for hours after school, who made our brothers tackle and block us over and over again to work on our skills, he's a hero. He's the guy who made it. And we love him for it.

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