By Peter Schwartz
» More Columns
This time, the phone call was a little different.
Three years ago, I was working at WFAN when the Islanders were eliminated from the playoffs by the Penguins in overtime of Game 6. Not long after the game ended, my son, Bradley, then 7, called crying hysterically because the Islanders had lost. I tired to calm him down. He was worried about getting teased by his Ranger fan friends at school.
Last year, I was in the car on my way to work at CBS Sports Radio as the Islanders’ season came to an end with a Game 7 loss in Washington. Once again, my cellphone rang and it was Bradley on the other end. That wasn’t a very pleasant conversation either, but I listened and he would eventually get over it.
On Sunday night, I watched the first three periods with my son, listened to the first overtime on WFAN in the car on the way to work at CBS Sports Radio, and then was watching the second overtime in the newsroom when John Tavares scored to give the Islanders a 2-1 victory over the Panthers and a 4-2 series win.
After 23 years of futility, which included more seasons of not even making the playoffs, let alone advancing out of the first round, the Islanders finally found a way to advance. They will take on the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Somehow, in the middle of my psychotic display of emotion in the newsroom that featured plenty of screaming and pounding my hands on my desk, I heard my phone ring. Yes, it was Bradley on the other end, but the tone of this call was very different than in years’ past.
“Dad, this is a happy call to you at work and not a crying call,” said Bradley, who I’m told by my wife, Sheryl, was as emotional as I was when the game was over.
As I hung up the phone, I thought about something: I actually felt a little bad for Bradley. He’s off from school this week, so he’s not going to be able to rub it in to his Ranger fan buddies at school. I think I’ll just have to take him door to door and let him get all of that built up emotion out.
Let’s be honest, 23 years is a long time. Bradley has only been around for 10 of them and my younger son, Jared, just five, but I’ve experienced them all and, to say the least, finally getting the job done was a big relief.
The Islanders have been the butt of a lot of jokes from fans of other teams over the years, so forgive us if we’re a little giddy today. This is something that fans have waited on for a long time. The 1993 run to the Wales Conference Final wasn’t supposed to be the end. It was supposed to be the beginning.
Well, it was the beginning of a dark era in Islanders history.
In 1994, they got steamrolled by the Rangers, who went on to win the Stanley Cup. Head Coach Al Arbour retired for a second time. What followed was the fisherman jersey, ownership follies, the bad contracts given to Alexi Yashin and Rick DiPietro, the disaster known as Mike Milbury, and the end of the team’s stay on Long Island.
As Tavares slid the game-winning shot past Roberto Luongo (an Islanders draft pick that was traded away on the same day they drafted DiPietro No. 1 overall), a few things came to mind. First, I have to figure out a way to get some tickets for the next round. The other things that went through my warped brain were more personal in nature.
It’s amazing how much happened in my life since the Islanders’ last series win in 1993. Back then, I was single, working for SportsPhone, and living in the basement of my parents’ home. A year later, I embarked on a career in healthcare while working part-time in radio.
As the Islanders went into an abyss, I suffered through two big losses in my life. My father passed away in December of 1999 and then a year and a half later, one my of my best friends died. I also went through a series of job changes, but the one thing that could take my mind off of whatever issues I had was the Islanders.
Win, lose, or draw, the Islanders were my escape from reality.
That was until 2002 when I was walking into Shea Stadium to cover a Mets game and ran into this girl I went to high school with. Sheryl and I were married in 2004. All of a sudden, I wasn’t going to Islanders games by myself anymore.
I needed two tickets, then three, and then four as the Islanders became a big part of the Schwartz family. The career was working out pretty well, too, as I wound up at WFAN and then at CBS Sports Radio. Through it all, I was still waiting for the Islanders to win a playoff series.
A lot has happened in my life over the last 23 years. Now that the waiting for an Islanders series win is over, I can take a deep breath. I’m going to enjoy this victory for a few days before the series with the Lightning gets going. Looking back, that 1993 run was pretty special, but the win over the Panthers means more.
I’m not in my folks’ basement anymore. I’m sharing this experience with my family.
Don’t forget to follow Pete on Twitter at @pschwartzcbsfan