I admit, I was one of "those people".
That is, I was one of those people who would have preferred that the Carolina Hurricanes did not re-sign Cam Ward.
It is not that I disliked him. He's like Jerry Seinfeld, how can you not like him? It was just that after 10 straight years, I was ready for a fresh face in net.
I have officially and emphatically changed my mind.
Today, the Hurricanes promoted a recent story written by Ward in The Player's Tribune about his son, Nolan, "The Bravest Guy I Know". If you have not read it yet, you need to. It is a touching, thought provoking article which should give us reason to take a deep breath, think a moment, and perhaps take into consideration that we just might take this sports stuff too seriously at times.
Yes, save percentages and wins and loses are important. But so is loyalty. So is heart. So is family.
Ward mentioned many times before he signed his deal that he wanted to stay in Carolina. He considered this home. He wanted to win again as a Hurricane. And now we find out that he wanted to stay here for his son's benefit as well.
How can you not cheer for this guy? How can you not cheer for Nolan?
Over the past 15 years, I shed tears twice in the rink that they now call the PNC Arena. Once was when the players took turns skating the Cup around on the ice after game seven. I couldn't help but think about everything the players had to go through to get to that point. Especially guys like Brind'Amour, Wesley, and Hedican.
The other time was at the end of the 2001 playoffs, after the exact opposite result.
The Devils had physically dominated the Hurricanes, literally bullying them on the ice. Ron Francis and Shane Willis had both been injured and knocked out of the series after devastating hits by Scott Stevens. The heavily favored Devils won easily, but the Canes gave it their all and left everything on the ice.
During the last minute or two of the elimination game, fans stood and gave the home team a rousing, spine tingling ovation. It was not because the Canes won the game or even because they came close. It was because of their effort. It was because of their heart. The ovation was chilling and both teams looked up, a bit surprised. That was one of the defining moments for the franchise.
Perhaps another defining moment is coming up, with perhaps more tears? Wouldn't it be a great story if Ward could lead this team to the playoffs again? Wouldn't it be great if fans had reason to scream and yell at the top of their lungs again?
Maybe knowing what we know now is reason enough?
In a professional sports world where some athletes are getting into trouble at times, Carolina has an athlete dedicated to his family, to his son, to his team, and to the community.
Kudos to Ward for opening himself up and for allowing the public into a glimpse of his personal life, as well as Nolan's. That was not easy to do. When I watch Ward now, it will be hard not to think of his son as well.
In the article, he said that Nolan once thought that players wearing higher numbers were better players. Maybe Ward should consider wearing the number 80 for a pregame skate. Kevin Weekes would probably get a kick out of it. Nolan might as well.