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Mythbusters: Sports Illustrated June 20, 1994 "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not"

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02-17-2007, 12:31 AM
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kdb209
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Mythbusters: Sports Illustrated June 20, 1994 "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not"

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Sports Illustrated
June 20, 1994

Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not

While the NBA's image has cooled, the NHL has ignited surprising new interest in hockey
by E. M. Swift

LET'S SEE if we've got this straight. NBA basketball, as played by the Eastern Conference champions, the New York Knicks, is called “butt-ugly” and “thuggish” by USA Today, while the erstwhile black sheep of professional team sports, the National Hockey League, appears in the “Styles of the Times” section of The New York Times, where it is described as “hip”, “sexy” and cutting edge”.

The Los Angeles Times, citing a 30% drop in prime-time television ratings during the conference finals, denounces the NBA playoffs as “a game of mud wrestling” and host to “the occasional near riot”, while the trade magazine Sports Licensing International gushes that “the convergence of an exciting sport, a new executive team at the NHL itself and a renewed marketing emphasis an NHL Enterprises has made hockey the place to be.”

Basketball, thuggish? Hockey, the place to be? Talk about your role reversals. When former NBA executive Gary Bettman took over as commisioner the NHL last year, everyone predicted hockey would assume the NBA look: hip music in the stadiums; an influx of young, energetic marketing whizzes in the league offices; zippy new promotions. What no one foresaw, however was the simultaneous and inexplicable NHL-ing of the NBA: on-court brawls spreading into the stands; a sudden and embarrassing franchise shift; bizarre, pugnacious behavior by out-of-control owners; outrageous refereeing gaffes; and spin-doctoring denials from the league.
Thus began the almost mythic (on these boards at least) Sports Illustrated cover article from June 1994, often referred to (but obviously never read by) various posters here to buttress their arguments that the NHL was about to ecllipse the NBA in popularity until it was all undone by the evil deeds of Gary Bettman. My recollection of the article was that it said no such thing, so after the myth popped up nearly simultaneously in several threads, I decided to shell out the $7.95 + S/H to buy a back issue and see what it really said.

Let me start by saying:

NOWHERE DOES IT SAY THAT THE NHL WAS AS POPULAR AS THE NBA, ON THE VERGE OF BECOMING MORE POPULAR THAN THE NBA, OR IN ANY SIZE SHAPE OR FORM PROJECTED TO BECOME MORE POPULAR THAN THE NBA.

While complimentary of the NHL, the article was more a lament on the state of the NBA in the Post Bird/Magic/Jordan(Retirement #1) era. The article, written with a distinct New York point of view (not surprising since both the Rangers and Knicks were in their respective finals), was written during the Cup Finals (before game 7).

I'll give some more excerpts in follow-up posts, but the main points of the article are:

1. The NHL is “Hot” - based on such indisputable evidence as mentions in the “Styles of the Times” section of the NY Times, the appearance of such celebrity couples as JFK Jr and Daryl Hannah at Rangers games, Tommy Hilfiger opining on the fasionableness of Hockey Jerseys, and a 17 yo aquaintance who watched the playoffs because he liked playing EA's NHL94.

2. The bulk of the article was a lament on the current state of the NBA – ugly basketball as most represented by the “thugish” New York Knicks.

3. The most direct comparison made between the NHL and NBA was the quality of play during their respective playoffs.

4. The article was light on any real numbers or measurable facts, but those few were distinctly in the NBA's favor – a 12.6 Finals rating on ABC vs a 1.8 on ESPN, $2.5B in licensed merchandise sales vs $1B.

5. Don't get me wrong, the article was quite complimentary of the NHL and the direction the league was taking under Bettman, but nowhere does it make any claim that the NHL was anywhere near the popularity of the NBA.
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02-17-2007, 12:41 AM
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E.M. Swift of the state of the NBA and the abysmal '94 NBA playoffs:

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What passes for Showtime! These days is the snarling, elbow-throwing New York Knicks – egged on by that yapping courtside terrier, Spike (Put a Muzzle on It) Lee – muscling home 70 to 85 points a night against the Jordan-less Chicago Bulls, the low-profile Indiana Pacers and the charisma-less Houston Rockets. It was enough to make hard-court fans pine for the return of Bill Laimbeer, not to mention Magic, Larry, Michael, Isiah, and Dr. J. one or more of whom, until this spring, had been in the finals every year since 1980. “The Knicks' style of play is like Ohio State football,” admits NBA vice president Brian McIntyre. “Three yards and a cloud of dust. It doesn't do much for the average fan.”
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As for the low scoring games – point totals were down nearly 5% in both the regular season and the playoffs compared with '92-'93 – there is some question whether they're the result of tight defense or abysmal shooting symptomatic of what USA Today columnist Bryan Burwell calls “an entire generation of slammin', jammin', no-jump-shootig, fundamentally unsound kids who have bought into the NBA's and Madison Avenue's shallow MTV generated marketing of the game.”

Ouch. “There's a real ebb and flow here,” says Thorn, who as head of the NBA's competition committee, is considering such options as widening the free throw lane or making it trapezoidal, and moving the three-point arc closer to encourage outside shooting. Thorn adds, “Five or six years ago they were saying there was no defense in the NBA. Maybe all we have to do is have the referees call the game closer. It's becoming harder to get open because players are impeding progress away from the ball.”
Gee - didn't they start making similar comments about the NHL not long afterwards.

Quote:
Those were dynamics that the NBA cannot expect to see repeated anytime soon, unless Jordan comes out of retirement. Barkley, now the league's most charismatic player, is nearing the end of his carreer. And few of the emerging stars – Shawn Kemp, Larry Jonhson, Alonzo Mourning, Dikembe Mutumbo, Shaquille O'Neal, David Robinson, Chris Webber – have proved themselves to be either: a) capable of sinking a jump shot, a skill that has diminished in the NBA, or b) championship timber. Chicago's Scottie Pippin, one marquee name who does have three rings, will probably never live down his petulent refusal to play the final, critical 1.8 seconds of Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Knicks, an incident that was just one of many lowlights the NBA has been exporting to 117 countries during these playoffs. A sampling of others:
  • Utah Jazz owner Larry Miller, during Game 5 of his team's conference semifinals against the Denver Nuggets, duking it out in the stands with a Denver fan.
  • The Atlanta Hawks and the Miami Heat engaging in a bench-clearing brawl during Game 2 of their Eastern Conference first-round series.
  • The Derek Harper-Jo Jo English donnybrook in Game 3 of the Knick-Bull series spilling, before Stern's horrified eyes, into the stands.
  • Utah's clock operator allowing nine crucial seconds to tick off before starting the clock in the final moments of Game 4 of the Jazz-Rockets Western finals.
  • The Pacers losing to the Hawks while scoring a record (low) 69 points
  • The Knicks losing to the Pacers while scoring a record (lower) 68 points.
  • Referee Hoe Hollins making a phantom, game-deciding foul call against Pippin in the final seconds of Chicago's Game 5 loss to New York.
  • Referee Mike Mathis overreacting with a tension-killing flagrant-foul call on Indiana's Reggie Miller in the final seconds of Game 7 of the Knick-Pacers series.
  • Spike Lee taunting Pippen and Miller.
  • Miller Taunting Lee.
But despite all that:
Quote:
No one is suggesting that the popularity of the NBA is in free fall. During the regular season TV ratings were virtually unchanged from 1992-93. Celebrities – Alec Baldwin, Billy Crystal, Bill Murray – still stud the stands. Two expansion franchises in Toronto and Vancouver, were admitted into theleague after agreeing to pay record-breaking entry fees of $125 million each. And the estimated $300M in retail sales that NBA Properties generated overseas showed that, internationally, there is life after Michael. But since the playoffs began, what has taken the plunge is the NBA's image as the rising star of pro sports.

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02-17-2007, 12:46 AM
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E.M. Swift on the NHL Playoffs:

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Disenchanted NBA fans who have channel-surfed to ESPN may just have rediscovered hockey. The production of the telecasts, with innovations like the goal-cam inside the net, has been supurb, the games thrilling and competitive, and the results refreshingly unpredictable. Series after series featured magnificent goaltending, last-second scoring and overtime after overtime after overtime – 18 games had gone into OT through last Saturday's Game 6 of the Stanley Cup finals, and a record tying six had gone into multiple overtimes.

The gritty Vancouver Canucks, down three games to one to the favored Calgary Flames in their opening round, won three straight in overtime to advance. The upstart San Jose Sharks, led by the scintillating goaltendingof Arturs Irbe, beat the potent Red Wings in Game 7 in Detroit. The New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers played an epic conference-championship series, with games 5, 6 and 7 building to a stunning finalein which the Devils, their goalie pulled, tied the deciding game with just 7.7 seconds left. The seemingly accursed Rangers finally prevailed in double OT.

Throughout, the play was fast and hard hitting but seldom tinged with the viciousness that had plagued the NHL in the past. There were the occasional high-sticking infractions that led to players being thrown out of games, as happened to Vancouver's Pavel Bure in Game 3 of the finals, but few acts of recognizable malice.

Of course, it didn't hurt the league that the Rangers, in their bid to break the Curse of 1940, became one of the top sports stories of the year. Or that New York's captain, Mark Messier, whose face looks like it was carved from the face of a mountain, did a decidedly unhockey-like thing by guaranteeing a win in Game 6 over the Devils and then backed up his boast, Joe Namath style, with a hat trick. Or that the Canicks were led by Bure, the aptly named Russian Rocket, who even while wearing a helmet and visor, has become a matinee idol.

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02-17-2007, 12:46 AM
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Damn, I was hoping the Mythbuster guys would do a show about hockey myths.

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02-17-2007, 12:50 AM
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E. M. Swift on the numbers - what little there is:

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Actually it encourages the average fan to change channels, if he hasn't done so already. Ebven with the inclusion of a team from New York –m the nation's largest media market, at 6.68 million TV homes – NBC's ratings for the first game of the Finals fell 35%, to 12.6, from a year ago, when Chicago faced the Phoenix Suns. Imagine what they would have been had the Pacers, with their market of only 850,000 TV homes, made it to the league's showcase event. “We expected our ratings to drop,” says McIntyre. Last year's average rating was the highest ever, 17.9. It was the third straight year the Bulls and Michael Jordan were in the Finals, people knew them, and they were playing against Charles Barkley. We had a lot of dynamics in our favor.”
Quote:
As yet ESPN's ratings do not reflect this surge in hockey interest. With all the Rangers' games contractually not available on ESPN in the New York market (the MSG Network carries the games there), ESPN has averaged a 1.8 rating, miniscule by NBA standards. “Nobody should read too much into the ratings,” says Bettman. “We were off TV so many years, we're in the rebuilding process. If we were still getting those numbers in five years, I'd be disappointed.” The NHL also had six games televised this season on an over-the-air network, ABC, where it drew a lowly 1.7 avearge rating.
Quote:
On the marketing front NHL-licensed merchandise will exceed a billion dollars in reatil sales this year, a 600% increase over the last five years. True, that figure is well below the $2.5 billion in U. S. reatail sales generated by the NBA, whose gross licensing income has increased 333% over the same period.

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02-17-2007, 12:58 AM
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And Finally the nice things Swift has to say about the league:

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Gone is the image of thr NHL player as a toothless face-buster. Fighting in the playoffs, this year and last, has been practically nonexistant (though it remained a problem during the regular season). Brawling was almost entirely eliminated. Even the fans' image has changed: Pre-Bettman, when the NHL was the boil on the pro sports boom of the 1970s and '80s, hockeys spectators looked like the spillover from Wrestlemania. This year elegant couples like John F. Kennedy Jr. and Daryl Hannah (also Knick attendees) and Farrah Fawcett and Ryan O'Neal were spotted at NHL games. Big Apple mayor Rudy Giuliani has confessed to having a hockey goal set up in the backyard of Gracie Mansion, the mayoral digs, for his eight-year old son, Andrew.

But the real news was not that the Rangers generated tremendous excitement in New York, long a great hockey town. No, it was that hockey began making strides in the Sun Belt. It started last year when Wayne Gretzky led the Los Angeles Kings into the Stanley Cup finals. Then, for once, the NHL did expansion the right way, allowing the Florida Panthers and the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim to field competitive teams in their first season. Both sold out nearly half their games. The Sharks were the surprise team of this season's playoffs and, as the most improved team in the history of hockey from one year to the next, won the hearts of the Bay Area. And the second-year Tampa Bay Lightning averaged more than 21,000 fans a game. “We're not just a cold-weather sport,” says Bettman. “We're getting a national footprint.”

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02-17-2007, 02:46 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by golfmade View Post
Damn, I was hoping the Mythbuster guys would do a show about hockey myths.
It would have to be a mini-series.

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02-17-2007, 03:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmy View Post
It would have to be a mini-series.
The trap can be exciting?

New jerseys make you skate faster?

Composite Sticks are better than wood?

Crosby would score more than Gretzky in the 80s?

Did the puck cross the line in Game 6?

Does growing the playoff beard increase performance?


Hell, they could base a season on it.

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02-17-2007, 03:38 PM
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Good stuff kdb209, thanks for sharing!

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02-17-2007, 03:55 PM
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Great effort, but completely missing the big picture.

The most influential sports publication in the United States ran a headline on its cover that read: "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not"

It doesn't matter how the meat tasted; that was a sizzle, and the NHL responded by canceling half of its following season.

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02-17-2007, 07:34 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NJD Jester View Post
Great effort, but completely missing the big picture.

The most influential sports publication in the United States ran a headline on its cover that read: "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not"

It doesn't matter how the meat tasted; that was a sizzle, and the NHL responded by canceling half of its following season.
And that right there is the point! And why most of us keep going back to it.

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02-17-2007, 10:37 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NJD Jester View Post
Great effort, but completely missing the big picture.

The most influential sports publication in the United States ran a headline on its cover that read: "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not"

It doesn't matter how the meat tasted; that was a sizzle, and the NHL responded by canceling half of its following season.
Unfortunately that sizzle was more the burning carcass of the '94 NBA playoffs than any real indication of the state of the NHL in the American sports psyche outside of New York.

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02-17-2007, 10:48 PM
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I still have this issue of Sports Illustrated.

Do I get a prize?

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02-17-2007, 10:51 PM
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This issue was in my orthodonist's waiting room for like four years.

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02-17-2007, 10:51 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by kdb209 View Post
Unfortunately that sizzle was more the burning carcass of the '94 NBA playoffs than any real indication of the state of the NHL in the American sports psyche outside of New York.
Not true at all.

I remember when that issue came out.

EVERYONE was talking about it at the time. EVERYONE.

You couldn't find a person into sports who didn't pick up that issue and at least check out a game the next season.

That issue sparked a whole lot of talk about the NHL no matter what was said on the inside.

That cover is historic in terms of a discussion point for this league.

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02-17-2007, 10:59 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by NJD Jester View Post
Great effort, but completely missing the big picture.

The most influential sports publication in the United States ran a headline on its cover that read: "Why the NHL's Hot and the NBA's Not"

It doesn't matter how the meat tasted; that was a sizzle, and the NHL responded by canceling half of its following season.
Boy, talk about fanning on the puck. Your post is hardly surprising, mind you.

This is the point: that was NOT A SIZZLE. One writer from SI flopped the meat into the pan. It didn't sizzle because the heat was not turned on. No one paid attention, because there was in fact nothing there to pay attention to. The only ones that paid attention were a few Canadian hockey fans. As we know as Canadians, we are so desperate for US approval that a few of the more desperate latched onto it as proof that Americans really, really liked us.

It was a one week thing in SI that was based on nothing tangible, and the non-reaction showed that to be the case. It was not even really a hockey story, for Chr*** sakes.

You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. Among the hardest things to do on this Board is to make someone say "You know, you're right. VERY good point. I guess I didn't know the full facts on this subject."

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02-17-2007, 11:10 PM
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Originally Posted by Jon Prescription View Post
Not true at all.

I remember when that issue came out.

EVERYONE was talking about it at the time. EVERYONE.

You couldn't find a person into sports who didn't pick up that issue and at least check out a game the next season.

That issue sparked a whole lot of talk about the NHL no matter what was said on the inside.

That cover is historic in terms of a discussion point for this league.
I am afraid that I must say that posters who use the phrase "everyone ... " pretty well lose all credibility with me. I do not believe I am alone in that view.

I remember that article too. I remember it as little more than a screed on the state of the NBA. A very well-deserved one, I might add. I guess not "everyone" felt as you suggested.

Quote:
You couldn't find a person into sports who didn't pick up that issue and at least check out a game the next season.
You hopefully know that there was a lockout the next season and there were no games for six months after that little article. But I guess that "everyone" was holding that single article in their mind for all those summer fall and early winter months.

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02-17-2007, 11:13 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gscarpenter2002 View Post
You hopefully know that there was a lockout the next season and there were no games for six months after that little article. But I guess that "everyone" was holding that single article in their mind for all those summer fall and early winter months.
Think for a second. When someone says "everyone" generally they mean people in their area.

When New York won the Cup and that issue was published, people in the area around me (AKA everyone) checked out a game the next year. Yes, a lot were turned off by the lockout but a TON of people in this area were turned onto the game. This is New York. It's not some bumble**** town in Montana. When a New York team wins a championship people in the surrounding states all tune in.

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02-17-2007, 11:21 PM
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ESPN has averaged a 1.8 rating, miniscule by NBA standards. “Nobody should read too much into the ratings,” says Bettman. “We were off TV so many years, we're in the rebuilding process. If we were still getting those numbers in five years, I'd be disappointed.” The NHL also had six games televised this season on an over-the-air network, ABC, where it drew a lowly 1.7 avearge rating.
Obviously the strike in 95 hurt as the league was unable to immediately capitalize on the NBA's "thuggery" and the increased interest produced by the playoffs and Rangers, the ratings are still in the same ballpark. Here is to hoping high definition can help that number. Another interesting point brought up by Shanahan in a recent interview on WFAN as far as the tv ratings go is the camera work. The production in Canada is better because of the increased understanding of the game and the fact that the cameramen grew up playing and watching the game, and therefore, can anticipate where the puck will go, etc. whereas alot of American cameramen are new to the sport and have a problem following the game.

On a related note, didn't some Canadian producer come stateside this year? I remember a press release and comments from Bettman...

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02-17-2007, 11:56 PM
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Originally Posted by Jon Prescription View Post
Think for a second. When someone says "everyone" generally they mean people in their area.

When New York won the Cup and that issue was published, people in the area around me (AKA everyone) checked out a game the next year. Yes, a lot were turned off by the lockout but a TON of people in this area were turned onto the game. This is New York. It's not some bumble**** town in Montana. When a New York team wins a championship people in the surrounding states all tune in.
That's why people should be careful in using the term "everyone" - and in this case New York most definitely != the rest of the country. The hype that led to the article was New York centric and any reaction to it in New York can only be viewed in the context of the hysteria over breaking the 1940 curse. Were those people who "checked out a game the next year" doing it because of the hype of the article or because of the much bigger hype of the Rags success - you cannot really separate the former from the latter (at least not in the New York market). What do you think the reation to the article would have been if the Rangers had lost game 7?

I can tell you in that in California (SJ) the basic response (of the non Sharks/NHL fan) to that article was - "God, the NBA playoffs really did suck didn't they - if they're comparing it to the NHL - but howabout that Sharks upset over Detroit".

Sports, like politics, is local.

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02-18-2007, 01:13 AM
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Originally Posted by gscarpenter2002 View Post

This is the point: that was NOT A SIZZLE. One writer from SI flopped the meat into the pan. It didn't sizzle because the heat was not turned on. No one paid attention, because there was in fact nothing there to pay attention to. The only ones that paid attention were a few Canadian hockey fans. As we know as Canadians, we are so desperate for US approval that a few of the more desperate latched onto it as proof that Americans really, really liked us.

It was a one week thing in SI that was based on nothing tangible, and the non-reaction showed that to be the case. It was not even really a hockey story, for Chr*** sakes.
Yes we know what the article stated on the inside. However the main point here is when the most influential sports publication in the US had a cover that was worded like that, which in turn caused people to talk about the NHL.

I don't know what the reaction was to this cover in Canada nor do I care. The fact of the matter is the cover made the NHL into a topic of discussion in the US for people who normally wouldn't give the NHL the time of day.

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02-18-2007, 01:30 AM
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Originally Posted by golfmade View Post
Damn, I was hoping the Mythbuster guys would do a show about hockey myths.
Agreed. I'm very dissapointed now.

See. SEE! You made a topic about the NHL receiving praise DISSAPOINTING!

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02-18-2007, 01:54 AM
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If you look at the covers immediatly after that one, you note that SI didn't seem to care about hockey at all.

http://dynamic.si.cnn.com/covers/sea...actDay=&page=2

There were more covers on tennis, boxing, and murder then on hockey.

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02-18-2007, 02:44 AM
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Originally Posted by pkd88 View Post
If you look at the covers immediatly after that one, you note that SI didn't seem to care about hockey at all.

http://dynamic.si.cnn.com/covers/sea...actDay=&page=2

There were more covers on tennis, boxing, and murder then on hockey.
A. The OJ Simpson trial was the trial of the century, don't know how you could figure anything hockey related could/should trump that.

B. Why would hockey be on the cover during those months? Don't know how you expect hockey to be on the cover in August.

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02-18-2007, 09:20 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by nyranger61494 View Post
A. The OJ Simpson trial was the trial of the century, don't know how you could figure anything hockey related could/should trump that.

B. Why would hockey be on the cover during those months? Don't know how you expect hockey to be on the cover in August.
Sheesh. The covers are there for the rest of the year; see those little numbers at the bottom of the page?.Hockey gets nary a sniff. Even the fact that the supposedly "hot" NHL is locked out (which, if the NHL is "hot", is a huge story) gets nary a sniff.

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