Wednesday night is Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals between the Chicago Blackhawks and Anaheim Ducks. In most sports for a matchup of this caliber, the TV network covering the game would show couple of guys in suits talking about the matchup until seconds before the game started. Instead, the NBC Sports Network will show this:
Instead of giving us drivel about which team wants this game more or who has momentum, we get Jim Cornelison's riveting rendition of the national anthem, capturing the atmosphere of one of sports' best in-person experiences.
At many sporting events, the national anthem can be uninspiring. It feels more like a rote task, something to check off a list, a mandatory chore we need to get to before we can get on with things. Teams will give the task of performing the song to a fan, a minor celebrity, or a recording. Everybody stands up and puts their hat on their heart, but few stand at rapt attention. People make chatter. People check their phones.
It's nothing like a national anthem before a big hockey playoff game. Here's New York Rangers legend John Amirante, making a return to sing the anthem at Game 5 of the Rangers-Lightning Eastern Conference Finals:
The national anthem at a big hockey game doesn't feel obligatory. It's a performance as thrilling as the game we're all here to watch. Most teams have their signature singer, generally gorgeous operatic voices as linked to the team as any of the players. The crowd's verve builds and builds until the singer reaches the song's climax, and the crowd's roar carries on until puck drop, ensuring the game starts with an awesome energy.
This applies to both countries featured in the NHL:
We don't need to sing the national anthem before sporting events. I don't sing the national anthem when I brush my teeth in the morning, and we don't sing it when everybody gets into the office before we start the day of work. That said, neither of those scenarios would be significantly stranger than the fact that we all sing the national anthem at every sporting event. When there's a half-hearted anthem at a sporting event, I think less about the good things about my country -- which is the point, right? -- and instead I spend a good amount of time wondering why we're listening to a song about the War of 1812 before we get to the baseball.
Hockey does it right. Hockey makes the anthem an event. It makes us pay attention. It gives us goosebumps. It gets us riled up at the exact moment we should be riled up. And that's something worth standing for.
SB Nation video archives: The worst national anthem performances (2014)