To truly understand why the Unrivaled E60 documentary resonates with so many Detroit Red Wings fans, I’ll begin by explaining it through the eyes of my younger self.
I was sixteen when the game happened and had to be on my best behavior. I was a pretty well behaved kid–until I watched sports. Every grounding I endured was always related to a game. Two landed me in particularly hot water.
The first was during game four of the 1995 Stanley Cup Final. My eighth grade self thought I could get away with calling Marty Brodeur an asshole for making yet another save against the suddenly lowly Red Wings. My dad promptly turned the television off and said that was it. To date, it’s the last time I missed a Stanley Cup presentation.
UNRIVALED: RED WINGS V AVALANCHE
Premieres today 1pm on ESPN – immediately following on ESPN+ pic.twitter.com/bJrxruPwGC
— Chicken Boi (@Buccigross) June 26, 2022
The second was Claude Lemieux infamously slamming Kris Draper’s face into the boards. To this day, I’m really not sure what string of obscenities I used. But it was enough to lose my television privileges for the remainder of the week.
My mom talked my dad down from a harsher fate. She loves hockey, and explained that I just lost my cool. This is important to remember. My father isn’t a sports fan. My mother is why I love the sport.
So when Fight Night happened, imagine my surprise when it was my mother, not my younger brother or me, screaming at the television. This woman, whose devotions to her faith border sainthood, goes absolutely ballistic when the brawl took place.
Yelling as Lemieux turtled. Clapping as Darren McCarty lands another punch. But it’s the Brendan Shanahan flying leap to intercept Patrick Roy that causes the impossible to happen. Any good Red Wings fan knows that Mike Vernon skates out to protect Shanahan. Then, it’s the inevitable fight between the netminders.
As fists being to fly between Roy and Vernon, I glance at my brother who points to my mother. This is the same woman who always told us violence isn’t the answer, and to watch our mouths. In stunned revelry, I watch as she balls up her fists, punching air as if it’s Patrick Roy’s head.
Then the kicker. Through gritted teeth, she urges Vernon on with a punch for each word: Beat his fu-king ass!
If you don’t do anything else with your day tomorrow, watch “Unrivaled.” IT. WAS. GOOD.
— Casey (@casepeters) June 26, 2022
This is what that game–and rivalry did. It transformed normal every day human beings into crazed fans seeking vengeance. It gave my brother and me the story of a lifetime. All the while my dad stands there, shaking his head, telling us they’re all friends off the ice.
I wouldn’t hear of it. I wanted blood.
Unrivaled captures this–and even more.
It opens up with Darren McCarty setting the stage–bewildered that 25 years have gone so quickly. A quick pan of the crowd shows fans nodding in agreement–how has it been a quarter of a century?
Immediately the tone is set: nostalgia and know-how. If you’re new to the story, it’s a two hour jaunt through its genesis and its climax. For those who lived through it, it’s teleporting back to a time where hockey was just as gritty as it could be pretty.
But it was the memories flooding back as the documentary rolled.
Kozlov’s game winner against Chicago in the Western Conference Final that sent Detroit to its first Cup Final in nearly 30 years. And then the pain that followed at the hands of the Devils.
The hit on Draper. The fight. Right down to Vladimir Konstantinov and the life that could have been–but now is because of the limo accident. The eye-opening revelation of what he went through–and is still enduring spoke to what McCarty said at the beginning of the documentary.
“It’s the biggest story about life.”
Red Wings Rivalry with Colorado Captivates 25 Years Later
Through the eyes of a fan at just sixteen, it was such a black and white world. Red Wings good. Avalanche evil. But here I am, 25 years older, listening to Lemieux’s stories and how the crowd and McCarty react. Talking about his father working as a truck driver to make ends meet. Joking about having to come in with the police.
You like him. And the cartoonish supervillain that once existed is transformed to flesh and blood–just like the rest of us.
The world has changed dramatically since that rivalry. It’s likely March 26th potentially incinerates Twitter or any social media platform if its in the present day. But then, things just were more defined. There wasn’t this ability to connect instantly and break down the walls. Even now, though there are rivalries, it’s not to the level of what this once was.
Instead, though it absolutely explores the moments leading up to the brawl, and its effect on the rivalry and Detroit’s eventual Cup run, there’s a very human element that runs as a current theme.
Time moves on. So do we. And even those who may be the most bitter of enemies can set those differences and emotions aside.
The documentary is worth every second of its two hour plus run.
And it turns out my dad was right–they are all friends after all.
It just took some time.