Updated Feb 29, 2012 - 1:30 pm
Off the Ice: Coyotes, D-backs keep it all in the family
Isn't family nice?
Sure, family members lead to sibling squabbles, stressful situations and an overall dread of the holidays, but at the end of the day, you can sit back, appreciate your similarities and have a laugh together.
In Arizona, we have four major sports teams. They seem to get along pretty well, but basically only come together as a family when there's a charitable event or a big cause. That's fine, some families rarely see each other. But there are two teams who are more alike than anyone will give them credit for, likely including themselves: the Phoenix Coyotes and Arizona Diamondbacks.
And let the hate mail rain in. I'm expecting several emails and tweets about why I'm a no-good local hack over this comparison. After all, how do you compare a team who has enjoyed considerable success since they arrived in the Valley to one who may be on its way out? How do you compare a team that is supposed to win the World Series with one that can seemingly only dream of the second round of the playoffs? Stick with me here.
Both the D-backs and Coyotes have endured their share of struggles. The D-backs have had two stretches without a playoff appearance that lasted about three years each. During that time, attendance fell off, we saw some truly dismal baseball and fans were left wondering when the Cardinals were due in camp. The Coyotes have struggled a bit more, considering their ownership situation, but also had a bad fallout with fans with some truly bad seasons under Wayne Gretzky and the lockout of 2004 to 2005.
But out of the ashes has come Phoenix. Both organizations are now led by some of the top offices in their respective games. Kevin Towers with the D-backs has assembled a great team that's only getting better, and Don Maloney with the Coyotes has found a way to keep his team in the hunt despite having a league-controlled budget.
Both teams are also benefiting from a great lead man. What's not to love about Kirk Gibson and Dave Tippett? Both are gritty, no-nonsense guys who command the respect from their players -- and fans -- and manage to put wins on the board, not because they have an extraordinary amount of talent, but because they use what talent they have exceedingly well and trust in the locker room chemistry to get them through the down spots that come with any season.
When you get down to it, neither the D-backs' nor Coyotes' roster will dazzle you with big names. Sure, the D-backs can boast guys like Justin Upton, J.J. Putz and Ian Kennedy, but the Coyotes can counter with Radim Vrbata, Mike Smith and Keith Yandle. The D-backs names may be more familiar around the bar, but those who know hockey know who's an All-Star (or should have been) on the Coyotes. But, like I said, the team does not rely on the talents of a few great men. Guys like Ryan Roberts and Shane Doan, who aren't the best on paper, are the glue in the locker room and the guys who never say die. They don't inspire a team, but they motivate the hell out of them.
Neither team is flashy, let's face it. With a gritty man at the helm, soft-spoken general managers and a team that exploits comparatively minor talent combined with effort guys, they're not going to draw the ESPN coverage like LeBron and A-Rod. But they are going to build a fan base in Arizona that's loyal to the death. Phoenix is made up of fair-weather fans, like it or not, and local teams have always struggled to convert fans away from their home team, like the Chicago Cubs or Detroit Red Wings. But when a team shows as much heart as these two, it's tough for someone not to root for them. When they put together a string of wins or even drop that rival team, that transplanted fan can't help but smile. Some may buy a shirt. Some might click on ArizonaSports.com. But a majority will buy a ticket to see the team in action for themselves. And I'll take fans over flash any day.
Yes, the teams are different, but what family isn't in their own way? Are you exactly like your siblings, parents or aunts and uncles? I know I'm not and who wants to be? That's just boring. As far as the D-backs and Coyotes, their sports couldn't be any different, from grass to ice, to summer to winter. But when you get down to it, both teams have built a team that's successful, led by a winner and are slowly catching the eye of national media, even down to their goofy mascots.
I guess when you get right down to it, the D-backs and Coyotes are family because both teams have one thing at the center of their games that any sports fan would love: heart.
And we all know you keep your family in your heart.