Putting on the foil
Stars get tough in ad campaign, invite counterpunch
Posted: Tuesday September 4, 2007 12:32PM; Updated: Tuesday September 4, 2007 2:59PM
Perhaps you've heard about the Dallas Stars' cheeky new billboards that fire playful haymakers at other more popular sports. Of the nine Come into the cold slogans, the potshot at the NBA -- The only thing our refs shave is the ice -- begs for an addendum in the wake of Rick Tocchet's little gambling ring misadventure: However, some of our assistant coaches may handle an illicit wager or two.
It's a plus side of the NHL's low profile that its own gambling scandal can fly under the mainstream radar -- save for the brief period when the comely Mrs. Gretzky's name was dragged into it -- and enable the crew at the Texas ad agency Door Number 3 to merrily sling a few stones from the league's glass castle. Even defenseman Sean Hill's 20-game suspension for flunking a steroid test during last season's playoffs ellicited yawns, languid stretches of the limbs and cracked knuckles.
The rest of the Stars' new slogans mirthfully pitch the toughness of NHL players and their sport:
Only one game a week? Is the N in NFL for Nancy?
Maybe baseball should stop using the word sacrifice.
Ultimate Fighting. What a friendly little sport.
At 32 degrees, water freezes and blood boils.
Meet our two defenders: Assault and Battery
The ticket covers the hockey. The boxing is a bonus.
Watch people fight at work.
Thei whole paycheck is hazard pay.
All jolly good, clever fun (they might have included We kill penalties, too) and it's interesting to see a team put on the foil and vie for attention -- as well as your crinkled Abe Lincolns -- with the revered fury of the NFL and trainwreck gristle of Ultimate Fighting. Actually, the Stars' zingers would have been spot-on a decade ago when Stu "Grim Reaper" Grimson, Tie Domi, Tony Twist and Bob Probert were running roughshod over meeker souls and Claude Lemieux was turning every meeting of the Avalanche and Red Wings into a bloodbath. Mr. Lemieux was already notorious for biting Jim Peplinski's finger during a melee while plying his rough trade for the Canadiens, thus prompting the Flames' winger to remark, "I didn't know they allowed cannibalism in the NHL."
Now, there's a marketing slogan for the 21st century!
Alas, this ain't the golden age of goons and mayhem. The NHL has been, shall we say, conflicted about such matters and putting the vise grips on tooth-extraction attempts with varying degrees of pressure since the enactment of the third-man-in and leaving-the-bench (1971) and instigator (1992) rules. Heck, in the woolier '90s, the league billed itself as The Coolest Game On Ice not The Coolest Game That Puts Bodies on Ice. In recent years, much effort has been directed at opening up the game and selling the lamp-lighting derring-do of flashy scorers like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. Now, with obstruction and diving calls all the rage, playing the toughness card is more dicey -- unless you're seeking to shill such shocking shenanigans such as Chris Simon's stick to the mug of Ryan Hollweg.
NHL teams face a stiff fight competing in an era where everything from hot dog-eating and spelling bees to poker and cup-stacking are considered sports and rate as much or even more coverage on ESPN than hockey ordinarily gets. It's tough to sell toughness in a tough world that includes such pulse-pounding activities as Extreme Ironing, which bills itself as "the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well pressed shirt." Not to be outdone by the willingness of brave adventure-minded souls to do laundry on top of Mount Fuji, a group was inspired to create Extreme Cello Playing and scale cathedrals. Heck, those chaps don't even wear helmets. NHL players do. So much for tough, eh?
And given that the Stars are a fairly tame squad prone to galling early playoff exits, their new battle cries are likely to illicit snide cracks like this one from my SI.com colleague Allan Muir, who suggested in his Pacific Division report card that the Stars go with: If you liked Shane Churla during his declining years, you'll looooove Todd Fedoruk.
No, the NHL is hardly king of Hamburger Hill these days, but you still have to admire the Stars' (bruised) cheek.
Getting beat like a drum is an expression that Yankee fans associate with reliever (term used loosely here) Kyle Farnsworth, who bears a striking resemblance to Alan Myers, who pounded the tubs for Devo from 1976 until the mid-'80s -- just around the time that Farnsworth was getting serious about pursuing a baseball career. Coincidence, you say? We think not.