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December 2, 2006
  

The Rory Details
The movement to get Rory Fitzpatrick into the NHL All-Star Game could change fan balloting forever, according to TFP's Greg Wyshynski.
 

(WASHINGTON, DC) -- Though their names weren't on either ballot for the two major political parties in the 2004 U.S. Presidential election, Joseph W. Organist, Leon Motor and Freddy Irwin 'Messiah' Sitnick all received votes. They were identified as independents, and were write-in candidates for the highest office in the land.

Though his name wasn't listed on either ballot for the two major conferences in the 2006-07 NHL All-Star Game, Rory Fitzpatrick has received votes. He's identified as a defenseman, and he's a write-in candidate for an exhibition game that most nominated players would gladly swap for a relaxing four-day weekend on a beach.

And amazingly, as of Nov. 29, he has more all-star votes (31,310) than Mathieu Schneider (30,628), who's on the ballot for the Detroit Red Wings.

By now you might have heard about Steve Schmid, the 22-year-old Sabres fan from Auburn, NY who's behind the "Vote For Rory" campaign, whose epicenter is the no-frills website www.voteforrory.com. It's become one of the most baffling and effective revolutionary fan movements in hockey history.

If you're like me, you might have already Googled "Rory Fitzpatrick" just to remember who, exactly, this 10-year veteran defenseman is and where, exactly, he is these days — Vancouver, his fifth NHL team. That Mr. Fitzpatrick is about as well-known to most hockey fans as a playoff victory is to Roberto Luongo begs the obvious question:

Why Rory, Mr. Schmid?

 

"He's just so much of a nobody," he explained. "If you picked someone like Wade Belak, you'd get a lot of opposition to it. I know as a Sabres fan that if someone said, 'Hey, vote Wade Belak into the All-Star Game,' I’d tell them, 'Go to hell.' You can't pick a guy like Belak or [Donald] Brashear because people hate them. Who can hate a guy like Rory Fitzpatrick, other than a couple of disgruntled Sabres fans?"

If Fitzy's candidacy seems like a bit of a joke — like that smirky kid in the back of the classroom who nominates Eric Cartman for student council president — that's actually how it started.

Schmid said he posts in the forum on SomethingAwful.com, an online humor site, where the bashing of specific players is a sport in itself. One day, Schmid saw a thread titled "We Still Hate You Rory Fitzpatrick"; as a goof, he decided to float a trial balloon regarding Rory's candidacy for the 2006-07 NHL All-Star Game in Dallas. Schmid posted the idea on HFBoards.com, the densely populated Hockey's Future message forums.

It went up on a Sunday afternoon; six hours later, it had 6,000 hits.

The momentum was stunning, as fans passionately latched onto this absurd notion and started boasting about having cast tens and hundreds of votes for Fitzpatrick on NHL.com. They cited different reasons for their support: parody, politics and, in some cases, praise. For every one fan who was using this campaign as an indictment of the NHL's "flawed" fan balloting process, there were three who supported Fitzpatrick as an example of the kind of blue-collar grunt that gets left out of the spotlight all too often.

"Some people probably want to see him in a 3-on-1 against Ovechkin, Crosby and Jagr," said Schmid. "Whatever reason they use to vote is fine with me. We're all part of the same team."

Team Rory?

"Yeah."

In the coming weeks, there were "Vote for Rory" avatars, banners and YouTube videos. Schmid was interviewed on the FAN 590 in Toronto about the effort. Fans were proclaiming there was an NHL cover-up because no Western Conference write-in votes had been reported in the balloting updates, and began pestering the league office to reveal "the truth." Then, late last month, the numbers finally came in — Rory Fitzpatrick was on the big board.

Rory FitzpatrickBased on the voting totals his supporters had reported, Schmid expected the number to be closer to 100,000 than the 31,000 Fitzpatrick had received. Fans had boasted about voting well over 100 times a day, but this is the Internet we're talking about here; you know, the one where the girl on the dating site says she looks like Lindsay Lohan, and when you actually meet her it's more like Ted Lindsay.

The movement got another boost on Dec. 1 when the Vancouver Province finally caught up with Fitzpatrick — limited to 16 games this season after breaking his ankle — and he gave the campaign an endorsement.

"People put a lot of time into it. You have to give credit to the people who put it all together. They did a great job. It's pretty funny," Fitzpatrick told the paper. "If I'm going to get in, I'm going to need a lot of help, that's for sure."

No kidding: as of Nov. 29, Fitzpatrick significantly trailed second-leading Western Conference defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit, who had 214,789 votes thus far.

So where is the NHL in all of this? The NHL.com story that accompanied the Western Conference voting totals made no mention of Rory Fitzpatrick's write-in votes or the campaign surrounding him.

I repeat for the sake of clarity and absurdity: The NHL did not find the fact that a fan-led write-in campaign for Rory Fitzpatrick had garnered more votes than Mathieu Schneider to be newsworthy.

But we all know the men who run this league have no sense of humor, and absolutely no idea what it is their fans want. That's been established for decades. Still, it's frustrating to see the NHL — thus far — failing to embrace a movement that has morphed from being an undeniable goof into something much more salient.

Think of "Vote For Rory" as a pucks-and-sticks version of "Snakes on a Plane." It started as a joke title on a bad horror movie. Then the Internet latched onto it, and Sam Jackson refused to do the movie unless its ridiculous title was kept intact. Soon, a bad horror film became a camp fright romp, with fans and bloggers literally adding scenes and dialogue through their suggestions. Sure, it ran out of steam in the end, but the fans probably saved it from direct-to-DVD hell. (And just like a hockey game, it was a $%#@ blast to watch when you're loaded.)

Clearly, the fans are speaking, and a lot of them are saying they want to see a player like Rory Fitzpatrick in the all-star game. And why not? The commissioner can honor has-beens with "heroes of the game" selections, so why not have a way to honor the grunts as well? I'd rather watch someone like Dougie Brown skate in the midseason classic for the first time than a Mike Gartner-type for the eighth time, wouldn't you?

So here's my proposal: Every year the NHL opens up a slot in the East and a slot in the West for an Internet-only fan vote. Every non-goalie in the league NOT on the all-star ballot will be eligible. Call it the "unsung player," the "lunch pail star," the "working class hero" slot; hell, call it "The Sutter Selection" in honor of an entire family that epitomized the kind of player we're talking about here.

Imagine the "Vote for Rory" campaign, only spread throughout 30 teams. "Vote for Brylin!" "Vote for Draper!" "Vote for Higgins!" Imagine the league actually endorsing something the fans are already excited about, instead of trying to control the artificial message with a hired-gun PR firm as usual.

"I would love that idea, and I think the fans would embrace it," said Schmid. "Let the coaches and general managers figure out the top three lines and the top two 'D' pairs; let the fans figure out the fourth line and the third pair."

I wouldn't go that far... but hey, we're still on the same team, Steve.

Team Rory.

"Seriously, if he was voted to the game, I would buy his jersey. I’d even think about going on eBay and getting tickets just to see him," said Schmid.

Hear those cash registers ringing, NHL? Hear those winds of change?

Vote early, people.

Vote often.

Vote Rory.
 


Greg Wyshynski, also the Sports Editor of The Connect Newspaper, is a columnist for TheFourthPeriod.com, and the Senior Editor and Washington Correspondent for The Fourth Period Magazine. 
His book, "
Glow Pucks and 10-Cent Beer: The 101 Worst Ideas in Sports History" is now on sale.
 

 

 

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