Tomorrow is Christmas Eve, and since every Christmas deserves a good story with a happy ending, allow me to tell my 2021 version of such a tale.
The adventure begins back in 1974, when in the first five minutes after I had moved into Pritchard Hall on the Virginia Tech campus, I met Doug. He was in the room next to mine, and after meeting each other, we became instant and lifelong friends.
We were both competitive sorts who enjoyed trash talking each other, but our skills were widely different, making competitions between us a bit interesting. When it came to sports, I was a 6-foot-4 white guy who couldn’t jump and had the quickness of a pregnant rhinoceros, but if left open, I could consistently hit an outside shot. This came in handy when Doug and I played either H-O-R-S-E or one-on-one, as I’d toy with him and let him get ahead, then drill three straight long jumpers to crush him.
Doug, conversely, was a table game wizard. On a foosball table, he could snap his wrists with no effort and score goals at will. I later in life bought a foosball table for my basement, trying to learn to be good enough to give him a run for his money. But every time he visited, he toyed with me in foosball the way I taunted him in basketball.
The rivalry went up a notch during my sophomore year at Virginia Tech, where I received at Christmas a gift that became the focal point of our competitions for years to come: It was an NHL Hockey game (the one where the players were connected to long thin rods that you’d push or pull to move your player, and twist the knobs connected to those rods to make the players shoot). After the holidays, I bought it back to the dorm, and Doug and I ended up playing this game all the time (this was before video games, cell phones, the internet, and a bunch of other stuff my daughter can’t believe we did without).
We knew nothing about hockey, but it provided everything we needed: a game you could play that allowed for constant trash talking, required no electricity or special equipment, was portable, and could be set up just about anywhere.
The game came with a miniature Stanley Cup, and whoever won that day’s game took it back to their room, as the trophy’s presence in your living area afforded you bragging and trash-talking rights until the next game. It went back and forth between us until for some reason, momentum shifted squarely to my side.
For what seemed like the next two years, I won every game. When the game was tight, I’d remind Doug of how he choked away the last 3 or 4 games, he’d start playing conservatively, and somehow I’d rally to win. This even continued well after we both graduated, as when he’d visit, I made sure that game was somewhere easily accessible despite my wife telling me not to.
Then came the moment that for the two of us, would forever live in infamy. Before this incident, the miniature Stanley Cup resided in a curio in my living room, along with some other trophies, awards and memorabilia. During one of Doug’s visits, in fact, I pointed it out to him repeatedly, suggesting it had become the trophy’s permanent home.
But on the Monday after Doug went home, as I was recalling the fun of needling my old friend, I decided to take a quick look at the curio. Something was different.
The Stanley Cup was gone.
Doug loudly protested any and all accusations that he had stolen it, but over the next 40 years, pictures of that Cup would show up in emails at various places around the country. As photo editing software like Photoshop became prevalent, the Cup even had little balloons over it so it could speak to me and tell me that while Doug didn’t steal it, the Cup sure enjoyed being in whatever scenic locale the latest picture took place in.
Then came yesterday, when I was returning from some last-minute grocery shopping for holiday meals. Like most people these days, my front porch is covered with packages at about 4 PM every day, and usually I’m given explicit instructions by my wife to not open any of them this close to Christmas.
But there was one box with a return address from where Doug lives, addressed to me, which I just HAD to open.
In it were Christmas presents for my wife, my dog Maggie, and a small box with my name on it. As I opened it, I could immediately see that it was a miniature Stanley Cup, somewhat similar to the one involved in the brazen thievery of decades ago. But there was one notable difference.
Instead of a generic version of the cup, this one was a replica of what my favorite hockey team – The Washington Capitals – drank untold gallons of distilled liquids (and only God knows what else) from in 2018 when they brought the Cup home to DC.
“Here’s a replacement for the one you THINK was stolen,” said the note. “You might like this one better.”
Turns out that after over 40 years, I was now witnessing a Christmas miracle that had reunited a valued keepsake with its rightful owner. No longer did I have to “THINK” that it had been stolen. This was like the Grinch admitting he stole Christmas and then mailing it back to the good people of Whoville. To say I was surprised is an understatement. When I got up this morning, having the Stanley Cup back in its proper place on the top shelf of a curio in my living room was not on my bingo card.
But as you see from the above picture, there it sits, acting like a Virginia Tech recruiting poster, telling the world "This Is Home."
I'm sure Doug will howl that I've taken artistic license and somehow exaggerated parts of this. He may even say I outright made up portions. People who steal stuff, I would counter, tend to deflect and say things like that. But that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. Plus Doug is right. I do like this one better.
So here’s to Christmas miracles, stories with happy endings, and dear friends who put up with all your shenanigans over a lifetime. May all of you get to experience not only a similar Christmas miracle, but also the fellowship of great friends and family, and all the wonderful blessings life has to offer in the New Year.
King David, who I don't believe knew anything about hockey, described it best when he he said in the book of Psalms, "my cup runneth over."
Mine certainly did this year, and I wish the same for you and yours this holiday season.
Doug and I have been friends for so long, not only does it go back before the days of cell phones and the internet...it goes back even before Hallmark Christmas Movies