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Screw you, Canada! Nashville has become a great hockey town.

All Aboard the Beardwagon



It's been a week for self-congratulation in these United States. Flag-waving and anthem-singing Americans partied hard into the wee hours of Monday morning, celebrating the Navy SEALs that put Osama bin Laden on the permanent disabled list with an upper-body injury (he will not return).

But even before President Obama sauntered out with the announcement late Sunday night — awww, did I interrupt Celebrity Apprentice? — we in Nashville were nursing a John King Hangover from one of the greatest all-sports weekends our city has ever seen.

It started Thursday night.

The Titans may have reached a bit to get University of Washington quarterback Jake Locker with the eighth pick in the NFL Draft. Maybe there are some accuracy concerns — we're used to seeing it in two-tone blue — but at the least, Titans fans don't have to get rid of those No. 10 jerseys. A little duct tape, some Sharpie work and voila: your own recession-conscious Locker top just in time for the start of the season, whenever that is — oh, but let's not dwell on the negative.

Just after the Titans made the pick, going all-in with a new franchise quarterback, the Predators took the ice for their first-ever second-round game in Vancouver. The Canucks may have won that day, but just barely — despite Nashville giving an effort with which coach Barry Trotz was, shall we say, none too pleased. The lone bright spot from that game: Pekka Rinne, who demonstrated his form and propelled himself onto the list of finalists for the Vezina Trophy, given to the NHL's best goaltender.

Fast-forward to Saturday night. All the effort the Predators failed to show in Game 1 on Thursday arrived last weekend, as the underdogs from Music City carried the play and yet still found themselves down 1-0 with less than two minutes to play. In eerie parallel to the pivotal Game 5 showdown with Anaheim, a defenseman — in this case Ryan Suter, the less-bearded, less-heralded partner of Shea Weber — slid in a last-second goal with Rinne on the bench for the extra attacker.

Rinne shined in double overtime with save after save, including an acrobatic, diving-shortstop gem of a save — no, The Save — of a Kevin Bieksa shot destined for the back of the net. The effort earned Rinne one of those twinkly, goosebump "History Will Be Made" ads from the NHL, and he (not the eventual game-winning goal scorer, the unheralded Matt Halischuk) took all the congratulations when the Preds brought the series back home to Nashville knotted at one game apiece.

Meanwhile, seemingly everybody is on the Predators bandwagon — or the Beardwagon, if you will. It's a welcome change from the time when the bandwagon was 300 diehards who got together to tell tall tales about Vitali Yachmenev. From Chicago and Toronto and Montreal they come, and not to steal our team anymore. They want to know if it really is as loud in Bridgestone Arena as everyone says. They want to know if Shea Weber grew the beard or just forced it out. They want to know if they can get tickets (they can't).

TSN — that's Canadian for "ESPN with more curling" — recently ran a feature on Nashville fans. The Toronto Globe and Mail stopped trying to come up with Hamilton Predators logos and noticed what a great hockey town Nashville's become. No one has heard from Research in Motion CEO and one-time Preds predator Jim Balsillie in months.

And all through this, Vanderbilt swept the University of Tennessee in baseball, outscoring the Vols 39-5 in three games and retaking the national No. 1 ranking. Sweeter still, the victory came on the heels of the announcement that longtime coach Tim Corbin is joining the ranks of Commodore coaches painted on the side of the old U Greek Me Greek — Valhalla for the Black and Gold.

As if that weren't enough, 2009 Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke started for the Sounds Friday night, and a certain basketball team in a city west of here is doing in the NBA what the Preds are doing to the NHL: putting up shocking results, drawing boisterous crowds and silencing the haters.

America's on a four-day, post-win high. Nashville's working a weeklong bender and bellying up for more. We'd say to enjoy the playoffs, Osama — but we don't think there's hockey where you're going


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