I grew up in a hockey family. My uncle and cousins played the sport. As a child, I went to Devils games with my family and friends when we could (pre-Prudential Center, back when they were at the Meadowlands). I even wore my oversized jersey like a dress to games and thought it was cool. When I was older and started my first job in New York City, my coworkers and I would sometimes go to Rangers games after work to socialize and drink as we watched the game. Growing up, Martin Brodeur couldn’t be beat. Everyone else in middle school was obsessed with Derek Jeter, but when it came to sports, I was all about #30. As an adult, I loved to watch Henrik Lundqvist’s skill on the ice. (I’m still not ready to talk about his move to the Capitals.) But all that changed in the fall of 2018. A new hockey star walked into my life and changed everything. Nothing has been the same since. That hockey legend’s name? Gritty.
Introduced in September 2018, he had a polarizing start. Many hockey fans immediately responded with a well deserved “What the hell is this” but the locals embraced their newest son.
As other parts of the country chimed in with dislike or confusion, the city of Philly gathered around Gritty to proclaim him one of their own. This son of Philadelphia found his true home on social media, creating content that was so fun, funny, and engaging it consistently made traffic, getting shared by hockey fans and non-hockey fans alike. From his debut, where he fell on the ice, to streaking at last year’s Stadium Series game against the Penguins, Gritty has proven he knows how to grab a headline. His viral notability grew after picking a fight with a child hockey player during a game and last year he even started his own 5k race where there were prizes not only for running the fastest, but also for Gritizens with the best Gritty regalia (his word, not mine).
With every post and every news story, Gritty solidified his place as a niche sports star. Last month, as Philadelphia stepped into the national spotlight during the final moments of the election’s ballot count, so did Gritty. Transcending from a sports icon to a national treasure, Gritty memes were everywhere: from one image of Gritty as Olenna Tyrell from Game of Thrones proclaiming “Tell Donald it was me” to a Gritty dressed as Betsy Ross sewing a flag to a copious amount of Grittys (or is it Gritties?) sitting at a war room table, counting ballots – it seemed like an endless well of patriotic possibilities for our orange hero. As a testament to what an international sensation Gritty had become, a friend from Canada sent me a story about how Gritty’s image was so saturated within the American election coverage, that a French news outlet had to explain Gritty to French readers, a fact I find delightful.
I have several hockey loving friends and while few of us can agree on anything, including which team to root for or who is the best player current or former, one thing we all agree on – effortlessly – is that the MVP for the NHL for the last two years is Gritty.