Wish Granted: How The Belfast Giants Saved Christmas

They still haven't forgotten how to have fun in "minor league" sports.

If you haven't seen this video yet, go ahead and check it out. I have a feeling it's about to go viral, if it hasn't already. It's the kind of thing that Jimmy Kimmel absolutely eats up...

These are the Belfast Giants, from Belfast, Ireland, members of the Elite League (hockey) in Europe.

Pretty good, eh? I admit, it starts out kind of slow. In an era where talented people are actually creating videos that feature their own arrangements for performing elaborate covers of Lady Gaga songs, a bunch of dudes lip-synching to an old Mariah Carey song is pretty lame, even during the holidays.

But at the :58 mark, the tempo picks up and the boys break out the choreography, fronted by 6'5" elf Mike Hoffman. But where things really shift into high gear is at the 1:47 mark, when the song reaches the bridge. That's when the whole team joins in, cavorting through the concourses of Belfast's Odyssey Arena and eventually reaching a finale on the stairs that would make Busby Berkeley weep (for one reason or another). That's when it becomes obvious how much fun they're having with it.

I found this online two days ago the way anybody finds stuff online anymore (stole it from somebody's Facebook or Twitter feed) and have been sharing it ever since. It's so much fun that it's easy to forget that it's actually an ad to get people to come see the team play a slate of games scheduled right around Christmas. Everybody I've shown it to loves it and more than a few of them have asked the question, "why can't the Lightning or Bucs or Rays do something like that?"

The sad, short answer is that this kind of thing can only happen in so-called "minor league" sports. That's due in part to the lifestyle of minor league athletes, which is 10% competing in their sport, 10% training and conditioning for their sport and 80% bored out of their skulls. They play good hockey in the Elite League and it's definitely a higher quality of play than some Tuesday night rec league but it's not the NHL. When someone comes along and says, "Hey, let's make a video!", all the hands in the room go up. But that's the kind of thing that's considered beneath big leaguers, unfortunately.

Because the other part of it is that something happens when an athlete makes it to the major leagues. The heightened pressure to perform plus the higher public profile combine to kill the enthusiasm for things that could result in embarrassment. Sure, once in a while you'll see a Martin St. Louis on the ice in shower shoes playing Naked Shootout, but those are rare glimpses inside a world to which we the fans are generally not privy.

Theirs is a cutthroat environment where any perceived weakness can and will be exploited by others seeking to curtail their livelihood. You can't really blame someone for feeling less than inspired to cut their workout short by an hour so they can dance around in a silly elf costume for laughs under those conditions. It's not that they turn into bland, boring guys; it's just that the stakes are raised so high that sports stops being fun and games to so many participants at that level. Which is a shame for all involved, including us fans. Teams are forced to try to fill that vacuum with mascots, cheerleaders, loud music, laser light shows, wacky scoreboard animations and tee-shirt cannons. There's nothing that can be done about it; that's just how major league sports has evolved in the modern era.

Happily, these are not matters of great concern to the mighty Belfast Giants.

And fortunately for us, in spite of the corporate types digging their nasty tentacles deeper and deeper into the world of minor league sports (did you happen to notice all the advertising on the Giants sweaters?), for the most part, the players still don't take themselves too seriously and are not so distracted with weightier matters that they view something like this as an imposition. And until the corporate types figure out a way to make huge (as in major league-type) money off the minors, and suck all the fun out of it in the process, which isn't going to happen anytime real soon, things will probably stay that way. 

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