We're told that smell is the strongest sense for bringing forth long-lost memories. I believe it.
There is a certain smell that I associate with summer. It is a smell that is dank, and sour, and very old. It is largely sweat and struggle, and permeates everything: walls, floors, chairs, glass, and people. It is the smell of competition and victory. And, when it invades your nostrils for the first time, it never ever leaves.
The memory came back with full force last night at the Iroquois Park Arena in Whitby. I decided to visit some ghosts and drove down to watch the Brooklin Redmen play the Brampton Excelsiors in the second round of the OLA's Major Lacrosse Series playoffs. Both teams are historic entities in the world of Ontario lacrosse: the Redmen began life back in 1966 in the small village of Brooklin, north of Whitby, and played in the old Luther Vipond Arena for years, labouring in obscurity except for the small, but loyal following who drove to the village on hot summer nights: the Excelsiors are even older, dating back to 1912, and have a storied past that includes several Mann Cups: they are the Green Bay Packers and the Pittsburgh Steelers of lacrosse. Brooklin had won the first two games in the series, so Brampton needed to win to stay alive.
The game itself was astounding, given that the players performed at a high tempo in the sweltering conditions. The first period was even, and the teams emerged with a 3-3 tie. In the second period, Brampton played the type of lacrosse I always associated with the OLA: fast , long passes from the goalie to players running down the floor behind the Brooklin defenders, a lacrosse equivalent of the long bomb of football. This stretched the Brooklin defence and Brampton won the period 5-1. By the time the third period played out, both teams had settled into the heat of the building. Brooklin mounted a come-back with persistent long range shooting that finally found the mark, but Brampton sealed the deal with a costly Brooklin turn-over late in the game to snuff out the Redmen rally. Final score: 11-7 for Brampton.
But it was more than the play and score that caught my imagination. The sparse crowd, the ugly old barn of an arena, and that unforgetable smell took me back to 1971, when the Brantford Warriors were the toast of the lacrosse world. There's something strangely bonding about people who gather in harsh conditions deliberately to watch something they're passionate about. Lacrosse is still a fringe sport to most people, but to those who truly love the game, there's nothing better than sweating it out with the players, who chase glory and passion more than they chase fame or the ball. It's the smell, I guess. Ugly as it is, when it gets inside you, there's no turning back.