Sunday, August 5, 2012

THE HISTORY OF HOCKEYBIRD, PART TWO

Hello NY and everywhere else, I'm Bird and you are in the Birdcage. 

So, part two eh? Part one, which was more of a prequel than anything else included the origin of the name Hockeybird, a description of my first entry into the internet world and the switch from AOL to a server in NY. This was located at the now defunct Netmonger Communications which while a real working ISP was more a front than anything else. Again, I was being recruited to work in Intelligence. The guy who owned Intelligence Technologies International  wanted me to become his director of operations which did include running the ISP. What he didn't know was that there were other "agencies" that wanted me there as well. I'm going to have to be a bit cryptic here. Let's just say I ended up leaving Sleepy's and taking the position around Thanksgiving in 1999.

I was married and expecting our first child. I thought it was a good move. It was for Hockeybird, that's for sure. I now had access to a big fat pipe and my own server. I also had on staff one hell of a computer wizard. I was updating the front page by hand each day, editing the index page. This caused some issues as occasionally, I'd screw something up and break the code. As we eclipsed the 100 reader mark and I realized that people were getting into it and I knew like my time in the music business that I'd need a collaboration to make it work the right way. There were two contributors to Section 407, The Rodent and Antiparos who could write a 'rant' style column. I asked and they accepted. Each of them penned some excellent posts on the NY Ranger team woes. Gabe, who became the author of Fact or Fiction was also from Section 407. But there was another in 407 who had a knack for being quite humorous and dead on with his observations. I'll get to him in a bit.

The Rodent and Tony each had a few published posts by now (it was the '99-'00 season) and as I explained in part one, I took my family to Florida each Xmass holiday to visit the rest of our family. I asked the Rodent to cover for me. At this time, the style of the front page was to link to any news on the Rangers or the NHL that was relevant or interesting and perhaps add a funny quip or insult. (We'll address the look of the page in a bit) So, when the Rodent had access to the front page, he decided to do what he does now, bloviate.

Definition of BLOVIATE. intransitive verb. :

to speak or write verbose(ly) and windi(ly). 
It was a stark difference to what the front page usually looked like or read like. No links to news did tick off a few readers but most enjoyed the Rodent. What the readers didn't know was that the Rodent was in fact an engineer and wrote his own code. He absolutely hated my code and hated the look even more. It was like a pro working with an amateur set of tools.  I think I have this right, I suggested to Rodent that his stuff should have it's own page (as did Tony and readers could send in a rant too) and that the links and comments were what I wanted on the front page. I was after all emulating Hard OCP and that's the format I thought best. If you didn't know, squirrels can be a bit difficult when someone is telling them what to do. We had more than one heated (OK, not that bad) discussion. When he calmed down, the Rodent suggested that it was time for him to design and publish his own site. The Rodent can be a bit touchy....and he knows that. Hence, his explanation:

Why are you so gruff and mean?


I dunno. 

Why are you so stupid? 

If you must know, it's because I have a rabid rodentality to maintain. 

It's not that I hate people. It's just that I resent the fact they don't change into ferocious furballs every full moon as I do. 

Look. I don't suffer fools. And my blood pressure swells the moment I realize a trade proposal is about to be offered. What can I say? 

You want to pet a friendly woodland creature? Go watch Rocky & Bullwinkle. 

You enter this web site at your own peril because I never invited you. What part of that don't you understand? 

I was hurt by this. I had always had success in a team environment and often was a leader. I enjoyed identifying and focusing a goal, organizing and leading the way. But I was about to lose my best asset and worried about our friendship. It turned out to be somewhat of a blessing. The Rodent was still my buddy but he went off to design his site and opened for biz. Now as I have mentioned before, the Rodent had another bug up his ass. The design of the site. Hockeybird had a black background and a teal body to hold the text. It had ugly 'buttons' for each of the featured pages like "Free Stuff" and the "RANT PAGE". Tony and the Rodent had their own buttons. In his words, the site "looked like ass".

So, using his Photoshop skills and html knowledge, the Rodent was kind enough to redo the site design. I'm trying to remember if he did it on the sly or not. I seem to recall that he did. I had "given him the keys" to the site and one day it no longer looked like ass. It now featured the red, white and blue of the NY Rangers and matched the Hockeybird logo (which I'll get to in a minute). It was awesome! Of course, I didn't understand all the code and would have to go to him with my tail feathers between my legs and ask for help. In true Rodent style it was his button that appeared at the top of the list. This would become a running joke and I'd often move his button down the page to get under his skin. When the Hockeyrodent domain went live in 2001, his design was very similar to Hockeybird providing the readers some comfort as we were now, sister sites. I promoted his site.......and he bloviated.

Now, since I mentioned "Free Stuff" and the logo, I guess I should explain. I admired Kyle at Hard OCP for the way he treated his readers. When he finished testing a new video card or something similar, he'd give it away on the site to a lucky reader. I thought Hockeybird should do the same. Now, I was avoiding advertising even though I had a ton of offers. But one day an email came in and after a few phone calls, we cut a deal. This T-shirt company in Chicago agreed to create a logo (with my direction as I was no artist) and apply it to T-shirts for sale at a decent price. They also agreed to send me 10 shirts for giveaways on the site. This was the second giveaway I think. The first was an 8 X 10 autographed and framed Brian Leetch photo from the 1994 season out of my own collection. These giveaways not only rewarded the readers, they attracted new ones. In September of 2000, we gave away the Leetch photo. The logo you see today not only appeared on shirts, it became the site logo (which the Rodent incorporated into his site re-design). Hockeybird would go on to offer more free stuff as that was always my demand with anyone who wanted to advertise on the site. Unfortunately, the Chicago guys had some issues and went under. I then found cafepress and you can still grab Hockeybird swag from there.

The first Hockeybird roller hockey game with visits from the Prince of Wales trophy, Me, the Rodent and the Hockeybird Thong.
We even had a contest where if a reader sent in a photo of a girl with one of the "Hockeybird thongs" on, I would send them a free hat or shirt. The original shirts were much higher quality than the cafepress stuff as I still wear them, but it is what it is.
Now, the email I was getting from readers was absolutely outstanding. I encouraged readers to send in news they found (the more eyes the better) and I was often taken to task for what I wrote. More often than not, I was informed of miss-spellings, formatting issues and other non-important concerns. But I was also getting some positive feedback and the best, hate mail. I had been told that when you start getting a lot of hate mail, you've made it. Vicious remarks disputing a comment I may have posted on a player or coach, email assaults on my views and the occasional personal attacks began to arrive in my inbox. I had fun responding to these, sometimes in private and other times on the front page. I would select a front page response if credit were due the author or if the stupidity was going to be humorous. Overall, the interaction with the readers was getting quite active and I needed a different way to allow this communication without interrupting the front page.

The first mention I can find of a message board was in October of 2000. It was a third party free service and it at least was adequate for the time being. There were other pressing issues. I prided myself on posting each and every day with many days getting multiple posts if there was enough news to warrant it. However, I had a family and a job. In addition to my daily responsibilities I was also making myself available to "agencies" without my owners knowledge. Again, I need to just skip past this but it's safe to say, I sometimes didn't have time for the site. I felt a responsibility to the readers and thought I was letting them down if a day passed without at least a token post. I would get email if I failed to post a day or more. "Hey Bird you idiot, Messier scored twice last night and you haven't posted a thing". Of course I couldn't explain if I was on a mission. I was also playing and filling in for teams in the beer leagues and that ate up a ton of time as well. During this time, a very nice guy from Connecticut who has been communicating with me showed an interest in helping out. Chris was attending school, I think he was studying for his doctorate in Criminal Justice. He was smart, witty and got the concept of the front page. Now known as "sed" on the Rangerland boards, Chris was just what the doctor ordered, pun intended. He was in a word, great!

Chris and I would  each cover specific days and cover for each other when needed. It's true, Rocha and the Rodent also did this but Chris was the first official front page writer other than me. It worked out really well. I now had an opportunity to be a Hockeybird reader as on my days off, I couldn't wait to read Chris. Things were really picking up for the site, traffic wise and I was pleased to say the least. However, the code was cumbersome and either Chris or I would often screw it up. The computer wizard I referred to earlier was a champion of free software or "open source" software. He recommended I use a WYSIWYG program called Movable Type a content management system that was free and easy to use. Once a template had been established, a writer only needed to log in and enter text and images. The pages would always look the same. Brilliant! It did take some time for me to convert the Rodents design into a working template but once done, it became the software we used until 2007. In order to use it, I had to convert to managing a FreeBSD server OS.

This also meant I had to learn a ton about the OS and how to manage it. This was in addition to the stuff I needed to learn and do regarding Movable Type. I had some help and put in the time and it paid off. Not only did this benefit Hockeybird, it helped with some of my other work related responsibilities. Now we had a site that not only looked good, it was now way easier to manage and update. Each writer could log on and post without any need for me to do anything once I granted access.

Now I'm sure you've figured out by now that I'm not sticking to a chronological order. I have been skipping around a bit. If this bothers you, sorry.....write your own history article. I'm doing the best I can here. Honestly, there were literally thousands of posts and I can only find the back up of Hockeybird dating back to October 2000. I'll keep looking through old hard drives thanks to the Rodent who gave me a device that allows me to just plug in the drive through a USB port rather than installing it into a box. (Now that I think about it, I may have just given him access so he can ZAP me through the USB port like he has many of you)

PET ROCHA'S REPORT CARD CHANGES EVERYTHING !
So now we get to the part of the story that made Hockeybird a must read, not just by our readers and new followers, we were now being read at MSG by the team's management AND players. How do I know this? Well, for one I have access to the weblogs. In addition, I received email from people whose names I promised never to reveal. I will STILL hold this promise to heart. It is acceptable for me to say we're dealing with MSG brass and NYR players. How cool is that? This is all due to the publication of the now famous Pete Rocha's Report Card. It got it's start in Section 407 and was so damned good, I begged him to make them available for Hockeybird. He agreed having no clue what it's impact would be and how much of a pain in the ass it would become for him. If you've never had the pleasure, you can view one of his classic's right here.

I don't think it's possible to overstate the affect Rocha's card had on the site. At first, The Card was only being published and seen in Section 407. It was clear from the outset that Pete had this unique ability to not only access each player for an individual game, but he did so with such great humor and wit that any who read it was impressed. Even in 407 when a game was completed, the members would begin prodding Pete, "Where's the Card?". It got to the point that Pete had to explain the machinations involved in putting the card together. It wasn't easy being responsible for watching every single shift and each individual player for all 60 minutes and then put together all his thoughts in a report card format. If the Rodent or I could complain about being taken to task for missing a single action, just imagine the pressure that Rocha endured in 407 for the card. Every grade was challenged by some wise ass. However, they were in fact one of the best catalysts for our debates and discussions. Once they appeared on Hockeybird, a much larger audience, the pressure only increased. In a word, it was a huge responsibility and a taxing endeavor for him.

But, from the very start they were a huge hit on the site. From the very first one it was clear that no one else anywhere was capable of anything similar or at that quality (some sites tried but failed in my opinion) and our readership increased ten fold almost over night. The reader reaction was both positive and negative as the card exposed Rocha to criticism in regards to his opinions and God forbid if he missed something or even worse, made a little mistake. I thought I had it bad on the front page but this was a whole new level of scrutiny.  Rocha was up to the challenge and for many years he had the single most popular feature on the site, and rightly so. I am proud to say that my sources reveled that the NYR brass read the Card as if it were required.

Don Maloney, former NYR player and assitant GM 
Both Slats and Don Maloney read the card, I was told that more than once. I asked for an interview with either one but was denied each time. One source went out of his way to deny that Slats was reading but you and I know better. I was contacted on more than one occasion regarding certain cards. On several occasions I was asked if we could tone it down (regarding player criticisms)  and I was also asked about reader reactions....they wanted to understand the fans feelings on players. That's damned serious, eh? Of course, Hockeybird and it's writers bowed to no one. Not even the team or it's players. We could be a bit cocky at times. I don't believe Rocha would have been intimidated by this, quite the opposite. He would have turned up the heat and taunted them, I'm sure of it. As it was, the Card had both a serious and legitimate tone when it came to analysis and the humorous lines were flat out hysterical. I can't say enough about what Rocha did for Hockeybird. The amount of work he put into it and the fantastic results are beyond anything I could ever repay him for. Thank goodness the writers volunteered their time and efforts because if Rocha and his agent were to have tried to negotiate a new contract when he became a UFA, we wouldn't have been able to keep him......and that was BEFORE the salary cap.

The birth of the Hockeybird Message boards was like the birth of the site. It started out cheesy yet somehow became the thing legends are made of.
On September 21st, 2000 I posted this:
 "9/21 9:25am
We now have a message board.....pop on and start up a thread on anything you like." I had no idea what we were about to get involved with. I found a free, third party site for the boards as I thought it would be better than inviting the readers to email all the time. It was hard to have a serious discussion or debate in an email format (although, Section 407 had that down pat). I think the boards deserve an entire part in this series and as of this posting, I can't find the backup files. I'm holding out hope that I can locate them at some point. So for now, the boards are on that third party site and Hockeybird is collecting some great writers.


Jason and Heather
Heather was a huge Hartford Wolf Pack fan. I'm pretty sure she visited Grumpy's Cave, a site uglier than the old Hockeybird but chock full of Wolf Pack news, links, stats and valuable info. Grumpy was a good dude and we used to pimp his site all the time. It was a sad day when he passed away and the site went dark. Heather however was fond of filling me in on the baby Rangers and one day I offered her a page on the site so we had coverage of our AHL affiliate. Heather's "On The Farm" gave us and the readers some valuable insight on the players who would be coming up to the big club or, more often than not, get traded or become busts. (Think Pavel Brendl) Heather's time with us was cut short when she got married and while I was very happy for her, I was disappointed in losing her wonderful articles. I recall when Jason Labarbara had his first NHL start, I ripped his performance. I still maintain that at the time, he was in over his head and his play showed that. What I didn't know was that he was a Hockeybird reader and Heather was confronted by him. She correctly blamed me but it put her in a tough spot as she spent a lot of time with the Wolf Pack players. Jason was upset with me as I had proclaimed that he would not become a number one keeper at the NHL level. He has become a very good back up and his team, the L.A. Kings are the current Cup champs. Jonathan Quick started every single Kings game in their playoff run. Enough said.


Man, this has been a lot harder and a lot more work that I thought. But it's fun so far. The following list is part of what I hope to cover as this series continues and it's there as a reminder to me as well as a teaser for you guys. There is so much more to cover. A lot can happen over a decade eh?



  • The Hockeybird Interview
  • Brian Leeds
  • Rightbug Joins Hockeybird
  • Fact or Fiction
  • The Coach Lowe Email
  • The Fight with Dubi
  • The Uncle Larry Story
  • The Message Boards
  • September 11th, 2001
  • Hurricane Katrina
  • Hurricane Wilma
  • Judas Crease
  • Texas Hold 'Em

I'm already looking forward to documenting these stories and more.

----}- Bird

2 comments:

LordPerth said...

Loeve it!!!!
LP

Hockeybird said...

Funny, just like the old days you are way ahead of everyone else. You probably read this before I wrote it! ----}- Bird