What do we have here? What figure looms over William Nylander?
It is the Sickos Guy. Lots of him. You may remember this man from one of The Onion‘s old Stan Kelly cartoons. Wearing a shirt labeled “Sickos,” he peers—leers!—menacingly through a window, taking some disgusting pleasure in whatever lies on the other side. He cackles, “YES … HA HA HA … YES!” On the internet, the Sickos Guy has taken on a new life as a self-deprecating shorthand for one’s own depravity. On The Ottawa Senators Internet, he is the emergent mascot of a team without much going for it right now beyond its well-documented (by this website’s Lauren Theisen) success wreaking havoc across the Canadian division despite being in last place, and also its sweet, mischievous teen Tim Stützle (whom I’d die for).
In short, only an absolute pervert with no taste for watchable hockey could like the Senators right now. The team itself is well aware of this reputation, and does not mind it in the slightest. The team-sanctioned Sickos Guy cardboard cutouts made their debut in a home win over the Leafs on Sunday. Even the head coach—someone you’d expect to be offended by the implication that the team he coaches is so bad that anyone who willingly follows them is a kind of deviant—is in on the joke now!
Over at ESPN, Greg Wyshynski has a nice story about the Sens Sickos and the team’s embrace of the Sickos Guy, which they’ve turned into a little charity fundraiser with the permission of the original cartoonist. One fan suggests that “Yes … Ha Ha Ha …Yes!” represents the perverse happiness he feels after losses that help Ottawa’s draft lottery odds. I suspect, as a fan of so many bad teams myself, that there’s something more complicated at play, too. Some instances the Sickos meme has entered my own mind in the last year: a four-and-a-half-hour Michigan-Rutgers football game that Michigan escaped after triple overtime; the time Dennis Smith Jr. and Mason Plumlee, members of a Pistons team with a current winning percentage of .256, each recorded triple-doubles; Adam Erne randomly being unstoppable last night on a usually very stoppable Wings power play. The Sickos meme is about finding delight in the garbage heap. It’s about reclaiming the power a team’s fortunes can have on your psyche.
But that’s usually a private coping mechanism. There’s something admirable—if extremely funny—about a team owning the fact that tolerant, carefree gawking is the only sort of enjoyment you’re going to get from them all year. What a model of radical honesty! The Senators are not sincerely tweeting “the wins are starting to come” after giving up 50 shots on goal, or blustering about needing to make a playoff push they are definitely not going to make. They are bad. You know this, they know this, and they know you know this, so good on them for not pretending otherwise.