The Year of the Rat

So South Florida sports are in the doldrums right now – each professional team floundering like the soaked sea creatures machined onto their tired uniforms – but it’s OK. It’s summer, after all, and though we have reasons to be skeptical about how far the Heat will drift away on autopilot or whether a spiraling DUI will be all Chambers will catch this season, there’s always hope that one of these teams of ne’er-do-wells, Barney Fife wanna-be’s, and soon-to-be-traded superstars will toughen up and perform something truly extraordinary.

Hey, stranger things can happen. Just look at the Panther’s 1996 Championship Team. This was a group of journeymen and roughshod talent. Just three seasons removed from an unspectacular expansion draft and poised for a climactic .500 finish, the Panthers rode a wave of dime-store plastic rats (and pure, ballsy inspiration) all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals. Granted, the gang didn’t win it all. But look at the fans – folks who had no reason to love hockey as much as they did were suddenly swept up into a sports phenomenon just wacky enough to deserve a heartfelt adversity flick in

Yup, 3 p.m. Saturday at the BankAtlantic Center (One Panther Pkwy., Sunrise) the ΄96 panthers – Scott Mellanby, Bill Lindsay, John Vanbiesbrouck, and crew – will be suiting up for a reunion scrimmage in honor of “The Year of the Rat.” (And in hope that such a thing could happen to SoFla sports again.) Call 954-835-PUCK and purchase a seat for $5, or visit www.floridapanthers.com and try to snag some for free.

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John Linn