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Power to the people. In 1992, toward the end of a century marked by an increasingly cunning ruling class and a generally passive if occasionally agitated proletariat, capitalist robber-baron H. Wayne Huizenga tightened his stranglehold around the collective neck of the working masses by increasing his holdings to include a National Hockey League expansion franchise. In a cruel stroke of imperialist arrogance, Huizenga named his team the “Florida Panthers.” The team’s namesake, both native and unique to the state after which it was named, had been living at the margins of viability for the better part of a century; hunted to near-extinction in post-Civil War times by innumerable incoming opportunist carpetbaggers (possible role-models for counting-house Huizenga and his ilk), it now took shelter in hidden places and supped on such scraps as it could find, biding its time. Its suitability as an emblem of the Struggle is clear.

The Panthers’ first season of play began on 6 October, 1993, in Chicago, Illinois, traditionally a stronghold of Big Labor, although decades of compromise with upper management and corruption at the higher levels of leadership had made the once-proud city a shell of its formerly progressive self. The overall weakness of the American labor movement was never more evident than in the performance of the Chicago Blackhawks that evening, who could muster no better than a 4 - 4 tie against a team that had never even taken the ice before in regulation play. The Panthers, meanwhile, led by working class hero Rob Niedermeyer and defended by young labor’s bright hope John Vanbiesbrouck, acquitted themselves quite nimbly for a team whose players earned a mere fraction of their nightly earning power, yet whose income for the first year alone would provide its owners with enough Cristal and beachfront properties to last well into the next millennium.

“Respect was uppermost on my mind when I came to Miami,” said Vanbiesbrouck, recalling his early days with the Florida Panthers. “The new group of us were united in wanting to prove to the rest of the league -- and one another -- that we could play at a competitive level with the rest even though we were a new, expansion team.” It’s not hard to decode Vanbiesbrouck’s remarks: terms like “respect” and “united” and the Beezer’s characterization of his team as “new” and “expansion” are veiled references to the covertly revolutionary nature of his organization.

In their first season the Panthers would register thirty-three victories and thirty-four losses, with some seventeen tie games in overtime rounding out their eighty-four game season. It was an auspicious beginning, and the message traveled along the grapevine that the time was short for the enemies of the people in southern Florida. Disappointingly, the plans of the Florida Panthers to lead a general uprising against the market economy and its crippling carrot-stick techniques would never materialize, and their brave beginnings, shrouded in secrecy and unknown by all save the most hidden layers of labor resistance, would be lost to history.

Yet there remains the hope that the Florida Panthers, once a sleeping cell of strength and struggle, will rise from their shackles of luxuriant contracts and idle wealth and make good on the possibility they once seemed to exude. And while to date the team’s most revolutionary act has been to make its owners and shareholders embarassingly rich — an act which admittedly seems more sympathetic to the concerns of the bourgeoisie than to the historical struggle of the people for self-determination — in the hearts and minds of the masses, from the telemarketing offices of Miami to the tracklit dance floors of Orlando, the dream remains: of a hockey team that would liberate the working man from his capitalist prison, demonstrating through innovative use of the three-on-three forecheck that the means of production rests with those who wield the implements of labor.

Long live the revolutionary struggle of the people! Long live the Florida Panthers!


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