- Ray Ratto
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SAN JOSE, Calif. -- You have to love Doug Wilson, you really do.
Actually, that's not true at all. You don't have to love Doug Wilson. You don't have to care about Doug Wilson to any extent whatsoever. Your life, in fact, is unlikely to be materially affected in any way by loving, or not loving, Doug Wilson.
That having been said, you have to love Doug Wilson. He knows what he knows, he believes what he believes, he does not argue with success, and he is unbound by convention in search of that success.
Doug Wilson is the general manager of the San Jose Sharks, and a cheerier, more convivial chap you won't meet, certainly not in his line of work.
But he is also profoundly superstitious, so he is taking great care not to deviate from the things he has done since the Sharks stopped being lousy, which was right around Halloween.
Here's what he does: He sits in the press box at every game he attends next to the team's two traveling beat writers, Ross McKeon of the San Francisco Chronicle, and Victor Chi of the San Jose Mercury News.
That's right. A general manager sitting with beat writers when he doesn't actually have to, or is not bidden to do so by some pushy P.R. type.
He even does this even though press box seats in the NHL are generally the worst in the house for seeing plays develop -- to one side of center ice, right below the rafters. Most GMs go for the private box with their aides, scouts and other paid employees, where they can swear at their players and the officials with transactional immunity.
He does this even though beat writers are considered emissaries of Satan in the "General Manager's Handbook Of Behavior," to be trusted with nothing as valuable as a piece of pre-chewed gum on the bottom of a policeman's boot.
And he does this because, well, for whatever sick, unfathomable reason, it's working.
Now we're not going to tell you that either writer has some sort of bizarre occult power that can affect events around them. If they could, they'd be making more money, the deadlines would be more forgiving, players couldn't hide in the trainer's room after games, and someone else would be paying for the beer.
All we know is, Wilson has his ways, and this is one of them.
Here's another. Both McKeon and Chi are summoned before every home game to Wilson's office to have pizza and talk, about hockey, about quilting, about soybean futures. Not because Wilson has some hyperkinetic need to be quoted, or to seem like the writers' friend (see page 39 of the GMHB, "If You See A Writer, Sic The Cops On Him"), but because that seems to work, too.
It's the same pizza every time, too -- Canadian bacon, white onions and mushrooms, and you can be the judge of that gastric combination. Nobody else is invited, nobody else gets a slice, and nobody leaves with a slice to bribe other members of the organization.
This is a three-guy deal, and as long as the Sharks are playing, the pizza and the meetings and the seating arrangements stay the same.
Now we'd like to hail this as an idea whose time has truly come, but we know better. Most general managers, owners, marketing directors, coaches and players operate with the media based on the same general rule, namely:
They're always there when they need you.
Otherwise, the dukes are up, the shields are in place, and the attack dogs are set to DefCon 3. They're them, we're us, and the twain shall meet only if a restraining order can't be procured.
Why Wilson gets away with it is simple. He played almost 20 years as a perennial All-Star defenseman. He really is a cheerful, convivial chap. He hasn't been caught telling any actionable whoppers yet. By the often subterranean rules by which general managers and media members interact, he is downright Sandy Duncan, with a side of Michael J. Fox.
And he also gets away with it because, well, there's nobody to tell him not to. No harm has come to the team as a result of this cheese-laced fraternization policy, so he's on scholarship. He could wear a moose's head and big fuzzy slippers if the Sharks keep winning, although Wilson has never showed that sort of mammalian proclivity.
So he will sit with McKeon and Chi on Monday night at the Pepsi Center for Game 3 of the Sharks-Avalanche series, secure in the notion that nobody can prove harm has come to the franchise as a result of this sort of oddly charming fraternization.
What he does about the pizza is, of course, another matter. Denver being what it is, there will probably be some city ordinance banning the Wilson Special until the Sharks leave on Thursday morning.
Or maybe Pierre Lacroix will invite Rick Sadowski and Adrian Dater, the team's two Denver-based beat writers, into his suite for a fully catered happy Fizzies party of his own.
And at that point, hell, like the ice on the arena floor, will freeze over.
Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.
Doug Wilson is determined to help the Sharks win, even if he's breaking the GMs' secret code of conduct.