Wednesday, June 01, 2011
The Celtics have Lucky.
The Patriots had Pat Patriot. They still call him that, but those of us familiar with good ol' Pat call the new one The Flying Elvis Head.
The Red Sox have had an anthropomorphic red sock, and they now have (God help us all) Wally The Green Monster.
But, The Bruins? No goofy mascot, and they have the best logo of all. They have The Spoked B.
Just a few random memories concerning The Bruins (or The Broonz, as we said in Dorchester during my youth) on the day of their first appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals in 21 years.
The first Bruins game I ever attended was in 1965. I was eight. My Dad took me to the old Boston Garden to see the B's play the Montreal Canadiens.
You have to understand that the Bruins were in a very dry stretch at the time. They were in the midst of a 7 or 8 year run of not making the playoffs. When the National Hockey League consisted of only six teams, the Bruins finished either fifth or sixth every year during the early 60's. Still, they sold out the Garden more often than the Celtics did, and the Celtics were winning 9 championships in 11 years. This was always a hockey town in winter. So, for My Dad to score good tickets to a game against the Canadiens, who were (and are) the biggest rival, was way cool. The Bruins lost, 4 - 1, which wasn't surprising (Montreal went on to win The Cup that year) but I got to see the guys who were my first Bruin heroes - Eddie Johnston and Murray Oliver. That's Eddie up above. Here's Murray.
I can't point to any one thing that made Murray Oliver my hero. He was a decent enough scorer, potting 20 goals or better for three years running in '63, '64, and '65. Really, though, I think I just liked his name. It was fun saying it.
My real favorite was Eddie Johnston, the goalie. Eddie was a damn good goalie on some fairly bad teams. My growing up as a fan of Eddie gave me a lifelong appreciation for good goaltenders, and it led to me playing a bit of goal myself.
(Well, that and the fact that I wasn't a very good skater, so that's where I ended up. I was a decent goalie, though, even with the extremely bad habit of turning my head on high shots, something I still do at this late date when I catch in softball. Thank God for wrap-around masks! When I wore an old-school face mask, I took one or two off the ears, no fun at all.)
The other two big-time players on those Bruins squads were Johnny Bucyk (The Chief, so-called because he had native blood) and Teddy Green (or, as I thought his real first name was because it was given that way so often, Terrible Ted, so-called because he was a big-time feared fighter, always in the top echelon of penalty minutes.) Bucyk retired with 556 NHL goals, and he was the third-leading scorer in history when he quit.
You'll notice Mr. Bucyk hoisting Lord Stanley's Cup. That's because he stuck around long enough to be a major contributor to the last two Bruins teams to win it, in 1970 and 1972. If I might be allowed a cross-sports analogy, he was to the Bruins what Paul Pierce currently is to the Celtics - The Captain, a great scorer, and a guy who paid his dues for a lot of years before grabbing the gold ring.
Those teams from the 1970's were absolute gods in this city. Boston was always a hockey town, but the 70's saw an explosion of hockey madness the like of which I don't ever expect to see again in my lifetime. It was perfect timing for the franchise. The Red Sox, while recently successful, were only the summer owners of the town. The Celtics had finally stopped winning for a few years, and the Patriots were low men on the totem pole by any reasonable measure. The Bruins were the biggest ticket in town and the most successful team. And, almost to a man, they had personalities that were larger than life.
Phil Esposito set scoring records that were unheard of until then, including a record-shattering 76-goal season. Bobby Orr was doing stuff that nobody had ever seen, completely revolutionizing his sport. Derek Sanderson was Boston's version of Joe Namath, boozing it up and seemingly having any female he desired (and an awful lot of them desired him.) Johnny "Pie" McKenzie was scoring goals and racking up the penalty minutes, a combination sure to make him beloved forevermore. There was Fred Stanfield, Kenny Hodge, Dallas Smith, Rick Smith, Wayne Cashman, Wayne "Swoop" Carleton, Gary Doak (whose nickname, Old Cement Head, tickled me no end), Eddie Westfall, Don Awrey, "Ace" Bailey, Don Marcotte, and Jim Lorentz. And, while Eddie Johnston was still in net, a new goalie supplanted him as #1 and as a fan favorite, Gerry "Cheesy" Cheevers. And one look at his mask will tell you all you need to know about those teams.
Every time Cheevers took a puck off the face, he had the equipment manager draw a scar where Cheevers would have had stitches had he not been wearing the mask. How cool was that?
Everybody in my neighborhood watched every minute of every playoff game in 1970. I don't mean most of us, I mean everybody, and I mean every minute. You could walk down our street and follow the game without missing a beat. You'd see a TV set tuned in to the game through every front window, and the call could be heard no matter where you were.
(The only other time I remember that happening was when the Red Sox were winning the pennant in 1967. Things got so crazy then that drivers would stop their cars at the entrance to the Callahan and Sumner tunnels if the Sox were at-bat in the bottom of the ninth. They didn't want to lose reception in the tunnel. And, even odder, everybody understood. Nobody honked. Nobody begrudged them holding up traffic. They wanted to hear the outcome, too. Try that now and you'd end up with a road rage cap in your ass.)
And, when Bobby Orr scored the cup-clinching goal in overtime, on a pass from Derek Sanderson... well, it has since been voted in some polls as the greatest moment in NHL history. It certainly was electrifying and memorable. We always thought he was Superman, and there he was, actually flying.
(I'd run the photo of it here, but you've probably seen it before. Last time I ran it, the original photographer contacted me and politely told me that it was a copyright image. I can understand that, so I won't make him write me again. However, it can be found HERE if you'd like a look.)
When Orr's number 4 was retired in 1979, he received an ELEVEN MINUTE standing ovation. He was, and is, beloved in Boston, a civic saint. I've never heard anything that would remotely tarnish his rep. One of the greatest players ever and, apparently, a swell human being, too.
(I doubt I'll ever have an opportunity to tell this story somewhere else, so here goes. It may be apocryphal, or it may be true. Either way, it's entertaining. My Dad heard it from a buddy of his, a cop who used to work special detail outside the Bruins locker room at home games.
It seems that WWF wrestler, Andre The Giant, had been in town as part of a Saturday afternoon show at the Garden, and the Bruins of Bobby Orr were playing that evening. Thus far, the story has the ring of truth. The WWF always had Saturday afternoon shows in Boston at that time. Anyway, Andre was clearing out as some of the early-arriving B's made their way into the building. Since some of the players were French-Canadian, and Andre was originally from Grenoble, they had common language and talked a bit. After trading pleasantries, the hockey players convinced Andre to stick around and play a joke on Orr.
[It will help matters if I show you a photo of Andre alongside a fairly normal-sized individual who is perhaps about Orr's height and build. Since this photo has the website written across it, I assume it is OK to use. Please visit there.]
Orr entered the dressing room, sat down in front of his locker, and stripped down to change into his uniform. When he was almost completely undressed, Andre - all 7 feet 6 inches, and 500 pounds of him - came out from behind a wall, totally naked except for a mean look on his face, and banged his huge fist against a locker. He then shouted, in a French accent, "Where's Bobby Orr? I want Bobby Orr!"
Orr took one look at this enraged naked giant and he didn't hang around to find out just what it was the giant wanted him for. Orr ran for his life in his undies.
As I say, it may or may not be true, but it sure makes for some funny pictures in your head.)
I could go on with more Bruins stories - the first and only playoff game I ever attended, in 1978; the time I rode the Zamboni; or maybe stories about the hockey announcers of my youth, Bob Wilson, Fred Cusick, and Johnny Pierson - but, instead, how about something better? How about some actual footage of Bobby Orr, with Fred Cusick and Johnny Pierson calling the action? Yeah, much better. Enjoy!
Score! Bobby Orr!
(The music, an upbeat rock version of Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker, is as recognizable for its connection to the Bruins, for Bostonians of a certain age, as The William Tell Overture is for fans of The Lone Ranger. I still get goosebumps when I hear it.)
I continue to play softball at my advanced age of 54. Most of the guys I share the field with, and that means most of the guys I hang with for any considerable time each week, are younger. Many of them weren't even born the last time the Bruins won The Stanley Cup. I was. It was magic. I hope my younger teammates and friends get to experience that same sort of magic over the next couple of weeks. That would be really sweet.
The Bruins open tonight in Vancouver. Here's hoping that, for them, it's soon, with more better stuff.