Last night was a bit melancholy for me. The hockey season ended. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy for The Blackhawks and for long-suffering fans in Chicago who went almost 50 years between Stanley Cups. There are few things in sports more dramatic than any overtime playoff game in hockey but when the Cup is decided in overtime it is quite a sight and a scene. That said, you had to feel something for The Flyers and their fans, seeing an unbelievable run end on what has to be considered a soft goal.
If it sounds like I’m Billy Martin on this—feeling strongly both ways—I am. I don’t have any special feelings, either yay or nay for either franchise. I like both cities a lot. I love going to Chicago, especially in the spring or fall. One of my favorite days in recent memory was last November when I flew in (yes, I actually flew) there from a speaking gig in Phoenix the day before Navy played at Notre Dame. I spent the afternoon just walking around The Magnificent Mile and over to Lake Michigan before meeting friends for dinner. The next morning I drove over to South Bend—the weather both days was spectacular, it was 67 (!!) at kickoff inside Notre Dame Stadium—and saw Navy beat Notre Dame. It was a great two days.
I also have a warm spot in my heart for Philly. I laugh when people here in Washington put down Philadelphia. There is no comparison between the two as sports towns. For one thing, all of Philly’s major sports venues are right in the same place in South Philadelphia. The politicians there managed to get it right rather than fighting with one another so that the football stadium ended up in a cow pasture somewhere out in Maryland the way it did here.
Wachovia Center and Verizon Center are similar. Lincoln Financial Field is about 100 times nicer than the stadium formerly named for Jack Kent Cooke because almost any stadium is 100 times nicer than that place. Nationals Park is a fine facility but Citizens Bank Park is magnificent, built so that one can see the Philadelphia skyline from almost anyplace inside the park.
Washington is a transient town and a Redskins town. Philadelphia is a SPORTS town. Oh sure we hear the stories about the drunks who makes fools of themselves at ballgames but I’d rather deal with that than an owner who has signs confiscated from fans trying to send out a message to their husband who is serving overseas.
There’s also The Big Five. While most of Washington’s college basketball teams play silly games to avoid playing one another, Philly’s five major D-1 teams (and you can add Drexel too) play each other every year—many of those games in college basketball’s best arena, The Palestra.
But I digress. Hockey. I love hockey and always have. This winter I actually saw some hope for my long-beleaguered Islanders and my schedule fell in such a way that I got to watch the team play on the hockey package a lot. The Olympics were spectacular—and, in my mind part of the reason the ratings for the finals have been so high. The NHL did a brilliant thing starting the Winter Classic and these playoffs, with the No. 7 seed facing the No. 8 seed in the Eastern Finals and one of the sport’s truly classic franchises ending up with the Cup, have been fabulous.
So here’s to the Blackhawks—present and future. Given the youth of their best players, they should be contenders for a while. Just hearing The United Center rocking again after several miserable years did my heart good.
So why melancholy? It’s something that dates to boyhood. I always feel a little sad when a season ends. I have this distinct memory of watching game seven of The Blackhawks-Canadiens final in 1971. It was a tough series to watch because the Rangers were my team then (no Islanders until ’72-’73) and they had lost to the Blackhawks in seven games—even though they had won game six in triple overtime on a goal by Pete Stemkowski.
I remember that game vividly because it was a school night (Thursday) and a lot of fans came with signs to Madison Square Garden that said, “Let there be Sunday.” I brought my radio, as I always did, to listen to Marv Albert during the game and remember him saying at one point during the overtime something like, “I just want to let our babysitter (can’t remember her name) know we’ll be home as soon as possible.”
There was Sunday, but the Blackhawks and Bobby Hull were too good. In the meantime, Ken Dryden had announced his arrival as a hockey force by single-handedly beating the defending champion Bruins. When the Canadiens then forced a game seven on a Sunday afternoon in Montreal during the finals, I was bereft: I wouldn’t get to see game seven because CBS only did Sunday games. Except CBS made arrangements to televise game seven—first hockey game on network TV in primetime I believe. The Canadiens came from 2-0 down in Chicago to win.
What I remember most about that game—besides Jacques Lemaire’s goal from about 80 feet—is feeling sad that hockey season was over. When did training camp begin? When could I go and buy tickets in the blue seats for early season Rangers games?
As much as my life has changed through the years, I STILL feel that way. The Islanders start camp when?—heck it’s a little more than three months away. Who will they take with the fifth pick in the draft? How good will the Caps be coming back from their disappointment in the playoffs? I’m PSYCHED.
Of course I feel the same way at the end of The World Series and The Final Four. I saw a story in the paper yesterday about the fact that college hoops season will begin on November 8th (I will get into the bogus nature of The Coaches vs. Cancer season-opening event another day. Put simply: Even if Maryland, Illinois, Pittsburgh or Texas LOSE one of their first two games they will still ‘advance,’ to the semifinals in New York. What a joke). And did the math in my head: five months until college hoops starts.
I’ll admit I don’t get as sad about the end of the NFL season or the NBA season in part because the NBA season never ends. (Note to Michael Wilbon: those of us who don’t love all things NBA as you do are not ‘meatheads.’ Come on, quit selling the product so hard all the time). I fall in the middle on college football because it SHOULD end on New Year’s Day and night. In the old days, when the Orange Bowl ended, I would get up after 10 hours of football, sigh and wonder what the best games would be of the first weekend in September. I’m willing to give that up for a true PLAYOFF but not for the ridiculous BCS. By the way, this coming season’s so-called national championship game is on January 10th. January 10th! You could have a full-blown eight-team playoff and the season would last exactly ONE week longer than it does now. What a joke.
Anyway, I was happy for the Blackhawks when Patrick Kane’s shot went in the net last night but a bit sad there would be no game 7. A game 7 in The Stanley Cup finals is about as intense and cool an event as there is in sports. On the other hand, the draft is in two weeks and the Islanders report to camp in, by my calculations, 93 days.
John recently appeared on The Jim Rome Show (www.jimrome.com) to discuss 'Moment of Glory.' Click here to download, or listen in the player below:
John's new book: "Moment of Glory--The Year Underdogs Ruled The Majors,"--is now available online and in bookstores nationwide. Visit your favorite retailer, or click here for online purchases
The Golf Channel will be airing a documentary based on the book "Caddy for Life: The Bruce Edwards Story," with the premiere showing Monday, June 14 at 9 p.m. ET.
I can’t wait.