Friday, March 30, 2018

Tom Terrific and the Turning Point 1983 Mets

WHEN TOM SEAVER came back to New York Mets 35 years ago, he might as well have stepped into a time machine, the Guardian of Forever or that strange void connecting a World War II Navy yard with the '84 Nevada desert in The Philadelphia Experiment.

The '83 Mets were an infinite loop, a continuum through which one could see the team's amazing past, its sparkling future and the shabby but significant season to come. Even though they'd come nowhere near the post-season, a dozen members of that year's squad had played -- or would play -- for one of the Mets three pennant winners, 1969, 1973 or 1986.


Top: catcher John Stearns, left fielder George Foster
and fireman Neil Allen. Bottom, Tom Seaver,
centerfielder Mookie Wilson and slugger Dave Kingman
They were a team in transition. Their roster, a mashup of once and future heroes as new owners worked to repair the Mets' relationship with their fans while buying time to build a winner.

Seaver had left the Amazin's at the start of their epic fall in a lopsided one-for-four trade with the Cincinnati Reds. That deal, and the concurrent exchange of their biggest home run hitter for lesser players, came to be known as the Midnight Massacre, June 15, 1977.

From 1969 to 1976 the Mets had been a slightly better than average team occasionally kissed by the miraculous. Riding the arms of Seaver, Jerry Koosman, Nolan Ryan and others, they won the '69 World Series by coaxing just enough offense from Cleon Jones, Tommie Agee and a cast of platoon players managed by Gil Hodges with pre-sabermetric brilliance.

Hodges had a fatal heart attack just before the 1972 season. Three days later, the team acquired clutch-hitting Rusty Staub from the Montreal Expos. Seaver, Koosman, Staub and the Mets eeeked out a second National League pennant in 1973, aided by reliever Tug McGraw, hurler Jon Matlack who'd been '72 NL Rookie of the Year, shortstop Bud Harrelson and, in his last big league campaign, Willie Mays.

But the '73 flag was a fluke, a happy accident that allowed management to overlook some of the shortcomings laid bare the next year when the Mets went 71-91, their first losing season since '68. The retooling began that winter. McGraw was sent to the Philadelphia Phillies for catcher John Stearns. Slugger Dave "King Kong" Kingman was acquired from the San Francisco Giants.

A '75 Mets sensation, Kingman hammered a club-record 36 homers. Staub drove in a club-record 105 runs. Tom Terrific went 22-9, struck out 243 batters, and won his third Cy Young Award. Shea Stadium attendance surpassed 1.73 million, but the Amazin's went just 82-80, costing Manager Yogi Berra and replacement Roy McMillan their jobs.

With free agency dawning, the Mets sent Staub to the Detroit Tigers, making room for rookie Mike Vail, who flopped. The '76 season would be about the lefties in Seaver's shadow. Koosman won 21 games, Matlack 17. Kingman extended his single-season home run record to 37 and the Amazin's won 86 games, their second-most in franchise history.

Darkness descends


Seaver -- so synonymous with the team he was nicknamed The Franchise -- had a hard luck year, going a modest 14-11. It would be his last winning season with the Mets.


Seaver, the 1983 version: older, better paid
and out to prove he could still bring it.
Though Tom Terrific had inked a three-year deal at $225,000 per annum, less accomplished players were getting more on the open market, prompting him to seek an adjustment. Kingman too sought a raise. He was making just $95,000.

Seaver and the Mets struck a mid-season deal, but withering criticism from sports columnist Dick Young prompted him to spurn it and demand a trade. He got one. So did Kingman. The foundering post-Massacre Mets finished last.

Matlack was dealt to the Texas Rangers in a four-way swap that left them with less than they gave up. The Cellar Dwelling of '78 was followed by the trade of an unhappy 3-15 Koosman to the Minnesota Twins for minor leaguer Jesse Orosco.

Finally, after a third straight last place finish in '79,  the Mets were sold to new owners promising fans, "The Magic is Back."

But how to make it so?

Attendance had sagged to 788,905, nearly a million less than of 1975, the halcyon year of Rusty, Kong and Tom Terrific. Seeking to rekindle lost good will, that's where they ultimately went.

Good will hunting


Neil Allen emerged from the wreckage of '79 as the Mets fireman and saved 22 games in 1980. That year, the Mets briefly flirted with .500 before settling to fifth place. Meanwhile, Kingman -- now a Chicago Cub -- was routinely torching his old team, burning them for 20 homers after his trade, three of them off Allen including a devastating grand slam. The '80 Mets hit just 61 as a team.


Kingman and Staub in '81.
The boys were back in town.
To boost their own power and halt the rampaging Kong, the Mets reacquired the slugger. They also signed Staub, a free agent. Rookies Mookie Wilson and Hubie Brooks stayed with the team all year but the Mets still finished an aggregate fifth in the strike-split 1981 season.

Eighty-two saw another power bat acquisition, former NL Most Valuable Player George Foster, fail spectacularly as he hit just .247, with 13 homers, 70 runs batted in. Kingman led the league with 37 homers, but hit just .204.

Again, they finished last.

But Orosco, the kid acquired for Koosman, finally stuck in the majors and scrappy young infielder Wally Backman saw significant playing time. Plus, the Mets had something going down on the farm.

In 1980, they'd drafted outfielder Darryl Strawberry. In '82, they took pitcher Dwight Gooden and traded fallen star Lee Mazzilli to the Texas Rangers for pitchers Ron Darling and Walt Terrell. Now, those kids were on their way.

Things would take a dramatic turn in 1983, starting with Seaver's return from the Reds.

He'd had a bad year in 1982, the worst of his career, going 5-13 for last-place Cincinnati. His re-acquisition was more about righting a grievous wrong than it was about getting results. The biggest, most consequential roster moves were still to come.

On April 5, 1983, Seaver started the season opener. His catcher was Ron Hodges, who'd come up with the Mets as a rookie during the pennant-winning '73 season. Through all of the changes and almost never a starter, he'd remained as did another '73 rookie, pitcher Craig Swan.

In May, the Mets recalled Strawberry from the minors, anointed him the future of the franchise and installed him in right field, displacing placeholder Danny Heep.

They weren't done.

From the '83 yearbook, a rhapsody in blue and orange.
The Mets ended the year a better team than the one pictured here.

Early in the year, Allen came undone, struggling on and off the field. On June 15, 1983 -- six years after the massacre -- he and pitching prospect Rick Ownbey were traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for first baseman Keith Hernandez, a perennial gold glove winner and co-MVP in 1979.

Turning the corner


His acquisition fortified the Mets lineup and forced Kingman to the bench. Bolstered by Hernandez and Strawberry -- who won Rookie of the Year honors -- Foster bounced back with a 28 homer, 90-RBI campaign. Staub set a record with eight consecutive pinch hits and 25 pinch runs batted in. Orosco replaced Allen as closer, saved 17 games, won 13 others and finished third in Cy Young balloting. Reliever Doug Sisk joined the bullpen. Pitching prospect Ron Darling came up in September.

Seaver started 34 games, pitched 231 innings and went 9-14, proving he wasn't finished. But, at season's end, they were still a last place club. That would change with Gooden's arrival the next year, by which time Seaver would be gone again.

That winter, in a calculated risk, the Mets had left their icon unprotected from the free agent compensation pool and he was claimed by the Chicago White Sox. In their uniform he won his 300th game on the mound at Yankee Stadium two years later.

Gooden would pick up the mantle as the team's best pitcher, winning 17 games, striking out 276 hitters and winning Rookie of the Year. The new-look Mets -- Hernandez, Strawberry, Foster, Wilson, Brooks, Backman, Darling, Terrell, Orosco, Sisk and Heep -- went 90-72, finishing second in the NL East behind the Chicago Cubs.

Boosted by the acquisition of catcher Gary Carter from the Expos, two years later, they'd reach the World Series. So would Seaver, as a member of the Boston Red Sox, though a knee injury would keep him from pitching. The Mets prevailed in seven games.
_____________________________

This entry is dedicated to the great Rusty Staub, who died on March 29, 2018 while it was still being written. Staub came through in the clutch on and off the field. His charitable causes, feeding the hungry and caring for the widows and orphans of first responders, hopefully will live on forever.  

For more information, visit www.rustystaubfoundation.com and www.answerthecall.org

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Blue Coup de Grace Ends the A's Championship Era

QUALITY OR QUANTITY?  If a team finishes dead last in its division, should it try keep its best pitcher or trade that asset for a cadre of warm bodies to plug its many gaping holes?

For Oakland A's owner Charles O. Finley, the answer was the latter. It was that or nothing.

Not putting star players on the cover means
never having to say you're sorry
Stubborn as the mule he once hired for a mascot, Charlie-O was determined to do thing his way, on his budget. And midway through spring training 1978, as his team readied for the season, he dealt his former champs a long-expected blow, trading star lefty pitcher Vida Blue for seven nobodies.

A three-time 20-game winner, in 1971 Blue started the All-Star Game then captured the AL Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards, heralding an era when the A's were the best team in the world.

As ever, the glory was fleeting.

Though he'd owned Athletics since 1960 and oversaw their transformation from doormats to champions, Finley had no interest in the free agent wars that rewrote baseball's rules in the 1970s.

Though his stars had won five straight division titles and three straight world series, when the bill came due, Charlie came up short.

After they won their last crown in '74, he balked at making promised payments toward a life insurance annuity for perennial 20-game winner Jim Hunter.  The man called Catfish got his contract voided and signed with the New York Yankees.

Unbowed, the A's soldiered on. Led by Blue's 22 wins they won eight more games in 1975 than the previous year and another division title before being swept from the playoffs by the East Division champion Boston Red Sox.

The next season dawned with the dealing of superstar outfielder Reggie Jackson and pitcher Ken Holtzman to the Baltimore Orioles for outfielder Don Baylor plus pitchers Paul Mitchell and Mike Torrez.

Still, Oakland stayed afloat, winning 87 contests and finishing just 2 1/2 games behind the Kansas City Royals. Infielder Phil Garner emerged a star, as did 21-year-old outfielder Claudell Washington. Blue won 18 games, Torrez, 16. Ace reliever Rollie Fingers won 13 more while saving 20.

No Reggie? No Catfish? No problem? Not exactly.

At the June 15 trading deadline, Finley had tried to sell Fingers and another mainstay, outfielder Joe Rudi, to the Red Sox for $1 million a piece. For good measure, he also sold Blue to the Yankees for $1.5 million. But Commissioner Bowie Kuhn voided the deals as contrary to the best interests of baseball and the stars returned to Oakland, though not for long.

Baseball's first genuine free agent class graduated that winter. With labor leader Marvin Miller playing Moses, shouting "let my people go!" A's players fled the Pharaoh Finley in droves. Rudi and Baylor signed with the California Angels. Fingers and catcher Gene Tenace went to the San Diego Padres. Shortstop Bert Campaneris inked a deal with the Texas Rangers and third baseman Sal Bando signed with the Milwaukee Brewers.

The championship core was gone. Blue, who had incongruously signed a three-year contract in 1976, remained, as did outfielder Bill North. He would be dealt to the Dodgers in May 1978 for outfielder Glenn Burke.

Churn, churn, churn. Garner and two others were dealt to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a package that included reliever Doug Bair and prospects Rick Langford, Tony Armas and Mitchell Page.

Even the presence of Page, who was runner-up for Rookie of the Year, and the expansion Seattle Mariners couldn't save the A's from finishing seventh and last in the 1977 AL West.  Blue went 14-19. Attendance fell to 495,599, less than half of what was two years earlier.

Vida Blue, bottom right, in the land of the Giants
They'd gone 63-98.* But for one game not played, it could have been worse.

And then it did get worse.

In Dec. 1977, Finley traded Blue to the Cincinnati Reds for power-hitting minor league first baseman Dave Revering. Again, Kuhn interceded to void the deal. The Reds later swapped Revering for Bair.

Blue, twice traded and twice returned, went into spring training as an A. But not for long.

On March 15, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants for seven players and $300,000 in cash. Oakland got pitchers Alan Wirth, Dave Heaverlo and John Henry Johnson, plus catcher Gary Alexander and outfielder Gary Thomasson. The Giants later threw in infielder Mario Guerrero, whom they'd signed as a free agency only months earlier.

They held the fort until reinforcements could ripen.

By 1980, Langford, together with Mike Norris, Steve McCatty, Matt Keough and Brian Kingman would form an effective starting rotation. Backed by outfielders Armas, Dwayne Murphy and Rickey Henderson, the Athletics went 86-76, good for second in the division behind the Royals again. Also in the line-up, Page, Revering and Guerrero.

Finley, perhaps somewhat vindicated, sold the club in August of that year.

Vida Blue won 18 games in his maiden season in San Francisco, but was never that good again. His declining career intertwined with a trade to Kansas City, drug abuse, a jail sentence, and a brief but respectable comeback. After going 10-10 with a 3.27 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 157 innings for the Giants in '86, he retired.

* An earlier version of this entry contained a typo, asserting the A's had lost 78 games in 1977. They'd lost 98.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Best. Fake. News. Ever. No, Really. Ever.

FAKE NEWS ain't new, but there was a time when it was fun. Good, snarky fun.

Somewhere along the continuum that started with lies, dogma, doctrine, propaganda and spin, such fakery branched off into brilliant parody and satire, the sublime talent of tweaking the real and making it ridiculous.
All the news that's misfit to print

It hit an artistic peak 40 years ago this week with the National Lampoon Sunday Newspaper Parody, a multi-sectioned send-up of everything right and wrong with the pile of newsprint delivered weekly to doorsteps all over America and a kind of fun house mirror image of the country itself.

Done so rightly, so completely, so perfect to the last block of agate sports section type, that without close inspection, the Sunday, February 12, 1978 edition of the Dacron, Ohio, Republican-Democrat -- One of America's Newspapers -- can almost pass for the real thing.


Mirth, satire and the comics.
Almost.

Its heritage can almost certainly be traced back to Mad Magazine, born in comic book form in 1952 and transformed into a news magazine mockery three years later.  

Mad nourished a generation of cynical maladjusted kids who grew up to be cynical maladjusted grown-ups. Coming of age amid the youthquake of the 1960s, Vietnam, Watergate and the irony-ready Bicentennial, they made the world safe for irreverence.

One of them, P.J. O'Rourke, is credited with conceiving the Dacron Republican-Democrat as a kind of sequel to its High School Yearbook parody (which, itself, gave rise to National Lampoon's blockbuster movie Animal House). O'Rourke's wingman in the newspaper project was future Hollywood auteur John Hughes, the man who gave us National Lampoon's VacationSixteen CandlesThe Breakfast Club and Ferris Buehler's Day Off

All for the newsstand price of $4.95
O'Rourke, Hughes and company, in the guise of deranged newspaper creators, writers and editors, skewered fame, parochialism, perversity, insecurity and thriftiness. Nothing was sacred and nobody was safe, not even good ol' Charlie Brown, ridiculed as "Ol' Weepy Whiner" in the full-color comics section. 

Starting from page one and threaded through the paper were repeated references to a fiendish local predator known as "The Powder Room Prowler," with hints the perpetrator may be the paper's publisher and moral crusader, Rutgers Gullet. 

On page one, the headline "Two Dacron Women Feared Missing in Volcanic Disaster." The subhead: "Japan Destroyed."

Below the fold on the front of section C -- the Living Life section -- a story with the vexing headline, "Is Your Child a Dip?" On and on it went, through the sports second, the weekly magazines and the Swillmart discount store circular.  Check the Scoreboard section, pictured here, for the reference to allowing ads to be place on baseball team uniforms and on the outfield grass. It was only funny because it wasn't true. Yet.


The deceptively realistic but entirely fake scoreboard page.
Real estate listings note "the famous Fazullo Murder house is on the market," and a full-page ad for the Food Clown supermarket features a 12-pack of diet Perrier for just $2.19.

Sure other parodies have been published with clever titles like Not the New York Times and the Off The Wall Street Journal and
 The Onion has since institutionalized the ingenious, but for sheer depth of depravity, it's hard to top the Dacron Republican-Democrat.

Don't take my word for it. You can see it for yourself at America's monument to freedom of the press, The Newseum in Washington DC, where the Sunday Newspaper Parody is one of nearly 400 historic newspapers on permanent display.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Wayne Gretzky Ruins the Islanders' All Star Affair

ADD TO WAYNE GRETZKY'S long list of accomplishments this: he was a rotten guest.

The occasion was the 35th National Hockey League All Star Game, being held for the first time at Long Island's Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, the place the best team in hockey called home.

The National Hockey League's best
 come to Long Island
It turned out to be a rather unhappy affair for the locals, thanks in no small part to number 99.

It's not like he put a lampshade on his head, danced on the buffet table, then barfed in the punch bowl. This was more akin to wearing the same dress as the hostess, but looking way hotter.

It was Feb. 8, 1983 and the old barn was spruced up as much the built-on-a-budget concrete arena could be. Four members of the three-time reigning cup champion New York Islanders and their coach, Al Arbour, were on hand to greet The Great One and his Campbell Conference confreres.

Welcome to our house... May we take your coats?

Unlike today's All Star game, which is a couple of players short of a team and edges ever closer to sneaker-wearing players slapping an orange ball across a gym floor with plastic sticks, this mid-Winter classic was a true showcase for the creme de la creme of la Ligue Nationale de Hockey.

Then as now the LNH was split into two conferences, each consisting of two divisions. All of those groupings were named in honor of figures from the league's illustrious past, leaving all but the most dedicated fans in the dark about geographic points of origin. The eastern conference was named for the Prince of Wales, while the west honored a commoner, long-time league president Clarence Campbell.

Half the 20-man Wales all-stars were future hockey hall of famers: Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin and Bryan Trottier of the Islanders, the Bruins' Ray Bourque, Hartford's Ron Francis, Quebec's Michel Goulet and Peter Stastny, Philly's Mark Howe and Darryl Sittler and Washington's Rod Langway.

Though the Campbell Conference roster had ol' TGO, it actually seemed a bit less imposing. Accompanying the Edmonton Oilers' captain were teammates Mark Messier, Jari Kurri and Paul Coffey, Chicago Blackhawks stars Denis Savard, mustachioed Calgary Flames gunner Lanny McDonald and Los Angeles Kings center Marcel Dionne.

Though augmented by the incumbent Norris Trophy winner, Blackhawks defenseman Doug Wilson, they had an apparent problem in goal.


While Chicago's Murray Bannerman started the game, his intended alternate, the Vancouver Canucks' Richard Brodeur had sustained an ear injury days earlier, leaving the Campbells short of a net minder and the Canucks without a representative (each team got at least one).

So Brodeur's Vancouver backup, John "Cheech" Garrett -- acquired just days earlier from the Nordiques -- became the Canucks' designated star. He'd have stolen the show, but for ostentatious number 99, flaunting his... you know... talents.

Here's how that went down.

Quebec's Goulet opened the scoring early in the first period, with an assist from fellow Nordique Peter Stastny (whose son, Paul, now plays for the St. Louis Blues). Eight minutes later, Winnipeg Jets defenseman David Babych answered back, tying the game with aid from Mustache and the Blue's Brian Sutter. At 19:01, the Bruins Bourque un-tied it and the teams ended the opening segment with the score: Wales 2, Campbell 1.

Polite company. Cocktails and hors d'oeuvres for everyone.

Early in the second, Minnesota North Star Dino Ciccarelli got the equalizer, with help from fellow North Star Neal Broten and the Blackhawk's Al Secord.

For some, a night to remember. For others, to forget... quickly
Midway through, starting goalies Bannerman and Pete Peeters were swapped out. Garrett came on for the Campbells and the Flyers' Swedish net minder Pelle Lindbergh, just 23 and in his first full NHL season, took over for Wales. Then, North Star Tom McCarthy put the west ahead with assists from Ciccarelli and the Blackhawks' Bob Murray.

Campbell 3, Wales 2 after two.

Rumaki anyone? A bite-sized quiche perhaps? What was that noise in the other room?

In the third period, the guests became unruly. Uncouth.

Gretzky, held off the scoresheet for more than 45 minutes, scored with assists from Kurri and Coffey (or perhaps curry and coffee) at 6:20. McDonald added a goal, from Sutter and Dionne, pushing the margin to 5-2 a minute later. Then Gretzky struck again, with help from Messier and Kurri.

"Dude, that was totally awesome!"
Gretzky and Kurri yuk it up.
Guests 6, hosts 2.

New York Rangers forward Don Maloney -- who years later would serve as the Islanders' general manager -- answered back with help from New Jersey Devils delegate Hector Marini. It was a last stab at respectability at 14:04 and it would not last.

The final 5:56 would be pure humiliation on the order of hitting on the host's date in front of everyone and then leaving with her. It was that bad.

Gretzky scored again at 15:32, his third goal in nine minutes, with assists from Wilson and Messier, and he wasn't done. Toronto's Rick Vaive added another tally for the Campbell Conference, beating Lindbergh unassisted. 8-3. Then, with just 42 agonizing seconds remaining, 99 scored yet again with more help from Messier for a 9-3 final before a stunned crowd of 15,230.

The four-goal outburst was an NHL all star game record. Gretzky walked away with Most Valuable Player honors and, while he didn't really get the girl (and if he did, it wasn't reported) he did get a $14,000 sports car.

The host Islanders? They got a measure of revenge that spring, sweeping Edmonton to win their fourth (and to date last) cup on that very same home ice. They held the Oilers to just six goals over four games and kept Gretzky -- he of the 71 regular season goals and 125 assists -- scoreless.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Once the Patriots Were Likeable Underdogs

THEY HAD NO SUPERFANS. They had no song. They had no players named after appliances. Yet there they were, expected to compete on the same field, on the same terms, as the 15-1 Chicago Bears. They were the lovable underdog New England Patriots and they were in the Super Bowl for the very first time.
The twentieth title game of the NFL's modern era

It was 1986 and this was Super Bowl Double X.

Thirty-two seasons later, those Patriots are a barely acknowledged afterthought, eclipsed by the legend of that singular, stupendously successful Bears squad, little more than the answer to a trivia question: Who did the Bears beat?

Who knows? Who cares?

The Patriots have since become such a force, such a fixture on the big stage, that their first championship game forebears are all but forgotten, the franchise equivalent of the lost Roanoke Colony. Who wants to overlook a sickening amount of success to recall the big fail?

Rhetorical question. Don't answer.

Da Bears had da coach, Mike Ditka, who may still be the most popular man in Chicago. Running back Walter Payton, Sweetness, a secular saint struck down by cancer at age 45, keyed the offense. They also had colorful quarterback Jim McMahon, Olympic sprinter Willie Gault, linebacker Mike Singletary and the massive defense linemen Richard Dent and William "The Refrigerator" Perry.

The Fridge: a 23-year-old, 6'-2", 335-pound phenomenon.

The Patriots' Super Bowl XX roster is somewhat less revered today than Pat the Patriot, the snarling minute man in a three-point stance who adorned their still-white helmets.

The revered logo.
Irving Fryar, the first man taken in the 1984 National Football League draft, was their biggest star. His seven touchdowns, scored as a receiver and kick returner, tied for the team lead with running back Craig James. Tony Eason, one of six signal callers taken in the first round of the '83 draft, was their primary quarterback, backed by veteran QB Steve Grogan. Karate blackbelt and future football hall of famer Andre Tippett anchored the defense.

Their coach was Pro Football Hall of Fame member Raymond Berry, once a standout receiver for the Baltimore Colts. He directed them to an 11-3 regular season record and a wild card game match-up with the New York Jets -- and Eason's '83 draft classmate QB Ken O'Brien -- at the Meadowlands.

New England beat New York, 26-14, after a Tippett hit forced O'Brien -- the league's top-rated passer -- from the game. A week later, the Patriots beat the Raiders 27-20 in Los Angeles, setting up a conference championship game with Dolphins in Miami.

Helmed by another class of 1983 draftee, Dan Marino, those same Dolphins had handed the Bears their only regular season loss. Still, it was full speed ahead. The battle cry in Boston: Squish the fish!
New England linebacker Andre Tippett,
from the Super Bowl XX program

And squish 'em they did, 31-14, punching the Patriots' Super Bowl ticket and giving rise to the somewhat faulty fan logic: If the Dolphins could beat the Bears and we could beat the Dolphins, then we must be able to beat the Bears too.

Defrost the Refrigerator! Berry the Bears!

Not so fast. Chicago had rampaged through the NFC post season, beating the New York Giants, 21-0, and then the Los Angeles Rams, 24-0. Eight quarters of football. No points allowed.

Barefoot Patriots kicker Tony Franklin would break that string with a field goal less than two minutes into Super Bowl XX at the Louisiana Superdome, giving New England a 3-0 lead. Kicker Kevin Butler tied it for Chicago about four minutes later, then gave the Bears their first lead near the end of the first quarter, 6-3.

QB Tony Eason and lineman John Hannah,
from the Super Bowl XX program
The game was, for all intents and purposes over. Da Bears dominated on both sides of the ball, piling on the points while keeping New England off the board. Even the massive Refrigerator was allowed to run one in, running up the score to 44-3 (a one-yard plunge denied the beloved Payton, who went scoreless).

Grogan, who replaced Eason in the second quarter with Chicago already ahead 20-3, connected with Fryar in the fourth for a Patriots touchdown, 44-10. A Bears safety made the final tally 46-10.

Bad as that day was for New England, it was the Patriots who were bound for glory, again and again and again ad nauseum, while the fearsome Bears were one-and-done, still searching for that next championship season.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, January 27, 2018

When An Epic Case of 'Night Fever' Proved Fatal

SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, the epochal soundtrack to the landmark movie, took the number one spot on the Billboard Top 200 on January 21, 1978, stayin' alive there for 24 weeks. Buoying the late 70s cultural phenomenon that was disco, the album also catapulted its primary artists -- the Bee Gees -- to global superstardom.

But even titanic waves crash after they crest, and this one was no different.

Disco's origins, European, urban, black and gay, challenged conventional orthodoxies. It was rhythmic, sexual, sleek, and often symphonic. It enticed entries from non-disco acts as diverse as the Rolling Stones, the EaglesRod Stewart and Kiss. While it turned many people on, many others were turned off.
The number one album in the U.S. for 24 weeks in 1978

The ensuing backlash was vicious.

Just a year after Gerry Rafferty's City to City dislodged the multi-hit, multi-platinum, multiple award winning double LP from the top slot, disco was not only no longer tres chic, it was literally under assault, morphing from Disco Duck to Disco Sucks seemingly overnight. 

Nothing epitomized the change in mood more than Disco Demolition Night, an ill-conceived July 1979 Chicago White Sox promotion that turned into a game-forfeiting riot.

Conceived by Chicago disc jockey Steve Dahl with the blessing of Sox promoter Mike Veeck, the idea of blasting to bits a crate full of vinyl disco records in centerfield between games of a Comiskey Park double-header drew a raucous crowd -- the price of admission was 98 cents and a sacrificial record -- that stormed the field after the pyrotechnics and wouldn't to leave until police descended.

At least 37 people were arrested. The playing field, wrecked.

Between the soundtrack's ascent to the top of the charts, and the era's catastrophic end, the hedonistic disco lifestyle became the stuff of legend, epitomized by a pair of Manhattan night spots, the drug-laden danceteria Studio 54 and the steamy sex playpen, Plato's Retreat.

The Bee Gees -- brothers Barry, Maurice and Robin Gibb -- had hit the charts a decade earlier crooning melancholy songs with titles like To Love Somebody, I Started a Joke and I've Gotta Get A Message To You before fading from view. They re-emerged in 1975 with the edgy rhythmic Jive Talkin' and the riff-heavy, falsetto laden Nights on Broadway.

When impresario Robert Stigwood summoned them to lay down tracks for his new film inspired by a 1976 New York Magazine article titled Tribal Rights of the New Saturday Night, they were primed and ready. And so was the world.

The Brothers Gibb
The Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack, tossed off a torrent of hits. The brothers wrote and performed four, Stayin' AliveNight Fever, How Deep Is Your Love and More Than a Woman, and composed Yvonne Elliman's If I Can't Have You.

Suddenly -- and with no apologies to the Beatles -- the Bee Gees were here, there and everywhere, their sound simultaneously inimitable and ubiquitous.

Saturday Night Fever, the film, made a bankable star out of John Travolta, an actor whose high water mark had previously been a TV sitcom where he played one of four high school degenerates known as the Sweat Hogs. Within a year, he'd portray Danny Zuko, male lead and top greaser in Stigwood's Hollywood adaptation of the hit Broadway show Grease. Fever had made $237.1 million at the box office. Grease was bigger still, raking in $395 million.

Still, for a segment of the public, Travolta's Tony Manero was un-relatable. Disconcerting even. He was a proto-metrosexual, a nice pretty boy obsessed with his hair, his clothes, his shoes and with dancing. Manero may have worked in a paint store, scraping together money to buy a blue shirt he spied while window shopping, but he wasn't blue collar.

Manero's ups and downs forecast Travolta's long career
Other musical forces spoke directly to that ethos: country and punk. The latter being everything disco wasn't: loud, discordant, deliberately abrasive and ugly. It's practitioners wore leather jackets and ripped clothes. They pierced their faces for shock value. And they were angry.

Disco Demolition Night, which drew an estimated crowd of at least 50,000, put that same kind of latent hostility on public display.

Late 1970s, popular music -- particularly American pop -- had become big, corporate and toothlessly inoffensive. Punk stripped away all that, returning it to its rebellious roots. Trailing close behind it was another reconstructionist format, new wave. Suddenly disco was worse than dead, it was passe´, relegated to a nostalgic purgatory from which it never quite returned.

Four decades down the road, the soundtrack and the movie have been archived at the Library of Congress as cultural museum pieces, time capsules, artifacts from a short-lived empire long since vanished.

-- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Rangers, Isles, Devils and the Birth of a Hockeyopolis

WARROAD, MINNESOTA, has long identified as Hockeytown USA, a title claimed by octopi-hurling Detroit Red Wings fans and ursine black and gold Bostonians too. Even Minnesota's capital, St. Paul, has been so nominated.

But none of them hosted eight Stanley Cup champions in just 24 years.

For that we turn to... hockey city. Hockey region? Hockey metropolitan area? We turn to nothing that readily trips off the tongue, the metropolis known as greater New York City, home of the 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983, 1994, 1995, 2000 and 2003 Stanley Cup champions.

Hockeyopolis USA.

Established with the 1982-83 National Hockey League season, the 38-mile wide bi-state swath of land and water encompassed more than 13 million people and three NHL teams, even as the rest of the North America had just 18 more.


Anchoring the west end were the ragtag New Jersey Devils, who'd just moved from Denver to the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford. At the east end in Uniondale, Long Island, sat the precocious three-time defending Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders. In between was the axis around which the region's hockey enmity turned: the New York Rangers of Manhattan, one of the league's fabled original six franchises.

Together, they were half of the NHL's Patrick Division, joining the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals in a forerunner of today's Metropolitan Division.

It was a major league concentration unseen since 1957, when baseball's Brooklyn Dodgers, New York Giants and Yankees had called Gotham home. And, over the next quarter century, Ranger, Devil and Islander fortunes would dramatically rise and fall, often at the hands of one another.

But who were these first season pioneers of Hockeyopolis?

The Rangers


Herb Brooks, the hero coach
  • Coached a collection of virtually unknown college hockey players to an Olympic gold medal in 1980, beating a vastly superior Soviet Union squad along the way
  • Rangers bench boss for 3 1/2 seasons, peaking in 83-84 with a 42-29-3 record before being dismissed midway through the next campaign after a 15-22-8 start
  • Also had brief stints behind-the-bench for the Minnesota North Stars, Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins
  • Inducted into the the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minnesota, in 1990 and -- posthumously -- into the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto in 2006
  • Beck
  • Killed in a single-car accident in 2003 at age 66

Barry Beck, the captain
    • Rock-solid 6'-3" 205-pound defenseman
    • Acquired from the Colorado Rockies in 1979 for five other players including former first-round draft pick Lucien DeBlois and defenseman Mike McEwen
    • Two-time All-Star Game selection
    • Six seasons as Rangers' captain, target of announcer Bill Chadwick's exhortation, "Shoot the puck, Barry! Shoot the puck!"

    Mark Pavelich, the Olympian
      Pavelich
    • Had 37 goals and 38 assists for 82-83 squad
    • One of four members of Brooks' gold medal team to play for the Rangers, joining Rob McClanahan, Dave Silk and Bill Baker.
    • Native of Eveleth, MN, home of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame
    • His diminutive size, 5'8", 170-lbs and that of others led to some blue-jerseyed Rangers to be dubbed the Smurfs.

    Reijo Ruotsalainen, the fleet Finn
    • Speedy, elusive defenseman followed his 56-point rookie campaign with even better numbers in 82-83, 16 goals and 53 assists for 69 points in what was only his second-best season of a six-year Rangers career
    • Led the Rangers in scoring two years later with 73 points, 28 goals and 45 assists
    • Later played for the Edmonton Oilers and Devils
    Ruotsalainen in action
    Other Rangers notables that year, goalie Eddie Mio, defenseman Dave Maloney and his brother forward Don Maloney, plus Mike Rogers, Ron Duguay, Eddie Johnstone and Anders Hedberg.

    Swede Ulf Nilsson played just 10 games that year before calling it an NHL career after an array of injuries. None were more notorious than an ankle fracture sustained on a check from the Islanders' Denis Potvin in February 1979, giving rise to the eternal Madison Square Garden chant, "Potvin sucks!"

    Rangers finished their season in fourth place, 35-35-10 and lost to the Islanders in the Patrick Division finals, 4 games to 2. It was the third straight year of four that Long Island eliminated Manhattan. In 1990, the Rangers would finally return the favor and four years later, they captured the cup.

    The Islanders


    Al Arbour, the coach
    • Behind the bench for 1500 Islanders games, including Stanley Cup victories in 1980, 81, 82 and 83. During that skein, the team won 19 straight post-season series
    • His 782 coaching victories are the fourth most in NHL history
    • Stay at home defenseman during a 14-year career with the Detroit Red Wings,  Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs, winning the cup with each team. Also captained the St. Louis Blues to the finals three years straight.
    • Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, the Islanders Hall of Fame and the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame
    • Died in 2015. He was 82

    Potvin
    Denis Potvin, the captain
    • Overall first pick in the 1973 amateur draft, won the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie for the 1973-74 season
    • Three-time Norris Trophy winner as the league's best defenseman, including 78-79 when he had 31 goals and 101 points
    • Nine-time all-star
    • Captained the Islanders for eight seasons
    • Retired in 1988 with 1,052 points, an NHL record for defensemen at the time
    • Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991

    Mike Bossy, the scorer
    • Arguably the best player of his generation not named Wayne Gretzky
    Bossy
    • Scored 50 or more goals nine consecutive years, topping 60 five times and leading the league in goals scored twice
    • 1977-78 Calder Trophy winner, 1981-82 Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff most valuable player and three time recipient of the Lady Byng Trophy for gentlemanly play, including 82-83
    • In 82-83, led the Islanders with 60 goals -- fourth best in the league -- and 58 assists
    • Scored 147 points a year earlier, a record for right wingers at the time, but good for just second in the league behind Gretzky, as the Edmonton Oilers' center notched a then-record 212 points
    • First all time in goals per game, .76, and third all time in points per game, 1.50, behind Gretzky and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux
    • Made the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1991

    Bob Bourne, the unsung hero
    Bourne
    • Led the Islanders in post-season scoring with eight goals and 20 assists as they won their fourth consecutive cup in 1983, though the Conn Smythe Trophy went to goaltender Billy Smith
    • Three-time 30-goal scorer, played 12 seasons on Long Island including all four championships
    • Epic career-highlight rink-length dash against the Rangers in the 1983 Patrick Division finals
    • Won the Bill Masterton Trophy for sportsmanship and perseverance, and was one of eight chosen as Sports Illustrated's 1987 Sportsmen of the Year for dedication to helping others.
    • Inducted into the Islanders' Hall of Fame in 2006
    • Drafted by the Kansas City Scouts -- who became the Rockies, then the Devils -- in 1974
    Other Islanders notables that year, center Brian Trottier, winger John Tonelli, brothers Brent and Duane Sutter, Swedish defensemen Stefan Persson and Tomas Jonsson. The goaltending tandem of Smith and Roland Melanson won the William M. Jennings Trophy for fewest goals allowed.

    Melanson finished second in Vezina Trophy balloting for best goalie, behind Pete Peeters of the Boston Bruins. The Islanders went 42-26-12 on the season before powering through the playoffs, beating the Capitals, Rangers and Bruins. They swept Gretzky and Edmonton in the finals, 4-0, for their fourth, and thus far last, Stanley Cup

    The Devils


    Billy MacMillan, the coach
    • Ex-Islanders player and assistant coach, also served as New Jersey's general manager
    • Led the then-Colorado Rockies to a franchise-best 22-45-13 record in 1980-81 before taking a season off to focus on GM duties
    • Notched just 19 more victories over next 100 games before being axed
    • Had 22 goals, 41 points as a Toronto Maple Leafs rookie in 1970-71
    • Older brother of Devils winger Bob MacMillan
    Lever
    Don Lever, the captain
    • Acquired with Bob MacMillan from the Calgary Flames for 66-goal scorer Lanny McDonald in November 1981
    • Devil's first ever captain, had 23 goals and 30 assists for the Devils in their inaugural season
    • Born in South Porcupine, Ontario
    • Also played for the Vancouver Canucks, Flames in Atlanta and Calgary, and Buffalo Sabres

    Glenn Resch, goalie-in-exile
    • Acquired from the Islanders with center Steve Tambellini late in 1980-81 season in exchange for Mike McEwen and minor league goalie Jari Kaarela
    • Won 81-82 Masterton Trophy for dedication and perseverance
    • Famously kissed the goalposts as a rookie netminder for the Islanders in following a playoff series victory in 1975
    • Became expendable after an injury during the 1980-81 campaign opened the door for emergence of rookie Melanson
    • Later played for the Philadelphia Flyers
    Resch receiving the Masterton Trophy from the widow of its namesake, Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton

    Aaron Broten, Kid Line pivot
    Broten
    • Led the Devils with 59 points -- 16 goals, 39 assists -- in their first season in New Jersey, his first full year in the NHL
    • Centered for rookie Jeff Larmer and winger Paul Gagne, both 20, on what came to be called "the Kid Line." Oldest of the trio, Broten, was 24
    • Had a career best 26/57/83 as franchise made the playoffs for the first time in Spring 1988
    • Played 10 years for Devils, then one each for Minnesota North Stars, Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets

    Carol Vadnais, blue line veteran
    • Claimed by New Jersey in waiver draft just before the start of the 82-83 campaign, ending a seven year career with the Rangers
    Vadnais
    • Won the Stanley Cup as a member of the Montreal Canadiens -- with whom he broke in in 1966-67 -- and Boston Bruins. Also captained the California Golden Seals
    • Deal to Rangers by Bruins together with Phil Esposito for Brad Park, Jean Ratelle and Joe Zanussi in November 1975
    • Retired after first Devils season, died in 2014 at age 68
    Other Devils first season notables, Finnish defenseman Tapio Levo, winger Hector Marini, who went to the NHL All-Star Game and rookie Pat Verbeek, who later became the team's first 40-goal scorer. Defenseman Joel Quenneville later directed the Chicago Blackhawks to three Stanley Cups as a coach and is second winningest NHL coach in history behind Scotty Bowman.

    Team finished inaugural year at the Meadowlands at 17-49-14, finishing fifth ahead of the moribund Pittsburgh Penguins. Better days were ahead as the team, built largely through the draft by uncompromising general manager Lou Lamoriello, finally made the post-season in 1987-88 and later won a trio of championships

    The Rivalry


    Each metro area team played the others seven times during that inaugural season of Hockeyopolis. The Islanders took four of seven from the Rangers. The Rangers went 3-3-1 against the Devils who, in turn, were swept by the Islanders.

    Eventually, the tables would turn. The Islanders returned to the finals once more in 1984, where they lost to the Oilers, 4 games to 1, ending their championship era as a 12-year-old franchise and already a former dynasty. Constant management upheavals and arena issues would render them an also-ran for the ensuing 35 years.

    Meanwhile the Rangers broke their 54-year-old drought by winning the Stanley Cup in 1994, but only after disposing of the Devils after a seven-game series that saw three of the contests -- including the finale -- decided in double-overtime, neutralizing Islander fans' favorite chant, "1940!"

    A year later, the Devils ended a strike-shortened 94-95 season by winning their first title. Five year later, they'd win the cup again, then lose it in a seven-game final against their Denver replacements -- the Colorado Avalanche -- and win it again in 2003.

    New Jersey played for Lord Stanley's hardware again in 2012 as did the Rangers in 2014. The Islanders, for all their early success, haven't advanced that far in 33 years.

    Time, the great equalizer.

    -- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

    Credits: all photos and images drawn from the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils media guides.