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 Paige.

Even the presence of Paige, 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 63-78. 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, Paige, 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.

-- 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.

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
    • 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

    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
    • 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
    • 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
    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
    • 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
    • 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.

    Saturday, December 30, 2017

    Forget About The Last Jedi, What About The First?

    Star Wars, the book, first published in 1976.
    A LONG TIME AGO in a galaxy far, far away...

    It was a time of single-screen movie theaters, of $4 tickets and $2.50 matinees. Cable television was in its 30-some-odd channel infancy, home video players were new. Three broadcast TV networks ruled the airwaves.

    It was 1977 and that was all there was.

    Into this now unimaginably finite universe burst Star Wars, a cinematic force the likes of which had never been seen. Looking back across a 40-year landscape of movies -- now nine -- animated TV series, toys, clothes and all manner of pop-culture bric-a-brac, it's virtually impossible to convey the revolutionary newness of that first film.

    If you were born before 1972, you may be able to dimly recall the world before Star Wars. But that guy in the cubicle next to you at work, the one born in 1980 who is married with two kids and a mortgage? He hasn't got a clue.

    Creating good guys and bad guys was Hollywood old hat. Believably placing them in alien locales, in highly-detailed spaceships or aboard a killer space station the size of a small moon -- one riven with seemingly bottomless, non-OSHA-compliant canyons and ledges -- seemed nothing short of miraculous.

    About that tractor beam control...
    From Starlog issue 14, June 1978
    Light sabers crackled and hummed. Blasters blasted. X-wing and TIE fighters pitched, yawed and rolled with the maneuverability of F-15 fighters without the aid of CGI graphics.

    All this sprung from the imagination of auteur George Lucas, his team of artists and a company called Industrial Light & Magic, accompanied by the iconic symphonic score of composer John Williams.

    But to experience it, you had to go to the movies.

    Some folks did just over and over and over again, trading the visceral newness for intimate familiarity with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia, with Han Solo and Chewbacca, with Obi Wan Kenobi and Darth Vader, and for their favorite scenes and lines.

    But, then what?

    I have a very bad feeling about this.

    It would be five years before Star Wars' release on VHS, or cable TV. Longer for the broadcast networks.  So, where did one turn to get that feeling anew? Other media, of which there was plenty.

    Star Wars -- the Book

    Help me Obi Wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

    Del Rey, a Ballantine Books imprint, actually beat Star Wars to the theaters, publishing its first paperback edition in 1976. Subtitled, "From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker," and not, "A New Hope," its 220 pages were positively canonical, filled with things implied but not shown on the silver screen, including the Anchorhead reunion of Luke and Biggs Darklighter and Han Solo's encounter with Jabba the Hutt before leaving Mos Eisley.

    Wedge has a last name, Antilles. Han seems to have shot Greedo first, but the scene's description is vague. What's clear the Corellian reduced his adversary to "a smoking, slimy spot on the stone floor." Also worth noting: Luke's evident attraction to Leia (a concept not yet rendered icky by exposition in Return of the Jedi) and his X-Wing assignment is Blue 5, not Red.

    At the end, Chewie gets a medal too. Justice.

    Star Wars -- the Comic Books

    I find your lack of faith disturbing.

    If the 16 pages of full-color movie stills tucked into the center of the post-release edition paperback weren't enough, Marvel Comics had the perfect cure: the entire film, serially rendered in issues one through six of Star Wars, The Greatest Space Fantasy Film of All."

    It was a perfect marriage. The movie, inspired by the Saturday matinee Flash Gordon serials of the 1930s, was already filled with literal and figurative cliff-hangers. Now Marvel offered more of the same, in breathlessly hyperbolic comic book form, illustrating many of those canonical novel scenes omitted from the film.

    Ironically, while internally faithful to the original scripture, Marvel's cover art was anything but, depicting scenes that didn't didn't actually happen, or if they did, only allegorically. Not that I cared. It was Star Wars at 30 cents a pop. (Though the comic book series lived on, I stopped at issue six where the movie's story ended.)

    Star Wars -- the Soundtrack

    Hokey religious and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster.

    John Williams was a rock star. Not in the literal sense of the word as he made his name as an Academy Award-winning composers of classical movie sound tracks, but boy, could he write a memorable score. Jaws was his. Raiders of the Lost Ark too, along with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, ET - The Extra-terrestrial and Superman - The Movie.

    The double-album came with liner notes, and
    a color poster of the climactic battle over the Death Star
    If you can hear any of that music in your head, the credit belongs to him.

    Still, Star Wars' symphonic score is in a class of its own, durable, instantly recognizable music, whose place in musical pop culture is renewed with every new installment. The American Film Institute named it as the greatest film score of all time.

    All. Time.

    And it's not just the fanfare that people recognize. Princess Leia had a theme of her own, as did Ben and Luke. Even Ben's death (non-spoiler alert 1) and the ensuing escape from the Death Star (non-spoiler alert 2) are recognizable.

    The soundtrack album itself was something of an artifact even back in 1977, as it hearkened to a technology falling out of favor even then. The first disc featured sides 1 and 4, while the second had sides 2 and 3. Why? Because some phonographs had the ability to play records sequentially, holding one atop of the spindle while the other spun on the turntable below. When side 1 ended, the tone-arm swung clear, side 2 dropped and the arm moved back into playing position. Once done, all a listener had to do was flip the stack so that side 3 dropped down while side 4 waited above.

    Oh... and the Star Wars long player came with this poster.

    You're all clear kid! Now let's blow this thing and go home.

    In addition to its four beloved sequels, three tolerated prequels and one kick-ass feature-length digression, the original Star Wars spawned an empire of Kenner action figures, Lego sets, The Clone Wars, posters, books, more books. t-shirts, pajamas, parodies, more parodies, still more silliness, Halloween costumes and masks.

    President Ronald Reagan, himself a product of the Hollywood Dream Factory, probably did as much as anyone to hammer the movie into the American consciousness, borrowing it's "evil empire" theme and applying it to the old Soviet Union, then turning to a still-unrealized missile defense system immediately dubbed "Star Wars."

    The force will be with you, always.

    -- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive