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.

    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 five 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

    Friday, November 24, 2017

    Tales from the College Football Orphanage

    IT WAS A LITTLE NOTICE about a team whose problem was they attracted little notice. It stung all the same.

    College football is like a religion for people in many parts of the United States. From Michigan's Wolverines, to Alabama's Crimson Tide, from the UCLA Bruins to the Georgia Bulldogs. There are Huskies and Cougars, Wildcats and Nittany Lions, Badgers, Golden Gophers, Tigers, Bears, Blue Hens, Volunteers and Cavaliers. Each has their revenant retinue of students, alumni and boosters.

    I'm not one of them. Despite attending two Division I-AA schools, I'm among that sad set of graduates who've been disenfranchised.

    I am a college football orphan.

    Twenty years ago this week, Boston University pulled the plug on its 91-year-old football program after finshing its Atlantic 10 season with a 1-10 record. The end was reported in a New York Times news brief not much bigger than an obituary which, in a sense, it was. The paper said there were tears for the Terriers, shed by players, not fans.

    Though I'd been out of college for a decade, I'd actually seen them just two months earlier when they played Hofstra University's Flying Dutchmen on Long Island. B.U. touted the game as an alumni event. Having gone to both schools, attendance seemed compulsory. I took my dad. We honored my undergrad and graduate institutions by switching sides at halftime.

    The Dutchmen defeated the Terriers, 24-14. I don't recall the game being that close. Like getting together with an old friend, the reunion was somewhat bittersweet and I'd no idea it would be the last time I'd see them alive.

    To be sure, it's not like Boston U. football had been much of a calling card for the school (unlike Boston College, which is not in Boston). B.U.'s golden era overlapped my time there when the Terriers were Yankee Conference co-champions three years running and, in the second year, actually advanced to the I-AA quarterfinals before being vanquished by Furman University's Paladins.

    The Flying Dutchmen host the Terriers
    Starring for the Terriers then: wide receiver Bill Brooks, who was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts and enjoyed a 11-year National Football League career during which he also played for the Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins.

    Earlier stars had included Miami Dolphins' quarterback-receiver-special teamer Jim "Crash" Jensen and Harry Agganis -- the Golden Greek -- who starred for B.U. in football and briefly for baseball's Boston Red Sox before dying at 26 from a pulmonary embolism.

    Boston University just wasn't "a football school" and so 1997's season was its last. Hofstra, however, had other plans. The two programs seemed headed in opposite directions.

    H.U. hired ex-New York Jets defensive coordinator Joe Gardi as head coach, expanded their stadium and started producing National Football League-caliber players: Jets receiver Wayne Chrebet who became a bona fide NFL star, then Super Bowl-winning New Orleans Saints receiver Marques Colston. On the 1997 squad, future San Francisco 49ers defensive back Lance Schulters. Still to come, Super Bowl-winning Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Willie Colon.

    The Flying Dutchmen, soon renamed the Pride, made the I-AA playoffs in 1995, 1997, 1999, 2000 and 2001, that last appearance coming as co-champion of B.U.'s old Atlantic 10 conference.

    In the end, that brief glimmer of bigger time football promise wasn't enough to inspire the dedication needed to keep Hofstra's program afloat. In 2009, a dozen years after the Terriers left the NCAA gridiron, the former Flying Dutchmen too sailed into oblivion.

    -- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

    Wednesday, November 22, 2017

    Fall '77 Flashback: Birth of the Jock Rock Champion

    STOMP! STOMP! CLAP! Stomp! Stomp! Clap! That unmistakable bleacher-quaking rhythm.
    News of the World had a vertical gatefold featuring
     dying or dead band members -- from the top -- Brian May,
    Freddie Mercury, John Deacon and Roger Taylor

    Forty years ago this week, "We Will Rock You" by the British glam rockers Queen perched at number 41 on the Billboard Hot 100, at the edge of certifiable hit status and on it way to immortality. Ahead of it: Foreigner's "Cold As Ice" at 39, Meco's disco Star Wars theme at 35, Barry Manilow's "Daybreak" at 23 and "Just Remember I Love You" by Firefall at 11. The number one hit in the USA? "You Light Up My Life" by Debby Boone.

    Heard any of those tunes recently?

    Stomp! Stomp! Clap! 

    Stomp! Stomp! Clap!

    "We Will Rock You," was the first track for Queen's News of the World, released Oct. 28, 1977. The song spent 41 weeks on the chart, peaking at number 4 the week of Feb. 18, 1978. Today, it's the undisputed champion of that crowd-revving, opponent-intimidating music known as the arena anthem, aka Jock rock.

    It didn't arrive alone. It wasn't even the A-side of it's own single. That honor went to "We Are the Champions."  Played in their logical order, they packed a one-two wallop virtually unseen in the post-Beatles pop era, a combination of bravura and braggadocio.

    We 
    will kick your ass. We did kick your ass. 

    The News of the World LP went multi-platinum, selling more than 4 million copies. It also achieved a less well-documented status: the first album I ever bought with my own money.

    "Buddy you're a boy make a big noise, playin' in the street, gonna be a big man some day. You got mud on your face, you big disgrace, kickin' your can all over the place..."


    The Paperboy


    In spring 1977, the broadsheet daily Long Island Press went out of business, leaving behind untended routes, log books, canvas bags and customers up for grabs. Newsday had become the island's dominant paper. In the demise of the Press, Rupert Murdoch's New York Post saw an opening.

    Me and my best buddy across the street were recruited as freshly-minted paperboys for the sensational and sensationally inky NYC tabloid. Each of us would have dominion over roughly equal territories about a mile square.

    LI Press bag, NY Post route, UK News of the World
    And what a summer to deliver the Post.

    Serial killer David Berkowitz, the Son of Sam, was still at large, until he wasn't. "Caught!" blared the Post front page. A lightening strike at a Hudson River power station caused a regional blackout and in that darkness a horrific night of arson and looting across the city: "24 Hours of Terror" the paper exclaimed. Elvis Presley died. Two months later, Reggie Jackson closed out the World Series with three straight homers as the New York Yankees beat the Los Angeles Dodgers, four games to two.

    Folding and stuffing all those papers into my bag was a newsprint baptism.

    The rest of the neighborhood didn't feel that way. Our so-called subscribers (who'd never actually subscribed, we just started delivering) gradually dropped the Post in favor of Newsday. "It's not you," they said. They just didn't like the Post or what it did to their hands and their clothes.

    My pal quit first and his turf became mine. Small consolation as my customers were quitting too. Every week I had less and less. Soon I too realized it no longer made sense to soldier on.

    The Purchase


    But I'd made and saved some tip money and took some of it to Sam Goody (or maybe it was TSS) to buy my first piece of 12-inch vinyl.

    We Will Rock You and more, on Electra Records
    ... "Singin' We will, we will rock you! We will! We will! Rock you!'"

    I already had a collection of 45s and a two-speaker Voice of Music stereo on which to play them. But this was a whole album, my only one, and I kept it in heavy rotation. Ask my sister. Ask my parents. Ask the neighbors. 


    Ask them about the Brian May guitar solo.

    On the whole, News of the World was, well, spotty. After those first two tracks, there was a notable drop in quality. The most memorable deep cuts were the down-beat "All Dead," the encouraging "Spread Your Wings" and the embarrassingly trashy "Get Down, Make Love." 
    Not that I had anything to compare it to.

    Four decades on, its those two opening tracks that still endure. WWRY topping list after list of the best of the jock rock genre, WAtC becoming a kind of gay anthem and then, incongruously, a Donald Trump campaign song. Finally, for your listening pleasure, here they are.

    -- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

    Sunday, October 29, 2017

    Last Call for Harvey's Wallbangers: The 1982 Brewers

    When St. Louis met Milwaukee

    IN THE END it came down to Gorman Thomas.

    Of course it did.

    By the time the Milwaukee Brewers slugger strode to the plate with two outs in the top of the ninth inning of the last game of the 1982 World Series, he was the walking embodiment of the franchise, its original building block and a last link to the team's origin as the Seattle Pilots.

    The Brewers would live or die on what he did next. It was a moment 14 seasons in the making.

    Thomas was the Pilots' first pick, taken 21st overall in Major League Baseball's June 1969 amateur draft. But, as he started his pro career with the Billings, Montana, Mustangs, the parent club's first and only season in Seattle was turning into a disaster.

    They entered June in third place at 20-24, then slowly sank to the bottom of the AL West. Total attendance at worn-out Sicks Stadium, a minor league park meant as a temporary home during construction of a new domed stadium, was just 677,944. The Pilots were lost in a sea of red ink.

    Efforts to sell them to local investors failed. Lenders called a $4 million loan. Soon they were officially bankrupt and, near the end of Spring Training 1970, gaveled to Milwaukee car salesman Allan H. "Bud" Selig, who re-named them the Brewers.

    Though maligned as baseball commissioner for the World Series-killing 1994 work stoppage and then for the steroids era, Selig slowly, patiently, accrued the pieces of a contender. Maybe too slowly. Perhaps too patiently.

    The joy of 1981. The expectations of 1982.
    With their 1970 move to Milwaukee and the Washington Senators' relocation to Dallas-Fort Worth two years later, the Brewers shifted into the highly competitive American League East, the toughest division of its era, an era when making the playoffs required a first-place finish. Getting there meant overtaking perennial powers like the Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.

    Thomas made the show in 1973. The next year, 18-year-old shortstop Robin Yount arrived. Slugging first baseman Cecil Cooper was acquired in a trade. Hard hitting outfielder Ben Oglivie too.

    Sparkplug Paul Molitor came in 1978, finishing second in Rookie of the Year balloting. That same year Thomas slammed 32 homers and designated hitter Larry Hisle hit 34. Lefty Mike Caldwell won 22 games, finishing runner-up for the A.L. Cy Young Award and the Brewers won 93 games.

    With all that, the team dubbed "Bambi's Bombers" in honor of manager George Bamberger, finished only third, 6.5 games behind the Yankees in a season remembered mostly for New York overtaking Boston for the A.L. East title after trailing by 14 games.

    In 1979, Milwaukee moved up to second, winning 95 contests but finishing eight behind the pennant-winning Orioles. They slipped to third the following season, during which Bambi resigned due to heart trouble and was replaced by Bob "Buck" Rodgers. In 1981 they rebounded with the division's best overall record, but just half a title to show for it. They lost the first ever A.L. Division Series to the Yankees, three games to two.

    The Seattle Pilots' only first-round draft pick.
    (from the Brewers' 1982 yearbook).
    Still, starter Pete Vuckovich had lead the league in wins and reliever Rollie Fingers' 28 saves earned him both the Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. Both men had been acquired, along with catcher Ted Simmons, for four lesser players in a December 1980 deal with the St. Louis Cardinals.

    That was supposed to be the big trade that put them over the top. Now they were back in "wait 'til next year" mode. And next year started badly.

    With the team wallowing at 23-24, Rodgers was fired on June 1. His replacement was long-time coach and 1959 A.L. batting champ Harvey Kuenn who, though just 51, was bedeviled by health problems. Two years earlier, a blot clot had forced doctors to amputate the lower portion of his right leg.

    His leadership ignited the team, inevitably nicknamed "Harvey's Wallbangers," who went 72-43 the rest of the way. They finished in first, but so did the Orioles, who'd taken three in a row from Milwaukee over the season's final weekend to pull even. For the second year in a row, the Brewers had to play a division rival for the right to play on. This time they won, 10-2.

    And so it was off to Anaheim to play the California Angels in the A.L. Championship Series, but without Fingers. A month earlier, the incumbent MVP had torn a muscle in his pitching arm, ending his season. His replacement was a rookie, Pete Ladd. They promptly lost the series' first two contests, despite starting Caldwell and Vuckovich, before rallying to win the last three.

    Ladd saved two of those games, including the clincher, and the Milwaukee Brewers had their first pennant and a date with the National League champion Cardinals.

    A singular event in Milwaukee Brewers history
    Game 1 in St. Louis saw Molitor's five hits -- a record -- pace the Brewers 17-hit assault. The final: Wallbangers 10, Red Birds 0. The Cardinals regrouped, rallying late from a 4-2 deficit to take the second game 5-4. Two nights later St. Louis won even more decisively, 6-2, in Milwaukee. The Brewers bounced back to win games 4 and 5, sending the series back to the Gateway City, needing just a single win for their first crown.

    They never got it.

    Avenging their game 1 drubbing, the Cards decked the Brewers, 13-1 in game 6, setting up a winner-take-all climax.

    St. Louis posted a run in the bottom of the fourth. Milwaukee came back with one in the fifth and two in the sixth to lead 3-1. From there, the Cardinals took over, scoring three in the bottom of that frame to take a 4-3 lead they'd never relinquish.  The Brewers would notch just one more hit, an infield single, over the final three innings, while the Cards would add two more runs in the eighth.

    Simmons and Oglivie grounded out in the ninth, bringing Gorman Thomas to the plate to face the N.L.'s best reliever, Bruce Sutter. Thomas' 39 homers had led the A.L. in 1982. It was the second time he'd done so. The Pilots pick also drove in 112 runs while batting .245.

    He worked the count to 3 balls, two strikes, fouling off three straight pitched before swinging over the top of the last. Joy in St. Louis echoed as heartbreak in Milwaukee. For five seasons, the Brewers ranked as bonafide contenders in baseball's the toughest division, only to finish first runner-up.

    Manager Harvey Kuenn, seated second row center, surrounded by his Wallbangers
    (from the Brewers' 1983 yearbook)
    Yount, who hit .331 with 29 homers and 114 runs batted in, won the 1982 A.L. Most Valuable Player award. He'd do it again in 1989, eventually accrue 3,142 hits and make the Baseball Hall of Fame. Molitor too would make the hall after racking up 3,319 hits with the Brewers and later, the Toronto Blue Jays and Minnesota Twins. Vuckovich won the 1982 A.L. Cy Young Award.

    Fingers too was later enshrined in Cooperstown as was his Cardinals counterpart, Sutter. St. Louis would win the N.L. pennant again in 1985 and in '87.* But for that era's Brewers, the championship window had closed.

    Milwaukee backslid to 87-75 in 1983, costing Kuenn his job at season's end. They'd endure more than a decade as an A.L. also-ran before moving to the N.L. in 1998 and wouldn't make the post season until 2008. Three years later, they played the Cardinals for the National League pennant, losing 4 games to 2.

    Kuenn died in 1988. He was just 57.

    In 2013, the Brewers gave away a Gorman Thomas-as-Seattle Pilot bobblehead.

    * An earlier version of this post had credited the Cards with just an '87 division title. The actually went to the series that year, losing to the Minnesota Twins in seven games.

     -- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

    Sunday, October 22, 2017

    Miami Diary: When J-E-T-S Spells P.T.S.D.

    JOSH McCOWN STAMPED his right foot once, signaling the snap from center.

    His New York Jets, having surrendered a 14 point lead to the Miami Dolphins, had the ball again with the score still tied 28-28, but buried at their 15 yard line with just 47 seconds left in regulation time.

    My cousin, who grew up not far from the home of the 'phins, leaned over to me and predicted the Jets and McCown would run the ball once, perhaps twice, kill the clock and take their chances with overtime.

    I concurred and as the Hard Rock Stadium crowd roared, watched McCown take the snap, then scramble toward the left sideline searching for an open receiver...

    In my mind's eye, suddenly it was December 21 1997. Jets' ball, first and goal to go on the Detroit Lions' 9-yard line. A field goal would tie the game 13-13 with more than seven minutes to play. A win would send the Bill Parcells-era Jets to the playoffs for the first time.

    QB Neil O'Donnell took the snap, handed the ball to rookie running back Leon Johnson, who scampered toward the right sideline then stopped abruptly before turning upfield and cocked his arm to heave the ball toward the end zone...

    "Oh no, he's going to throw it..."

    Thought coalesced, mouth agape, eyes wide with horror, all I could do was watch.

    Two Jets games, 20 years apart and that exact same reaction, that exact same result: an interception followed minutes later by a loss.

    Then it was an errant pass to Lions defensive back Bryant Westbrook. Today it was Dolphin Bobby McCain.

    Does it really matter?

    The Parcells Era came and went, as did the Al Groh Interval, the Herman Edwards Epoch, the Man-Genius seasons and Blustersaurus Rex. To no avail.

    Now we are in year three of Bowles, Todd and year 47 of Super Bowls, none.

    Traumatized, shell-shocked, we persist in the hope of a different outcome.

    What is the definition of insanity?

    -- Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive

    Saturday, October 7, 2017

    Perdition on Ice: The Rocky Start of Jersey's Devils

    MY MACHINE SHE'S A DUD, out stuck in the mud somewhere in the swamps of Jersey.

    Bruce Springsteen penned those lyrics in 1973, part of the 7:04 love song-turned-concert jam fest Rosalita (Come Out Tonight). Nine years later, with a little bit of metaphorical foresight, those words could have applied to the Garden State's first National Hockey League team, the New Jersey Devils, who debuted 35 years ago.

    Strangers in a swamp land.
    Far from a random appellation, the Devils got their name from the legendary Leeds devil, rejected spawn of Mrs. Deborah (Smith) Leeds of Galloway Township, a mother of 12 who wanted nothing to do with a 13th. "Let this one be a devil," she reportedly said.* And so it was that said child, once born, fled into the Pine Barrens from which it periodically emerges to terrorize the locals.

    Its namesake hockey team too was rejected, twice. Born in 1974 as the Kansas City Scouts, the franchise lasted just two years in western Missouri before relocating to Denver as the Colorado Rockies. There they languished for six more seasons before being shipped east by John McMullen, owner of Major League Baseball's Houston Astros.

    Ensconced in the brand new Brendan Byrne Arena at the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, the Devils were comprised almost entirely of players other teams didn't want, a kind of icy purgatory if not exactly hell.

    Their primary benefactor was the reigning Stanley Cup champion New York Islanders, whose castoffs New Jersey general manager and coach Billy MacMillan readily acquired, despite having been voted off the Island himself as a player six years earlier.

    Among the luminaries stocking the original Devils roster:
    • ex-Islanders goalie Glenn Resch, former NYI forwards Dave Cameron, Hector Marini, Steve Tambellini and Yvan Vautour, plus ex-Isles defenseman Bob Lorimer**;
    • ex-New York Rangers defenseman Carol Vadnais;
    • future three-time Stanley Cup-winning Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville
    • World Hockey Association survivor Mike Antonovich;
    • struggling former first-round pick Paul Gagne;
    • reluctant Finnish defenseman Tapio Levo
    • team captain Don Lever;
    • U.S. Olympic hockey star Neal Broten's brother, Aaron
    • and MacMillan's brother, Bob.
    They were a talent-poor squad crashing a metropolitan area that featured an Original Six franchise and, arguably, the best team in the world. The Rangers lost the Stanley Cup finals in 1979. The Islanders won the chalice in 1980, 81 and 82. The Rockies had been to the playoffs. Once. In 1978.

    Homesick Finn Tapio Levo, the team's best defenseman and
    forward Hector Marini, whose solid first half made him the Devils first all star

    If there was any chance of alchemy by proximity to their Long Island progenitors, that likely vanished just days into the season when MacMillan dealt center Merlin Malinowski to the Hartford Whalers for still another ex-Islander, enforcer Garry Howatt, and speedy forward Rick Meagher.

    Clad in red, white and green sweaters emblazoned with a stylized red NJ crest, those first edition Devils finished Hades in the NHL's Patrick Division with a record of 17-49-14.***

    For a time, their breakout star appeared to be Marini, an energetic forward unable to break into the Islanders talented lineup. He started the season strong and was New Jersey's lone delegate to the All Star Game at Long Island's Nassau Coliseum. Marini even assisted on one of three goals scored by the Prince of Wales Conference in a 9-3 Campbell Conference blowout. Wayne Gretzky scored four times for the winners. It was downhill from there.

    The inaugural season ticket pitch. It wasn't entirely hyperbole.
    Though Marini soon faded, MacMillan assembled the Kid Line, featuring Broten, 22, flanked by 20-year-olds Gagne and Jeff Larmer, an early-season call-up who potted 21 goals and 45 points in 65 games. Broten lead the Devils in scoring with 16 goals, 39 assists and 55 points.

    Their top-scoring defenseman, Tapio Levo, posted seven goals and a team-best 40 assists, but he didn't want to be there. Coaxed to rejoin the team in October, at season's end he left for home, never to return.

    It was not all for naught. Their lousy finish enabled them to take forward John MacLean sixth overall in the 1983 NHL draft. He lasted 14 years, scoring 701 points, second in franchise history. Already in the pipeline, defenseman Ken Daneyko, their all-time games leader, whose sweater number 3 is retired, and high scoring forward Pat Verbeek.

    Those three men would team with Broten and the yet-to-be-drafted Kirk Muller to lead the team to the playoffs in 1987-88. Though the road was long, the Devils finally won Lord Stanley's cup in 1995 and again in 2000 and 2003.

    *Though accounts of her fateful utterance sometimes differ.
    ** With the Devils' first first-round pick, in the 1982 draft MacMillan took Rocky Trottier, whose older brother Bryan already starred for the Islanders.
    *** That's ties, not overtime losses, which weren't introduced until 2005-06.

    Follow me on Twitter @paperboyarchive