Through the wonder of Hockey-reference.com, I am aware that the first hockey game I ever attended was between the St. Louis Blues and the Philadelphia Flyers on October 30, 1971. My dad took me and, I guess, my brother. I recall my favorite player, Garry Unger having a good game (he had a hat trick), and I remember some fighting (Unger and Noel Picard were thrown out as a result of a second period brawl)…but I wouldn’t have remembered the 4-4 tie or the fact that Blues coach Sid Abel was kicked upstairs to be the GM after that game.
What I DO remember was sitting in the dark blue seats in the upper circle. We were situated at the goal line above where the Blues came out of their dressing room. Since we couldn’t see the scoreboard due to the overhang of the seats above us, the old Arena had TV screens hung from the top front of every section, with a shot of the scoreboard. That’s how we knew how much time was left.
I remember smoke wafting over the ice, because smoking is what people did in those days. People dressed up to go to games, men in suits and women with fur coats. To me, the Arena seemed brand new. The yellow seats in parquet and the yellow seats at the top perfectly offset the blue seats we sat in in the middle level. What I remember most is the action. The goals by Unger, the fights, the intensity of a close game…it all drew me in, and I was hooked.
I followed the team through some lean years in the 70’s, even though they made the playoffs in seven of the ten years of the decade. As Unger declined, he was replaced by Bernie Federko and Brian Sutter. For a while my favorite player was Wayne Merrick, a solid two-way center who was traded to the California Golden Seals in 1975. Then it was Chuck Lefley, who scored 43 goals in the season Merrick was dealt. Lefley and Derek Sanderson, as linemates, were nicknamed The Sunshine Boys, and they were fun to watch.
Throughout my youth, I never really thought about the Blues not winning a championship. During the 70’s, when I was growing up, nobody in St. Louis won championships. Heck, in that decade the Blues were the only local franchise that even made the playoffs. It was just the way it was that Montreal won in hockey, Pittsburgh won in football, and the Yankees or Reds won in baseball. I remember getting my first car and going to games in ’79, and then getting a job as an usher to actually work at the Arena starting in 1980. Even when the Blues lost to the Rangers in the second round after their great ’80-’81 season, I wasn’t bothered. I figured it would come.
It didn’t, obviously, for the rest of the 80’s, or the 90’s, or the first two decades of this new millennium. As I morphed from the nine-year-old that went to that Flyers game in 1971 into the 56-year-old that gets to pretty much every game, I actually became hardened to the idea of the Blues never winning a Stanley Cup in my lifetime. They didn’t in my dad’s life, and I figured that was our lot. I honestly thought I’d die before the Blues won a Cup. Now, I’m not so sure. Happily so.
Over the years, we’ve gotten a lot of broadcasting mileage out of the heartbreak the Blues have delivered. Whether it was the Panic Bus when things went bad, the label “the Cubs of hockey,” the knowledge that there was a curse that needed to be reversed, or the motivation of putting away my Blues golf bag or promising a Stanley Cup tattoo if they ever DID win, there was always something to talk about with the Blues.
Over these 48 years of watching the Blues for me, I’ve made a pretty solid emotional investment. Both of my kids are die hards. I associate with a lot of people that are like-minded in their Blues fandom. I’m probably a little more protective of the organization than most because of my approach of enjoying the journey.
Maybe all that talk about the journey was a way of deflecting talk about never winning a Stanley Cup. But this year…against all odds and of all years…the Blues are not only in the Stanley Cup Final, but they’re one win away from winning it all.
I’ve said it feels surreal. It feels like a dream. But I know it’s real. There are many, many people that are bigger and better fans that are more invested than I am. But I can’t tell you how happy I am and how exciting it is to me that the ST. LOUIS BLUES are One. Win. Away. From winning their first Stanley Cup.
I can’t wait for Sunday night. If any fan base shouldn’t care about how we got to this point, it’s the Blues fan base. And the players seem genuinely excited about winning for St. Louis, for Bob Plager and Federko and Kelly Chase and Brett Hull.
With all due respect to the championships the Cardinals have won, the one that the Rams won, and all the other exciting moments we’ve had…if the Blues win on Sunday night, it’ll be the greatest sports moment in St. Louis history, and one of the greatest nights of my life.