Confessions of A Closet NY Rangers’ Fan
by John Delach
I shoot de puck, it go in de net, I score de goal, ay! To me, that’s the simplest and best description by an athlete replying to the tired, inevitable reporter’s question, “How did you win the game tonight?”
My late, great Canadian friend and business colleague, Terry Manning, related that gem supposedly made by Maurice Richard at one of our sessions at a bar somewhere in Montreal, New York, London or White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
(Terry also taught me a valuable late-night pronouncement to be delivered before leaving a bar: “Let’s have one for the ditch!”)
Terry’s first love was the Montreal Canadiens, and I should have been able to torture him during the early 80s when we worked closely together as my local team, the upstart NY Islanders, won four Stanley Cups in a row from 1980 to 1983. But I couldn’t give a damn about these interlopers; my team was the Rangers, the one I grew up with.
My experiences with the Rangers originated during the early 1950s when my cousins, Helen, Bill and Bob Christman surprised me for birthdays and with tickets to Sunday night games at the old Madison Square Garden.
The Rangers weren’t good usually finishing fifth or sixth in the six-team league that was the original National Hockey League. They weren’t any better later in 50s when my friends and I started making visits to the old joint on Eighth Avenue and Forty-Ninth Street. We showed out high school General Organization (G.O.) Cards that together with fifty cents gave us access to the side balconies. The principal problem with those seats was they presented an incomplete view of the ice after the third row from the rail cutting off about 10% of the action along the near boards. Regulars would arrive early enough to commandeer entire rows of choice seats for themselves and their buddies and, if perchance we arrived early enough to seize seats for our selves, they were not beyond bully threats forcing us to vacate them.
College years and post-college years before marriage, it was not uncommon for us to attend the Football Giants contest on Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium then proceed downtown via the Eight Avenue subway for hockey.
But try as I might, watching hockey on a regular basis was not for me and like NASCAR, if the subject came up, my eyes would glaze over and my thoughts would drift to a myriad of other interests while I half-listened to this background noise. I did attend a number of games at the Madison Square Garden that replaced the old joint in the late 1960s especially after my employer, Marsh & McLennan, leased a series of corporate boxes. Great to entertain clients and I could duck out early and catch a reasonable LIRR train in the basement back to Port Washington.
One memorable night, Winston cigarettes staged a Winston Cup night. At the time they sponsored stock car racing both on a national and local level and somehow or other it was hooked into this particular hockey game. We had 15 folks in the box that night each who received a bright red Winston baseball cap. Then, as luck would have it, a Ranger scored three goals achieving a “hat trick” that night. When thousands of fans finished sailing their new found head gear from high and low the ice had been turned into a sea of crimson. Then, lo and behold, the same chap scored a fourth goal. The few remaining caps hit the ice along with other hats of all types and even packs of Winston cigarettes.
But the playoffs are a different matter altogether and the further the Rangers progress, the further out of the closet I come. They had a near miss in the 1978-79 season losing in five games to Montreal and that glorious 1993-1994 season when they finally won the Stanley Cup and silenced the taunting chorus of “1940-1940-1940…”
Now twenty years later, the Rangers are back in Cup this time as decided underdogs against the Kings. Few give the Blue Shirts a chance. Balderdash! Proudly out of the closet, permit me to paraphrase the late radio sportscaster, John Kennerly, and declare: “The Rangers will go through Los Angeles like the Acela goes through Metuchen, New Jersey!
Loved your closing line. There are more than a few Texans also rooting for a team named ‘The Rangers’ that doesn’t play baseball.
One of my totally unforgettable hockey games was that NHL All-Stars v. Communists that you took me to, which I believe was back in the ’70s. The Russians played classic hockey with pinpoint passing, setups and clean checking while the NHL played like street bullies. And, as I’m sure you remember, the Russkies beat the stuffings out of the NHL by many goals.
Another thing I remember about this game was standing for three national anthems and that the Russian anthem was a very tuneless mournful dirge. (At least that’s the way I remember it.) I also remember that a fairly attractive singer in a low-cut gown sang the Russian anthem, which was the last of the three played, and just as she began singing a guy near us yelled, “You got nice tits, baby.” You turned to me and commented, “Welcome to New York.”
John, I can identify with your recollections as I grew up in Chelsea, four stops on the C Train to 50th Street. The GO card got us in and one of us would be chosen to you to the side door during warmups and wait for the ice crew to start their process when we’d open the door to let several friends sneak in and we’d escape to the balcony. This was pre Zamboni so the crew rolled around a 55 gallon drum of hot water on wheels to resurface the ice. I also remember the kick hockey games in the stairwells. Nothing could top a stop at Nedicks before the game for dinner of a hot dog and orange drink.
Thanks for the memories and GO BLUESHIRTS