Thursday, June 2, 2011

How Long It's Been: The Boston Bruins Won the Stanley Cup

The Stanley Cup Finals are underway. The finalists are the Boston Bruins and the Vancouver Canucks.

I’ll do one of these for Vancouver, too.

The Bruins are in their 6th Finals since their last victory – meaning they’ve lost their last 5.

The last time the Bruins won the Stanley Cup was on May 11, 1972, beating the New York Rangers in Game 6 at Madison Square Garden – at the time, 4 years after its opening, usually still called “the New Garden.” Bobby Orr was awarded the Conn Smythe Trophy as Most Valuable Player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs (the NHL awards an MVP for the entire playoffs, not just the finals).

Keep in mind that there were fewer teams and thus a shorter season in 1972. It wasn't until 1965 that an NHL game that counted was played in May, and it wouldn't be until 1992 that one was played in June.

It was the 5th Cup won by the Bruins, but it's been 39 years and they haven't yet won a 6th Cup. Here’s an idea of how long it’s been:

The arena in question has now lasted longer than the building it replaced, “the Old Garden.” That building was constructed by funds and plans by boxing promoter George “Tex” Rickard, who planned to build 6 copies around the U.S. But he died after the first, which opened in Boston in 1928. That “Boston Garden” was the Bruins’ home from 1928, and that of the NBA’s Boston Celtics from 1946, until it closed in 1995. The teams then moved into a new, adjacent building that now bears the name “the TD Garden,” but, like its New York counterpart, is usually called “the New Garden.”

Of the 10 teams then in the NHL (it would soon expand to 12), none but the Rangers are still playing in the same building in which they concluded the 1971-72 season. As mentioned, the old Boston Garden is gone; so are the Chicago Stadium, Detroit’s Olympia Stadium, the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, the St. Louis Arena and the Met Center in Minnesota (and the team that played there has since moved and been replaced); Oakland Coliseum arena has been rebuilt and the team playing there moved anyway; and while the Canucks’ first home, the Pacific Coliseum, and the Forum outside Los Angeles both still stand, the Canucks and the Kings have moved to new arenas.

Boston’s biggest sports stars were the Bruins’ Orr and Phil Esposito, the Red Sox’ Carl Yastrzemski (Carlton Fisk would go on to win American League Rookie of the Year), Celtics John Havlicek and Dave Cowens, and Patriots Jim Plunkett (who flopped there but became a Super Bowl winner in his native Oakland) and Jim Nance (not to be confused with sportscaster Jim Nantz).

Boston sports legends Eddie Shore (1930s Bruins), Smoky Joe Wood and Harry Hooper (1910s Red Sox), and Mike Holovak (1940s Boston College star and the Patriots’ first coach) were all still alive. The defining hockey players of my childhood? Besides the aforementioned Orr and Esposito, Guy Lafleur had just completed his rookie season, Bobby Clarke had his first All-Star season, Denis Potvin was in the high minors, Mike Bossy was about to debut in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, Mike Eruzione was in high school, and Wayne Gretzky was in junior high school.

The Mayor of Boston was Kevin White, newly sworn in for a 2nd term. The Governor of Massachusetts was Frank Sargent. Richard Nixon was about to be re-elected President of the United States. The Governor of New York was Nelson Rockefeller, the Mayor of New York was John Lindsay, and the Governor of New Jersey was William T. Cahill.

Harry Truman and Lyndon B. Johnson were in the last few months of their lives. Gerald Ford was the Minority Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives. Jimmy Carter was Governor of Georgia, and Ronald Reagan Governor of California. George Herbert Walker Bush was U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, and his son George was in the Texas Air National Guard, although there is no record of him showing up for duty in the year-long period beginning with May 1, 1972. Apparently, it was okay for him and his father to support the Vietnam War even if he didn’t have to actually fight in it. Bill Clinton and Hillary Rodham, students at Yale Law School, had recently moved in together. Barack Obama was 10, and Michelle Robinson was 8.

Al Gore was working for Nashville’s main newspaper, The Tennessean. Dan Quayle was an administrative assistant to Governor Edgar Whitcomb of Indiana. Joe Biden was making his first campaign for the U.S. Senate. Dick Cheney was working as a minor official in the Nixon Administration. (See, even then he was shady.)

Tom Menino, who has now broken the record shared by White and James Michael Curley for longest-serving Mayor of Boston, was a neighborhood activist. The current Governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, was in high school at Milton Academy. Mike Bloomberg, a Boston-area native, was still in the area, attending Harvard Business School. Andrew Cuomo was a freshman at Archbishop Molloy High School in Queens. Chris Christie was in elementary school – probably waiting for a helicopter to take him to recess.

Major films of 1972 included The Godfather, Cabaret, Deliverance, and the original versions of The Poseidon Adventure and The Getaway. Major Major novels of 1972 included The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, My Name Is Asher Lev by Chaim Potok, The Osterman Weekend by Robert Ludlum, The Odessa File by Frederick Forsyth, To Serve Them All My Days by R.F. Delderfeld, the fantasy novel Watership Down by Richard Adams, the even more fantasy-themed book Fear and Loathing In Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson, and the football-themed novel Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins – which contained the immortal line delivered by a player to his team’s owner: “Every time I say it’s a game, you say it’s a business! Every time I say it’s a business, you say it’s a game!”

The television shows Sanford and Son and Emergency! had debuted in early 1972, and later in the year would come the debuts of M*A*S*H, Maude, The Waltons, The Bob Newhart Show, Kung Fu, and The Streets of San Francisco, starring Karl Malden and Michael Douglas – and, no, they were NOT the same age. Dan Blocker died, not of complications relating to his weight, but of a pulmonary embolism after gallbladder surgery, which could have happened to anyone. His death hastened the cancellation of Bonanza.

The day after the Bruins won the Cup, the Rolling Stones released their album Exile On Main Street. A few days after that, the Opryland theme park opened outside Nashville in May 1972. A few days later, in June, Elvis Presley would sell out Madison Square Garden 4 times, his only shows ever in New York City, except for his early TV-show appearances; he would later play the Nassau Coliseum, but never gave a concert in New Jersey, which didn’t have a big enough arena at the time, except the Atlantic City Convention Hall (now Boardwalk Hall), although if he’d lived a little longer he could have headlined the A.C. casinos as he’d done in Las Vegas and other Nevada cities. Within days of Elvis’ Garden concerts, Clyde McPhatter, the original lead singer of the Drifters, died.

Canada's Prime Minister was Pierre Trudeau. Britain’s Prime Minister was Edward Heath. Elizabeth II was Queen of England -- that still hasn't changed -- but she was just 46 years old. Her uncle, the Duke of Windsor, formerly King Edward VIII, died. Had he been allowed to remain on the throne in 1936, she never would have become the monarch, but, since Edward and his wife Wallis Simpson never had children, her son would now be in his 40th year as King Charles III; whether he would have been allowed to marry the woman he already loved, Camilla Shand, is unlikely, but one thing is for sure: He would not have married Diana Spencer, then still a child, and the man currently known as William, Duke of Cambridge, and his brother Prince Harry of Wales would never have been born.

The English Football League was won by Derby County, managed by Brian Clough, in a stunning victory by a small provincial club over traditional powers such as defending champion Arsenal of London, Liverpool, their Merseyside rivals Everton, Manchester City, their rivals Manchester United, and Leeds United. Leeds did win the FA Cup, defeating defending champions Arsenal 1-0. Ajax Amsterdam, led by Johan Cruijff, won their second straight European Cup.

The Pittsburgh Pirates were the defending World Champions of baseball, but the Oakland Athletics’ “Swingin’ A’s” dynasty was about to start. The Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Lakers, so often identified with long-term success, had each just won their first World Championships. The University of Southern California won the National Championship, with quarterback Pat Haden and receiver Lynn Swann – who could have opposed each other in Super Bowl XIV if Haden hadn’t gotten hurt. USC’s arch-rivals, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), coached by John Wooden and led by sophomore center Bill Walton, won their 6th straight National Championship in basketball, in the middle of a record 88-game winning streak. Joe Frazier was the heavyweight champion of the world.

In the spring of 1972, the U.S. and the Soviet Union were among 70 nations signing the Biological Weapons Convention, banning germ warfare. Nixon and Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev soon sign the SALT I treaty and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover died in office after 48 years. Apollo 16 reached the Moon. Women compete in the Boston Marathon for the first time. Eastern Airlines debuts the Lockheed L-1011 – and as someone who once (well, twice, from Newark to Orlando and back) flew on an Eastern L-1011, I can tell you that it’s a lousy plane. The first home video game system, the Magnavox Odyssey, is released; within weeks, Atari is founded. Hurricane Agnes pounds the U.S. East Coast.

Four days after the Bruins’ Cup win, Governor George Wallace of Alabama, running for the Democratic nomination for President, is shot and paralyzed in an appearance at the Laurel Shopping Center in the Maryland suburbs of Washington; his assailant, Arthur Bremer, served 35 years in prison. Senator George McGovern of South Dakota got the nomination. A month after the Wallace shooting, the offices of the Democratic National Committee are broken into, bugged and burglarized; the name of the office/hotel/residence complex where the Democrats had their offices becomes synonymous with political corruption: Watergate. It didn’t matter yet, as McGovern was swamped by Nixon in November; in the 39 years since, McGovern has had too much class to publicly use the words, “I told you so.”

In the spring of 1972, M.C. Escher, and Adam Clayton Powell, and Gil Hodges died. Christopher “Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, and Jennifer “Mrs. Ben Affleck” Garner were born. So were Martin Brodeur, soccer legend Rivaldo, boxer Arturo “Thunder” Gatti, and baseball stars Andy Pettitte, Larry Wayne Jones Jr., a.k.a. Chipper; and 2004 World Champion * Boston Red Sox Manny Ramirez, Jason Varitek and Dave Roberts, who pulled off perhaps the most talked-about stolen base in baseball history, and without the aid of steroids (we think).

May 11, 1972. The Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup. They have not done so since. Is it about to happen again? And, if it does, will the sports fans of New England be more gracious in victory than they were when the Red Sox won their 2 (fairly) recent World Series, the Patriots their 3 Super Bowls, the Celtics the 2007 NBA title, and UConn its college basketball National Championships -- in at least some of these cases, by cheating? And if the Bruins win, will it be by cheating?

Or can the Bruins win it without cheating? Don't bet on it.

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