Friday, January 24, 2014

When Did the Rangers Begin to "Suck"?

Islander fans said it first, and we Devils fans picked it up: "RANGERS SUCK!"

Of course, we added something they didn't: "FLYERS SWALLOW!"

But with the Rangers about to play first the Devils, and then the Islanders, at Yankee Stadium this coming week, the question should be asked: When, exactly, did the Rangers begin to "suck"?

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First, let's to define "to suck." It's not the same thing as "to stink," meaning to be horribly bad at the sport that the team or individual is playing. Yes, there have been times -- individual games, parts of a season, entire seasons, and even a few entire eras -- when the Rangers have stunk. But that's not the same thing as "sucking."

When I was a kid, "suck" was considered a dirty word. I didn't understand why. At one point, I thought it was short for "suck eggs." And I had no idea why sucking an egg was a bad idea. It took until I was a bit older to realize it actually meant "suck dick." (Hence, "Rangers suck, Flyers swallow.")

Today, with basketball player Jason Collins and soccer player Robbie Rogers, and several female athletes of note, competing as openly gay athletes, homophobia isn't just evil, it's ridiculous. It makes no sense.

But we've become so used to the term "sucks" that it has ceased to have the same meaning. It no longer means, "I hate you so much, that I imagine you giving oral sex to another man." It means, "I hate you so much, I don't need to qualify it with thoughts about your personal life."

So when Devils and Islanders fans say, "Rangers suck," it means nothing more than, "The Rangers are bad, because I hate them."

In that light, it sounds pretty stupid, doesn't it?

But if you actually do hate the Rangers, then, damn it, it feels so GOOD to say it! So we do -- even when the Devils (or the Islanders) aren't playing the Rangers. At least once every period at the Prudential Center, a fan high up in the upper deck starts to whistle, and the whole building yells, "RANGERS SUCK!" And a few, forgetting that there are women and children in the building, add, "Flyers swallow!"

A few years ago, the sound-effects guy at the Nassau Coliseum began playing "The Chicken Dance" during breaks in the action, and Isle fans worked "THE RANGERS SUCK!" into it.

And both sets of fans, hearing the arena organist play, "If You're Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands," adapted it for the Rangers: "If you know the Rangers suck, and they'll never win the Cup, if you know the Rangers suck, then clap your hands!"

Sound ridiculous? Well, Ranger fans have their own version. I'll get to that a little later.

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Who first said that the Rangers suck? Well, back in the "Original Six" days, 1942 to 1967, there were only, yes, 6 teams in the National Hockey League: The New York Rangers, the Boston Bruins, the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks, the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs.

The Bruins, being the closest team (212 miles between the Gardens from 1928 to 1968), would have been the Rangers' natural rivals. Except that Bruins fans don't seem to chant, "Rangers suck!" Being also Red Sox fans, they're much more likely to chant, "Yankees suck!"

When the New England Patriots won their first Super Bowl in February 2002, they had a parade through downtown Boston, ending at City Hall. Once there, Larry Izzo, a backup linebacker who would be totally forgotten now if it wasn't for this, held up the Vince Lombardi Trophy, pumped it, and yelled, "Yankees suck!" And however many people could fit into City Hall Plaza (I've been there, and I'm making a slightly educated guess of around 250,000) picked it up and chanted it.

Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe said, shortly thereafter, "I guarantee you, if the New York Giants win the Super Bowl, nobody's going to start a 'Boston sucks' chant."

When the Jets won their Super Bowl, it saved Joe Namath from having to find out the actual meaning of "guarantee": "(such-and-such occurrence) will happen, and if it doesn't, I will (make a specific type of amend for my wrong prediction)." Same with Mark Messier when he predicted the Rangers would win the 1994 Stanley Cup. But for all the times that Patrick Ewing guaranteed that the Knicks would win the NBA title, he was never held to it.

When the Giants beat, of all teams, the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII in February 2008, there was a parade up Broadway, ending at New York's City Hall, and, while it is the Jets, not the Giants, who are the Patriots' AFC East rivals, all those Giant fans, most of them Yankee Fans (Met fans, by and large, tend to root for the Jets because of the shared Queens/Long Island heritage), chanted, "Boston sucks!" As far as I know, Shaughnessy had no comment on that.

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The first hockey team in New York was the New York Americans, who debuted in 1925, to fill the gap in the NHL left by the folding of the Ontario-based Hamilton Tigers. They were awful on the ice, but drew a lot of fans to the newly-built third Madison Square Garden, on 8th Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets. (The first 2 Gardens were built off the northeastern corner of Madison Square, on Madison Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets -- the first in 1879, the second in 1891. The New York Life Building stands on the site now.)

The Garden, and the corporation that ran its business and events, was owned by George "Tex" Rickard, the nation's foremost boxing promoter. (One of his limited partners was wrestling promoter Jess McMahon, grandfather of WWE boss Vince McMahon.) Tex was so pleased by the profits from "the Amerks" that he applied to the NHL to have a second team at The Garden. Why not? New York had enough baseball fans for 3 teams, surely it had enough hockey fans for 2. He turned out to be wrong about that -- but in a way that benefited him.

The new team was quickly nicknamed "Tex's Rangers" by the media, and Tex went with it, outfitting them in the same colors as the Amerks: Red, white and blue. With Lester Patrick, one of the greatest defensemen of the previous era, as head coach and general manager, the Rangers were successful, every which way, from the start, making the Playoffs in their first season, 1926-27, and then winning the Stanley Cup in 1928, 1933 and 1940, and also reaching the Finals in 1929, 1932 and 1937.

Rickard lived to see the first Cup, but fell victim to appendicitis, and, in the days before antibiotics, died in 1929, just 58 years old. He had lived just long enough to see the first of what he planned on being 6 copies of The Garden built around the country. He called it the Boston Madison Square Garden -- which, of course, was soon shortened to just "the Boston Garden." (Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto, aside from being one of the Original Six teams' arenas, had no connection to Rickard.)

The Rangers weren't just talented, having future Hockey Hall-of-Famers like Frank Boucher, brothers Bill and Bun Cook, Babe Pratt and Ivan "Ching" Johnson (supposedly, he looked Chinese, but I don't see it) -- they were classy. Lady Byng, wife of Viscount Byng, the Governor-General of Canada (as Cup namesake Lord Stanley had been 30 years earlier) and that country's foremost military hero of World War I, donated a trophy to be awarded annually to "the most gentlemanly player" in the NHL, and Boucher won it 7 of the first 8 times it was awarded. She finally told him he could keep it, and donated a new trophy.

Okay, Johnson and Pratt -- a.k.a. "Pratt the Rat" -- could be among the roughest customers in the game, in a rough era. But, by and large, as would be said today, the Rangers played the right way. And they were rewarded, not just with wins, but with the adoration of local fans, who sometimes showed up at The Garden for 8:45 starts -- at the time, the same time that curtains went up at Broadway shows -- wearing formal dress. Yes, Ranger fans showed up wearing tuxedos and evening gowns. This was a LONG time ago.

As a result, Ranger fans were considered classy, and Amerks fans were considered to be blue-collar, even rough -- hockey's equivalent of the Brooklyn Dodgers. This was not helped by the fact that their owner, Bill Dwyer, was one of New York's biggest bootleggers in the Prohibition era (1920-33). This fact did not seem to bother NHL President Frank Calder. (The office wasn't called "Commissioner" until 1991.) The end of Prohibition ruined Dwyer, and he ended up losing control of the team to the league, who sold it to their coach and former star player, Mervyn "Red" Dutton.

The teams played each other in the Playoffs twice. The Rangers won 2 games to none in 1929, and in 1938, having acquired Ching Johnson, the Amerks stunned the Rangers 2 games to 1, winning the finale in overtime on a goal by Lorne Carr.

But that was it for them. They had reached the Semifinals, as far as they had ever gotten, and lost to the Chicago Black Hawks (it wouldn't be officially one word, "Blackhawks," until 1986), who went on to win the Cup. In 1942, hit by financial difficulty and the manpower shortage created by World War II, Dutton had to suspend operations, reducing the number of teams in the league from 7 to 6 -- hence, "Original" is incorrect, but "Six" is.

When the war ended, the franchise remained wrapped up, and Dutton supposedly placed a curse on the Rangers: They would never again win the Stanley Cup. Dutton died in 1987, at which point the Rangers hadn't won the Cup in 47 years, so, as far as he was concerned, mission accomplished.

The other source of the "Curse of 1940" theory is that The Garden's mortgage was paid off in early 1941, and, still having the Cup, Ranger management celebrated by burning the mortgage papers in the bowl of the Cup, thus "angering the hockey gods." There aren't actually any hockey gods, and there probably wasn't an actual curse, but the mortgage-burning story is absolutely true: I can't find the photograph on the Internet, but I have seen it.

The Rangers won the Cup in 1940 and finished 1st in the regular season in 1942, but The War (always Capital T, Capital W to anyone alive at the time) ruined them. From 1942-43 to 1965-66, 24 seasons, the Rangers made the Playoffs only 6 times, and the Finals only once, 1950, when they lost to the Detroit Red Wings in overtime of Game 7, on a goal by Pete Babando.

How bad were the Rangers in the Fifties and early Sixties? Goalie Lorne "Gump" Worsley was asked what team gave him the most trouble. Rather than said the Montreal Canadiens of Maurice Richard and Jean Beliveau, or the Detroit Red Wings of Gordie Howe, he said, "The Rangers." They traded him to Montreal in 1963, and he proved his point, winning 4 Cups with them -- and being so good that the Habs could afford to trade away 2 of his backups, Tony Esposito (Phil's brother) and Rogie Vachon, both of whom became Hall-of-Famers with other teams. So it wasn't Gump who was bad, it was the Rangers.

The Rangers stunk. But they didn't "suck." There was nothing inherently evil about them, or about their fans.

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The tide began to turn in the late Sixties, just as "the New Madison Square Garden Center" opened in 1968, on top of Penn Station, between 31st and 33rd Streets, and 7th and 8th Avenues. (What became known as "the old Garden" was demolished right afterward, and a parking lot was put on the site until construction began on Worldwide Plaza, a skyscraper which opened in 1989.) The Rangers rose back to contention largely thanks to goalie Eddie Giacomin, defenseman Brad Park, and the "GAG Line," which stood for "Goal A Game": Jean Ratelle centering Vic Hadfield and Rod Gilbert. (All are still alive; all but Hadfield are in the Hall of Fame, and Hadfield probably should be.)

This was a bit of a golden age for New York sports: Between 1968 and 1973, although the Yankees and Giants were mediocre at best, World Championships were won by the Mets, the Jets, and the Knicks twice, with the Mets winning an additional Pennant and the Knicks reaching an additional NBA Finals. The Rangers were a part of this, having a memorable series with the Black Hawks in 1971 (highlighted by Pete Stemkowski scoring a winner in triple overtime in Game 6, before losing in Chicago in Game 7) and reaching the Finals in 1972, before losing in 6 games to the Bruins of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito.

Still, Bruin fans didn't chant "Rangers suck," not even in the Boston Garden games of the series.

This was in the NHL's big era of expansion, and the next season, the New York Islanders debuted, at the Nassau Coliseum in Hempstead. (The mailing address is Uniondale, but it's within the town of Hempstead.) For 2 years, they were terrible, but in 1975, just their 3rd season, they beat the Rangers in the Playoffs.

This was a stunning blow, and it was a transition period in New York sports: The Yankees were playing in Shea Stadium while the original Yankee Stadium was being renovated, the Mets began to decline, the Giants played first at the Yale Bowl in Connecticut and then at Shea while waiting for Giants Stadium to be finished, the Jets fell apart as did Namath's knees, and the Knicks got old and fell apart while watching the Nets win 2 ABA titles.

The hockey shift was the most noticeable of all. The Islanders began a dominant stretch that would eventually see them reach 5 straight Finals, winning 4 straight Cups. But calendar year 1975 was the Rangers' annus horribilis. Ranger management, having already traded Hadfield, fired Emile Francis as head coach after the Playoff loss to the Isles, ending his tenure in that role after 11 years. He remained general manager a little longer, being relieved of duty the following January. But before that, he made a few deals, including one in June with the St. Louis Blues that brought in young goalie John Davidson. That left the veteran Gilles Villemure as the odd man out in the net, and he asked to be traded, and was, to Chicago on October 28.

Then came a pair of earthquakes. On Halloween, October 31, 1975 -- the day after the Daily News reacted to President Gerald Ford's refusal to bail out the financially-troubled city with its most famous headline, "FORD TO CITY: DROP DEAD" -- just 4 games into the new season, the Rangers waived the still-popular Giacomin, and he was picked up by the Red Wings.

As fate would have it, the Wings were the opponents in the Rangers' next home game, and on November 2, as the players lined up for the National Anthem, including Giacomin in a red Number 31 instead of his familiar white Number 1, the Ranger fans, showing that they knew more about hockey than their team's management, chanted, "Ed-die! Ed-die! Ed-die!" His former New York teammates rapped their sticks on the boards in the traditional hockey players' salute. The chant resurfaced a few times during the game, with every Ranger goal on Eddie booed, and the Rangers lost, 6-4. It was probably the only time Ranger fans ever left The Garden happy about a defeat.

Five days later, on November 7, the Broadway Blueshirts made what became known in hockey as The Trade: Sending Park, by then the team Captain, Ratelle, and defenseman Joe Zanussi for Esposito and defenseman Carol Vadnais. None of those players had wanted to be traded. Asked in 2008 how long it took him to get over his anger at the Rangers, Park said, "I'm still ticked!"

To make matters worse, Espo demanded the Number 7 he'd worn in Boston, but Gilbert, who'd wore it for the Rangers since 1962 (like Bobby Hull, he started his career wearing 16), didn't want to give it up. Gilbert was already (and, to this day, remains) the Rangers' all-time leading scorer, and it didn't matter if you were a 2-time Stanley Cup winner, holder (at the time) of the single-season records for goals, assists and points, and a national hero in your homeland: You do not ask a club icon to give up his uniform number. So Gilbert held firm, and the club backed him up, so Espo took Number 77. In the next few years, as age caught up with Gilbert and he retired, Espo would win the fans over, big-time. But he got off to a very rocky start, and, yes, part of it was his fault.

The Rangers missed the Playoffs in that 1975-76 season. They missed again in 1976-77, the year that the longtime shield logo was placed on the jerseys, instead of the diagonal "RANGERS" that had been so familiar since the team's founding.

Fans got restless. The top level, the 400 sections, of The Garden had blue seats, and in those cheapest of seats, the passion began to boil over. The seats were blue, the jerseys were blue (although, at this point, home teams wore white in the NHL), the air was blue (smoking was still allowed in sports arenas at the time), and the language was getting bluer than ever.

The Rangers made the Playoffs in 1978, and then in 1979, they regained their local icon status, including a thrilling Stanley Cup Semifinal win over the Islanders, delaying the Nassau County club's rise to the top for one more year.

Now, here is where Ranger fans' memories and the facts diverge. The Rangers had gotten a pair of Swedish forwards from the World Hockey Association's Winnipeg Jets: Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. The way Ranger fans remember it, during that epic '79 series, Islander defenseman and Captain Denis Potvin crashed Nilsson into the boards with a vicious illegal hit, and Nilsson never played again, causing the Rangers to lose the Stanley Cup Finals to the Montreal Canadiens.

The story isn't true, and they damn well know it. The incident happened in a regular-season game on February 25, 1979, a game the Rangers won 3-2. Nilsson chased the puck, and got his skate caught in the boards. Potvin did hit him, and it did break Nilsson's ankle. But no penalty was called on the play, because the hit was legal.

And Nilsson did return in time to play in the Finals against the Canadiens. The Canadiens won anyway, which should have surprised no one, as it was their 4th straight Cup, their 10th in a span of 15 years. The only surprising thing was that the Rangers won Game 1 at the Montreal Forum, before the Habs took the next 4 straight. Nilsson could have been fine all season long, and it wouldn't have meant a damn, because the late Seventies Habs may have been the greatest hockey team ever assembled, with 10 future Hall-of-Famers including Guy Lafleur and future Devils head coaches Jacques Lemaire and Larry Robinson. (Denis Brodeur, Marty's father, was the team photographer.)

The hit didn't end Nilsson's season, let alone his career: He played 2 more seasons, and part of a 3rd, before he hung up his skates. He is still alive, living in the Swedish capital of Stockholm, and bears no ill will toward Potvin, who would Captain the Isles to 4 Cups.

It doesn't matter: For 35 years -- meaning a big chunk of current Ranger fandom wasn't even born when this happened, though the color videotape of the incident survives to prove to them that the story they've been told is a bald-faced lie -- Ranger fans have chanted, "POTVIN SUCKS!"

Denis Potvin didn't suck. He didn't even stink. He is on the short list for the title of greatest hockey player in Tri-State Area history, right up there with Frank Boucher, Brian Leetch and Martin Brodeur. And... let's tell the truth here... according to the rules of the game, he did nothing wrong in the incident in question.

But the Rangers did make the Finals in 1979, rewarding their long-suffering fans, now 39 years without a Cup. And the Rangers, every bit as much as the Yankees were, as the Mets, Knicks and Jets (well, Namath) were a few years earlier, were the toast of the town. The ad agencies came out with endorsement ideas, making players like Esposito, Davidson, Ron Greschner and others TV stars beyond the tape-delayed games shown late at night on WOR-Channel 9, and the occasional weekend game shown on WNBC-Channel 4 as part of NBC Sportsworld.

Most of these endorsements were forgettable. One was not. It was for Sasson jeans. This was the era when "designer jeans" -- including Sasson, Jordache, Cacharel, and Calvin Klein with its ads featuring a still-minor Brooke Shields -- were popular, and were worn in the infamous discos such as New York's Studio 54.

Esposito, Hedberg, new Captain Dave Maloney, and Ron Duguay were shown skating around in Sasson jeans, with their jerseys tucked into the jeans. Their silly little dances didn't help. Nor did their hairstyles. Nor did their pronunciation of the brand name: You'd think Canadians, especially the French-Canadian Duguay, would have been able to pronounce "Sah-SAHN," not "Sah-SOON" like Vidal Sassoon hair products (which they may also have been using). It may have been the most ridiculous commercial in the history of sports. Duguay was a pretty good player, but the fact that his name was pronounced "DOO-gay" didn't help, and soon fans of every other team were pronouncing it "Doo-GAY."

When the Rangers got off to a bad start in the 1979-80 season, a new tradition was started. When the opposition would score, Ranger fans, to the tune of the ad's jingle, would point at the Rangers and sing, "Ooh, la la, you suck!" So, it seems, they understood the difference between poor performance (their own team) and hateability (Potvin).

But once the Islanders won the Cup on May 24, 1980, on Bobby Nystrom's overtime goal in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers, the brief Ranger resurgence was effectively over: There was only one team in the Tri-State Area, and it was the Uniondale club. So when the teams got together, either in Hempstead or in Manhattan, Ranger fans would chant, "Potvin sucks!" and Islander fans, invoking the Rangers' last title, would chant, "NINE-teen-FOR-ty!" (Clap, clap, clap-clap-clap!) They would also, instead of insulting a single player, insult the entire team: "Rangers suck!"

So perhaps we can settle on a date: November 22, 1980. It was the first time the Rangers and Islanders had played each other since the Isles won the Cup. It was at the Nassau Coliseum, and the Isles won 6-4. The "Rangers suck!" and "1940!" chants rang out, and there was nothing Ranger fans could say that could cancel that out -- try as they might with "Potvin sucks!"

Ranger fans got even more frustrated after that, turning into, along with Raider fans, the closest thing that North American sports had to the hooligans then doing their damnedest to ruin soccer in England. Today, the strip of asphalt between Penn Station and The Garden is reserved for delivery vehicles. But in the 1980s, it was a taxi stand. And it, more than Harlem, the Lower East Side, the South Bronx, or anywhere in Brooklyn, was probably the most dangerous place in New York City. It wasn't just because New York cabdrivers tend to be maniacs. It was because Ranger fans tend to be maniacs. It was especially dangerous after a Ranger-Islander game, as Isles fans tried to get back downstairs into Penn Station, to take the Long Island Rail Road home. Having had enough pregame and in-game time to get liquored up, the kind of police presence the Yankees need when the Red Sox come to town was needed pretty much anytime the Isles came to The Garden.

When the Devils arrived in the fall of 1982, a few Ranger fans living in the Garden State, sick of not being able to get tickets to the continuously-sold-out Garden, or sick of schlepping their way through the Lincoln Tunnel (or both), switched over, they decided that the Rangers -- who had never done enough for most of them anyway, unless said fans were well over 40 years old and could remember 1940 or earlier -- rather than the stronger Islanders, or the other "nearby" team, the Flyers, would be the big arch-rival, and adopted the "Rangers suck" and "1940" chants. The latter was helped by the fact that the seating capacity for hockey games at the Meadowlands' Brendan Byrne Arena was 19,040.

The Islanders beat the Rangers in the Playoffs in 1981, '82, '83, and, most memorably, in a best-3-out-of-5 overtime Game 5 classic in '84. Not until 1990 -- by which point Islander legends such as Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Billy Smith had retired or left -- would the City club win another Playoff series against the suburban one. But they still hadn't won the Cup, and the drought was now 50 years. Half a century. When Devils fans chanted, "1940!" Ranger fans could chant "Nineteen-never!" This was especially true after beating the Devils in the Playoffs in 1992. But they still couldn't say anything to Islander fans.

Until 1994. They had to beat both suburban teams to reach the Stanley Cup Finals, and did. Game 7 of the 1994 Eastern Conference Finals, which the Rangers won on Stephane Matteau's double-overtime goal, remains the most crushing defeat in Devils history -- one that losing to the Rangers in the Playoffs again in 1997 and 2008 didn't help; winning the Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003 didn't quite wipe out; and the Devils sweeping the Rangers in 2006 did little to alleviate. It wasn't until Adam Henrique's overtime winner in Game 6 of the 2012 Conference Finals, giving the Devils 5 trips to the Stanley Cup Finals since the Rangers last made it, that "Matteau! Matteau! Matteau!" was finally put to bed, and "Rangers suck!" had any real potency from the Jersey side of the Hudson River.

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But even finally winning the Cup after 54 years (beating the Vancouver Canucks in the Finals) did little to reduce Ranger fans' bastardry. Like Red Sox fans, when their 86-year drought finally ended in 2004, they actually got sorer as winners than they ever did as losers. The difference is, while the Sox have added 2 more titles, the Rangers have now gone nearly another 20 years without even reaching the Finals, while the Devils have been to 5, winning 3 -- as many Cups in 20 years as the Rangers have won in 85 years.

The fact that the Rangers still have more Cups in their 88-year history than the Devils have in their 32-year history -- 4 to 3 -- doesn't change the fact that all but a few of their fans have seen only one. When Howie Rose yelled, "The waiting is over! The New York Rangers have won the Stanley Cup! And this one will last a lifetime!" on June 14, 1994, no one realized it at the time, but -- thus far -- it has HAD to last a lifetime.

Or, to put it another way: Since the Rangers won the Cup on April 13, 1940, there have been 13 Presidents and 7 Popes. Network television, color TV, cable TV and high-definition TV all began. Nazi Germany, the Japanese Empire, the Soviet Union, fascist Spain, the segregated South and apartheid South Africa have all fallen. The Berlin Wall and the World Trade Center both went up, and both came down. Rock and roll and hip-hop have been invented. All 4 Beatles were born, came together, took the world by storm, rewrote the rules of popular music, and broke up, and 2 of them have died.

Since the Rangers won the Cup on April 13, 1940, man has gone from watching Flash Gordon serials to walking on the Moon to hardly traveling in space at all. Women have gone from a defense-plant necessity to back in the kitchen to liberation to seeing the consequences of that liberation -- many of them good, some of them not so good. Computers have, for all intents and purposes, been invented, and shrank from the size of a city block, to the length of a wall, to the size of a filing cabinet, to a desktop, to a laptop, to a device small enough to fit in your hand -- the one I wrote this post on is 15 by 10 by 2 inches, and my "computer with a phone app" is 5 by 2 1/2 by 1/2 inch.

Since the Rangers won the Cup on April 13, 1940, baseball has seen the introduction of African-American, Hispanic and Asian players, artificial turf, domed stadiums, the designated hitter, divisional play and interleague play. The Dodgers and Giants left for California, and the Mets arrived and played 52 seasons. The NFL has gone from a minor concern to our most popular sport. The NBA was founded. The AAFC, 2 AFLs, the ABA, the WHA, the WFL, the USFL and the XFL all came and went. All 4 major league sports have seen expansion from North to South and from East to West, with the NHL growing from 7 to 30 teams.

Since the Rangers won the Cup on April 13, 1940, Shea Stadium, Giants Stadium, the Spectrum and Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium, Mile High Stadium and McNichols Arena in Denver, County Stadium in Milwaukee, Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Metropolitan Stadium and the Metropolitan Sports Center outside Minneapolis, Exhibition Stadium in Toronto, Fulton County Stadium in Atlanta, the HemisFair Arena in San Antonio, Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Tampa Stadium, Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati, Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh, Arlington Stadium and Texas Stadium outside Dallas, the Reunion Arena in Dallas, Foxboro Stadium outside Boston, the Capital Centre outside Washington, the Richfield Coliseum outside Cleveland, the Market Square Arena and the Hoosier Dome in Indianapolis, the Kingdome in Seattle, the predecessor to the current Salt Palace in Salt Lake City (where the Jazz played their first 12 years in Utah), the Charlotte Coliseum, the Miami Arena and the Orlando Arena were all built, used, abandoned and demolished. Candlestick Park in San Francisco and the Astrodome in Houston will soon join them in the built-used-and-demolished category.

And in all that time, just under 74 years, nearly three-quarters of a century, the Rangers have won one Stanley Cup. One. The Montreal Canadiens have won 20 in that span, the Toronto Maple Leafs 10, the Detroit Red Wings 9, the Edmonton Oilers 5, the Islanders 4, the Boston Bruins 4, the New Jersey Devils 3, the Chicago Blackhawks 3, the Pittsburgh Penguins 3, the Philadelphia Flyers and Colorado Avalanche 2 each, and 1 each -- as many as the Rangers have in the last 74 years -- for the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars, Tampa Bay Lightning, Carolina Hurricanes, Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.

And, keep in mind, some of those teams didn't even exist in their present forms until: Philly, Pitt and L.A. until 1967; the Isles and Oilers until 1972 (and the WHA-originating Oilers didn't join the NHL until 1979); the Flames until 1980; the Devils until 1982; Tampa Bay until 1992; Dallas and Anaheim until 1993; Colorado until 1995; and Carolina until 1997.

And yet, some Ranger fans still brag to me about their "history." They brag about being an Original Six team.

Which would be fine for Detroit, Boston and Chicago, who've won Cups in the last few years. But the Rangers haven't won in 20 years, Montreal in 21, Toronto a whopping 47 -- and they haven't even been to the Finals since they won their last Cups. At least Montreal have 24 total, Toronto 13 -- the Rangers have 4.

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Ranger fans say we Devils fans are "jealous" of them. Jealous of what? Their history? It stinks, especially compared to ours. Their reputation? Along with Detroit, the Devils have been one of the NHL's model franchises these last 20 years, while everybody rooting for the other 29 teams knows the Rangers are a joke club. Their arena? Aside from history (the vast majority of which doesn't involve the Rangers) and access (being on top of subway and commuter rail lines helps), The Garden falls short of the Prudential Center in every way. Their fan base?

Here's what you need to know about the Ranger fan base: The last time I was inside The Garden for a hockey game, I had a great seat, back of the 200 Level, on an aisle. (The Rangers won -- but the story I'm telling is worth more to me than a Devils win would have been.) In front of me were these four drunks in Ranger jerseys. They gave me a hard time, but, knowing I was in enemy territory, I played it cool. I knew I couldn't beat four guys that big, who needed Ex-Lax because they just didn't give a shit. So there was no rough stuff between us.

Across the aisle from them was a couple, both wearing Ranger jerseys. The four drunks were getting really obnoxious, until finally, after 2 periods, she told them to knock it off. The leader (in groups like that, there's always a leader, leading them in obnoxiousness) got up, and pushed her.

Pushed a woman.

Who was obviously rooting for the same team that he was.

Showing rare intelligence for a Ranger fan, the husband called an usher. They told him what happened. The four drunks were kicked out of The World's Most Famous Arena.

Ranger fans: They "eat their own."

Bastards.

Is it any wonder that I have adopted the language of English soccer, and started calling the team "The Scum," and their fans "Scummers"?

On Sunday afternoon, the Devils and Rangers will play at Yankee Stadium.

I want this one. Real bad.

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