Wednesday, May 27, 2015

How Long It's Been: The Flyers and Warriors Were World Champions


May 27, 1975, 40 years ago today: The Philadelphia Flyers won the Stanley Cup. They beat the Buffalo Sabres 2-0 in Game 6 at the Buffalo Memorial Auditorium.

This was the 1st Finals that didn't have either the Montreal Canadiens or the Boston Bruins in it since 1964. It was also the 1st Finals that didn't have any of the "Original Six" teams -- Montreal, Boston, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the New York Rangers, the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings -- in it since the 1925-26 season, the season before the Rangers, Hawks and Wings began play.

This was the Finals best remembered for Game 3, the Fog Game. Not because Flyers coach Fred Shero was nicknamed Freddy the Fog, but because Buffalo, a city famed for cold and not used to heat, didn't have an air-conditioning system in "The Aud," which had been built in 1940 and was already obsolete. Seriously: There's atmosphere, and then there's too much atmosphere. And so fog developed on the ice: Players, the officials, and the puck were practically invisible. During stoppages in play, the grounds crew skated around the ice, carrying bedsheets, in an attempt to dissipate the fog. During others, the players just skated around in circles. Neither of these tactics worked for very long.

It could have been called the Bat Game. Just a few minutes before the fog started to form, a bat started flying low over the players. (Buffalo stood in for 1939 New York in the film version of The Natural, but it's never been confused for Batman's Gotham City!) Sabres center Jim Lorentz had finally had it with this mother-freakin' bat in that mother-freakin' arena, and slapped it with his stick. As far as has been recorded, this is the only time a player has ever killed an animal during an NHL game.

Some Buffalo fans, already used to bad luck, began to worry that this was an omen. But the game went to overtime, and Rene Robert -- along with Gilbert Perrault and Rick Martin, part of the Sabres' French Connection Line -- scored the game-winner.

That brought the Sabres to within 2 games to 1, and they tied the series. But the Flyers took the last 2 to win the Cup. Goaltender Bernie Parent was the big hero, allowing just 12 goals in 6 games, including a shutout in the clincher. He became the 1st player to win the Conn Smythe Trophy (Most Valuable Player of the Playoffs, an award established in 1965) in back-to-back years; only Mario Lemieux has done it since.

In addition to Parent (Number 1), Captain Bobby Clarke (16) and Bill Barber (7) got their uniform numbers retired and were elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. Also elected were Coach Shero, general manager Keith Allen, and owner Ed Snider. (Barry Ashbee, injured the previous year but still got his name on the Cup, was an assistant coach on this team, and his Number 4 was retired after his early death.) Other interesting figures included the defenseman brothers Joe and Jimmy Watson, former Toronto Cup-winner Ted Harris, vicious defenders Ed Van Impe and Andre "Moose" Dupont, the even more vicious Dave "The Hammer" Schultz, 1974 Cup-clinching goalscorer Rick MacLeish, 1975 Cup-clinching goalscorer Bob "Hound" Kelly, future 1989 Calgary Flames Cup-winning had coach Terry Crisp, and future broadcasters GaryDornhoefer and Bill Clement.

The Flyers haven't won the Cup since. Even the ancient Israelites, also guilty of many sins, got out of the wilderness after 40 years.

It's not that the Flyers haven't had good teams. Frequently, they've been very good. The Flyers reached the Stanley Cup Finals in 1976 (got swept by the Montreal Canadiens), 1980 (lost to the New York Islanders, partly thanks to referee Leon Stickle if you ask Philly fans), 1985 (lost to the Edmonton Oilers), 1987 (lost to the Oilers again), 1997 (got swept by the Detroit Red Wings) and 2010 (lost to the Chicago Blackhawks). Infamously, they lost Eastern Conference Finals to the New Jersey Devils in 1995 (Claude Lemieux vs. Ron Hextall) and 2000 (Scott Stevens vs. Eric Lindros). But they've never won the Cup again.

Why not? Look no further than Parent. In 1979, Parent took a shot to the eye. His mask wasn't like the helmets of today: He sustained an eye injury, and never played again. The Flyers have never had another great goalie. Pete Peeters petered out, Pelle Lindbergh drank and drove and crashed into a South Jersey school and died, Ron Hextall was Ron Hextall, John Vanbiesbrouck was over the hill, Garth Snow melted, Brian Boucher wasn't good enough, Roman Cechmanek's empire fell, and so on, and so on, and so on.

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Two days earlier, May 25, 1975, 40 years ago: The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship. Picked by many to get swept by the Washington Bullets, the Warriors instead pulled the sweep themselves, winning Game 4 96-95 at the Bullets' arena, the Capital Centre in Landover, Maryland, just outside Washington's Capital Beltway.



The Warriors were coached by Al Attles, who played on their NBA Finals teams of 1964 and 1967, and before that was with them when they moved from Philadelphia in 1962. Their biggest star was Rick Barry, the free-throw shooting savant. Both were from New Jersey: Attles from Newark and its Weequahic High School, Barry from Roselle Park. Until Newark native Shaquille O'Neal came along, they were arguably the 2 greatest players the Garden State had ever produced.

Attles' 16 and Barry's 24 are both retired by the Warriors. Keith Wilkes wore 41 and played for this team. As Jamaal Wilkes, he would later star for the Los Angeles Lakers, and they would retire 52 for him.

The winning margin was supplied by free throws hit by Butch Beard, who coached the New Jersey Nets for a (horrendous) time.)

It was the 1st time in the history of major league sports that both finalists' managers/head coaches were black, as the Bullets were coached by Boston Celtics legend K.C. Jones. He couldn't win them a title, but he won them with the Celtics in 1984 and 1986. The Bullets would have to wait until 1978 to win their title. (The Baltimore Bullets won the title in 1948, but went bust in 1954. The new Baltimore Bullets started play in 1963, moved to the Washington area in 1973, and became the Washington Wizards upon moving inside the District, to the arena now named the Verizon Center, in 1997.)

Today, the Warriors are 1 win away from their 1st Western Conference Championship, their 1st trip to the NBA Finals, since then. Maybe we should start calling Steph Curry "Moses."

It's been so long since the Warriors won the NBA title, or even reached the NBA Finals, that the last time they did, people couldn't say, "Warriors! Come out and play-ay!" The film The Warriors, from whence that line comes, wasn't released until 1979. (It had nothing to do with basketball, although there was a gang calling themselves the Baseball Furies, wearing baseball uniforms and KISS-style makeup -- or perhaps David Bowie-style makeup.)

Brace yourself: Bandwagon fans are coming. Maybe not on a Miami Heat-with-LeBron James level, but certainly on a Chicago Blackhawks level.

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Forty years since the Philadelphia Flyers, Philly's hockey team, and the Golden State Warriors, Philly's former basketball team, went all the way. How long has that been?

It was a bad time for New York sports, except for the 2 teams then calling the Nassau Coliseum home. Although the New York Nets won ABA titles in 1974 and 1976, this was the season in between. The Islanders, in their 3rd season of existence, shocked the Rangers in the Playoffs, and then came from 3-games-to-none down to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins, and then almost did the same to the defending champion Flyers, before "Shero's Heroes" won Game 7.

The Rangers then went into the next season, and blew it all up, firing longtime boss Emile Francis first as head coach, then as general manager. They traded popular goalie Eddie Giacomin to the Wings, which became a public relations nightmare when their next home game was against the Wings. Then they traded club legends Jean Ratelle and Brad Park for Bruins superstar Phil Esposito, a move which worked out okay for the Rangers, but better for the Beantown Brats.

None of the others did much. Because of the renovation of the original Yankee Stadium, Shea Stadium played host to a record 4 major league sports teams in 1 calendar year: The usual Mets and Jets, and the tenant Yankees and Giants. Although the Yankees were still in the American League Eastern Division race by Labor Day, they couldn't sustain it, and none of the others came even that close in their leagues. The Knicks were in their 1st season after the retirements of Willis Reed, Dave DeBusschere and Jerry Lucas, and, left with Walt Frazier, Bill Bradley and Earl Monroe, couldn't hold it together. The Devils, of course, did not exist: The franchise was in its 1st season, 1974-75, and was the Kansas City Scouts.

There were 18 teams in the NBA. In addition to the Bullets now being the Wizards: The Buffalo Braves became the San Diego Clippers in 1978 and the Los Angeles Clippers in 1984; the expansion New Orleans Jazz became the Utah Jazz in 1979; the Kansas City Kings became the Sacramento Kings in 1985; and the Seattle SuperSonics became the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2008.

The ABA title was won by the Louisville-based Kentucky Colonels, but when the league folded the next year, the Colonels were not 1 of the 4 teams absorbed into the NBA: The New York Nets (who became the New Jersey Nets in 1977 and the Brooklyn Nets in 2012), the Indiana Pacers, the San Antonio Spurs and the Denver Nuggets.

There were 18 teams in the NHL, including the expansion Scouts and Washington Capitals. The Scouts became the Colorado Rockies in 1976 and the Devils in 1982. The Atlanta Flames became the Calgary Flames in 1980. The Oakland-based California Golden Seals became the Cleveland Barons in 1976. They and the Minnesota North Stars were the most financially-strapped teams in the NHL, and they were merged in 1978, keeping the North Stars name, making the Barons, named for one of the most successful minor-league teams, the last team in North American major league sports to, essentially, go out of business. The North Stars became the Dallas Stars in 1993.

There were 14 teams in the WHA, including the Houston Aeros, with Gordie Howe and his sons Mark and Marty, winning their 2nd straight title. But when 4 WHA teams were absorbed into the NHL in 1979, the Aeros were not among them. Probably because the Howes had gone to the New England Whalers, who became the Hartford Whalers upon joining the NHL, and the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997. The Quebec Nordiques became the Colorado Avalanche in 1995. The Winnipeg Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes in 1996, and the Arizona Coyotes in 2014. The only WHA team still competing in their original city is the Edmonton Oilers (although not their original name, as, in the 1st WHA season, 1972-73, they were the Alberta Oilers, fooling no one in Calgary into supporting them).

There were 24 teams in MLB, and 26 teams in the NFL. There were 28 combined teams in basketball, and 32 combined teams in hockey. So that's a total of 110 teams -- 94 of which still exist. Of those 94 teams, only 17 are playing in the same buildings they were using in May 1975. This takes into account the Islanders, who've now played their final competitive game in the Nassau Coliseum in Hempstead, and will be moving into the Barclays Center in Brooklyn in October.

The Warriors and the Knicks are the only ones in the NBA, and the Rangers and Oilers are the only ones in the NHL. While the Knicks' and Rangers' efforts to build a replacement for "the new Madison Square Garden" are currently stalled, the Warriors are planning on replacing the Oracle Arena (formerly the Oakland Coliseum Arena) with a new arena in San Francisco, a few blocks down the waterfront from the Giants' AT&T Park. And the Oilers are building a new arena to replace Rexall Place, formerly named the Northlands Coliseum.

There are 6 MLB teams currently using pre-1975 ballparks: The Boston Red Sox, the Chicago Cubs, the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Athletics, and both Los Angeles-area teams, the Dodgers and the Angels.

The 5 NFL teams currently using pre-1975 stadiums are the Green Bay Packers, Kansas City Chiefs, Buffalo Bills, Oakland Raiders and San Diego Chargers. The latter 3 seem committed to building new stadiums, and the latter 2 are threatening to move to Los Angeles (or, rather, back to L.A.) if they don't get them. (The Chicago Bears claim Soldier Field was built in 1924, but the original was totally demolished except for those colonnades on each side, which, unlike at the original, you can no longer see from inside the stadium opened on the site in 2003.)

Although the San Francisco Giants, San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks are all in new or relatively new buildings, the 3 teams based in Oakland are still using the same buildings they were using in 1975, or even 1968. (This despite the Raiders having moved to L.A. in 1982 and returned in 1995.) True, both buildings have been significantly altered. But the fact that the A's and Raiders can't get replacements for the aging Coliseum, and that it took the Dubs until recently to get a new arena deal, shows that Oakland is not only messed-up, but screwed. It is entirely possible that, despite the Coliseum complex's 50th Anniversary coming up next year, by 2020 Oakland may have no major league teams at all.

NBA legends Wilt Chamberlain, Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and, as previously mentioned, Reed, DeBusschere and Lucas had all just retired after the previous season. A few of the old NHL stars were still playing in the WHA: Howe, Bobby Hull, Jacques Plante, Dave Keon. Henri Richard retired as the grand old man of hockey, winning a record 11 Stanley Cups in his 20 seasons.

Current Warriors head coach Steve Kerr was 9 years old. Current Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol was 6. Of the New York Tri-State Area managers and head coaches: Tom Coughlin of the Giants was 28 and the quarterbacks coach at Syracuse University, Terry Collins of the Mets was celebrating his 26th birthday (meaning he turns 66 today) and in the Pittsburgh Pirates' minor-league system, Lionel Hollins was 21 and was just drafted out of Arizona State by the Portland Trail Blazers, Alain Vingeault of the Rangers was 14, Todd Bowles of the Jets and Scott Stevens of the Devils were 11, Joe Girardi of the Yankees was 10, Jack Capuano of the Islanders was 8, Derek Fisher was 9 months old.

The Warriors dethroned the Celtics as NBA Champs, and the Flyers had made it back-to-back Cups -- a feat last achieved by an American team in 1954-55 by the Wings. The Pittsburgh Steelers had recently won their 1st Super Bowl. The defending World Series winners were the A's, making this the middle of a great period for Oakland sports (if you ignore the pathetic Seals), as the A's won the Series in 1972, '73 and '74, while the Warriors won the NBA in 1975, and the Raiders won the Super Bowl for the 1976-77 season. "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee," the Heavyweight Champion of the World was Muhammad Ali.

The President of the United States was Gerald Ford. Former President Richard Nixon, his wife, and the widows of Presidents Lyndon Johnson, John F. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Harry Truman were still alive. Jimmy Carter had just left the Governorship of Georgia, and announced his campaign for President. Ronald Reagan had done the same after leaving the Governorship of California. George Bush the father was Chief of the U.S. Liaison Office to the People's Republic of China -- America didn't officially have diplomatic relations with them at the time -- while George Bush the son was failing in the energy business. Bill Clinton was teaching law at the University of Arkansas, while Hillary Clinton was practicing law in Little Rock. Barack Obama was in junior high school in Hawaii.

The Governor of New York was Malcolm Wilson, longtime Lieutenant Governor under Nelson Rockefeller, who'd resigned the office to become Ford's Vice President. The Mayor of New York was Abe Beame. The Governor of New Jersey was Brendan Byrne.

In the cities of the World Champions, the Mayor of Philadelphia was Frank Rizzo, whose hamfisted tactics and steadfast standing with his former fellow cops made him "the original Rudy Giuliani" (and also a fascist bastard who does not deserve that statue outside City Hall); and the Mayor of Oakland was John H. Reading, Mayor for all the city's titles in the Seventies.

In the States of the World Champions, the Governor of Pennsylvania was Milton Shapp, while Edmund G. Brown Jr., a.k.a. Jerry Brown, had recently succeeded Reagan as Governor of California. Reagan had gained the office by beating Jerry's father, Edmund G. Brown Sr., a.k.a. Pat Brown. In 1975, Jerry Brown was America's youngest and strangest Governor. After some time out of politics, he rebuilt his career, won the Governorship again in 2010, and is now America's oldest and, arguably, most successful Governor.

The Prime Minister of Canada was Pierre Trudeau. The monarch of Great Britain was Queen Elizabeth II -- that hasn't changed -- and the Prime Minister was Harold Wilson. East Midlands soccer team Derby County, for the 2nd time in 4 seasons, had shocked the nation by winning England's Football League, while East London club West Ham United had just won the FA Cup.

Major novels of 1975 included Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow, Shogun by James Clavell, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, Looking for Mr. Goodbar by Judith Rossner, and Black Sunday by Thomas Harris -- about a terrorist attack on the Super Bowl. It was Harris' 1st novel, and every novel he has published since has featured the serial-killing psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter.

Major films in theaters at the time of the Warriors' and Flyers titles included Escape to Witch Mountain, Death Race 2000, The Prisoner of Second Avenue, The Eiger Sanction, The Happy Hooker, The Other Side of the Mountain, The French Connection II, The Return of the Pink Panther, The Strongest Man In the World, The Wind and the Lion, a film version of The Who's rock opera Tommy, and 2 of the more surreal motion pictures in a surreal era for them: The Rocky Horror Picture Show and Monty Pyton and the Holy Grail.

The final episodes of Gunsmoke, Ironside, Mannix, Adam-12, and the original versions of The Odd Couple and Kung Fu had recently aired on television. The writers of M*A*S*H responded to McLean Stevenson's desire to leave the show by cruelly killing off his character, the Army unit's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Henry Blake, M.D. It was the first time a TV show had done this to a major character, aside from having to do so due to the death of the actual actor.

TV was escapism: We watched it to get away from the awful things of real life, even with a war-based show like M*A*S*H. On TV, things might look bad for 25 or 55 minutes, but, barring those dreaded words "To Be Continued... ", at the end of the half-hour or the hour, you knew that things were going to be okay. The death of Henry Blake meant that this could never be taken for granted again. Within a year, James Evans Sr. would be killed off on Good Times. Four years after that, J.R. Ewing would be shot on Dallas, inventing the TV end-of-season cliffhanger. After this came everything from the Moldavian wedding massacre on Dynasty to the assassination of Kate Todd on NCIS; from the various gut-wrenching Castle cliffhangers to anything that happens on Game of Thrones.

On the day of the Flyers' Cup win, Paul McCartney released the Wings album Venus and Mars. John Lennon had recently been a guest on Tom Snyder's Tomorrow Show; it would turn out to be his last televised interview. Elton John released Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, which became the 1st album ever to debut at Number 1 on Billboard magazine's album chart. Elvis Presley had just turned 40, and released Today, an album of, ironically, mostly cover versions. The Jackson 5, including 16-year-old Michael, had just released the album Moving Violation, including the hit single "Dancin' Machine." Ritchie Blackmore quit Deep Purple to form Rainbow. Pete Ham of Badfinger killed himself by hanging. Ron Wood officially debuted with the Rolling Stones; by 1992, he had been their rhythm guitarist longer than Brian Jones and Mick Taylor combined. Stevie Wonder performed before 125,000 people in the Human Kindness Day concert at the Washington Monument. Frank Sinatra was touring with a big band led by old friend Woody Herman.

Mobile telephones existed, mainly in cars. Handheld phones were being made, but were big and bulky, and hardly anyone had ever seen one. Personal computers were debuting. Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and Tim Berners-Lee all turned 20 in 1975. Jobs had just founded Apple with Steve Wozniak. Gates and Paul Allen had just founded Mircosoft. Berners-Lee was at Oxford University.

The current holders of the Nobel Peace Prize were Seán MacBride, President of the International Peace Bureau; and Eisaku Satō, Prime Minister of Japan.

In the spring of 1975, American troops left Vietnam for the last time. Communist troops took over there, and in Cambodia. The U.S. did manage to rescue the S.S. Mayaguez from Cambodia's Khmer Rouge, but lost more people in the rescue than it rescued. The Red Army Faction terrorists took hostages in Sweden, leading to the term "Stockholm Syndrome." Junko Tabei became the 1st woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest. A bus crashed in Grassington, North Yorkshire, England, killing 32 people, the worst automotive disaster in British history. The Busch Gardens theme park "The Old Country" opened in Williamsburg, Virginia.

Chiang Kai-shek, and Moe Howard, the last surviving member of the Three Stooges, and William Hartnell, the first Doctor Who, died. So did baseball legend Lefty Grove. Within days, track star Steve Prefontaine would be killed. Christina Hendricks, and Ray Lewis, and David Beckham were born. On the very day the Warriors won the title, Lauryn Hill was born; on the day the Flyers won, Andre 3000 and Jamie Oliver.

May 25 and 27, 1975. The Golden State Warriors and the Philadelphia Flyers won their respective sports' World Championships. Neither has happened in the 40 years since.

The Flyers don't look like they'll end their drought after 41 years, either. Can the Warriors end it at 40? While I was typing this, they eliminated the Houston Rockets to win the Western Conference Championship, and advanced to the NBA Finals to play the Cleveland Cavaliers. They are currently 4 wins away from winning the title.

Of course, the Cavs have played for 45 seasons, and have never won the title -- indeed, they've never won an NBA Finals game, getting swept by the Spurs in their only appearance, in 2007. But LeBron James is back with them.

It's Cavs vs. Dubs. Stay tuned.

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