I was in fifth grade in 1970 when the St. Louis Blues were in the Stanley Cup finals.
The St. Louis Cardinals — football and baseball — were my hometown teams.
The Blues were the new team in town. Expansion team. A lot of aging, veteran players who were once NHL stars.
The old Arena near Interstate 40 and Hampton in southwest St. Louis seemed so far away. Another world. You couldn’t take the Redbird Express bus there. Seemed like the Blues were playing in the Ozarks, far from my narrow view of the world.
Hockey wasn’t played much by kids like me in midtown East St. Louis, except for a few pick-up games in the carport in our shoes with broom sticks and a Whiffle ball. A lot of checking and fake fights. The chubby kid played goalie. Always. I wanted to be Garry Unger. I was Glenn Hall.
I don’t remember Blues games being on TV. We had only four TV stations then – Channels 2, 4, 5 and 11. Channel 11 sports coverage was limited to Wrestling at the Chase. The Cardinals were on Channel 5 a couple of times each week. Always on Sundays.
Hockey games didn’t fit in our family budget. We went to a few games on free tickets. Fans got dressed up in their church clothes for hockey games. Men wore ties and hats. Women wore dresses. I wore my Sears Toughskin blue jeans and winter coat because it was cold in the old Arena.
I started getting hooked on hockey in the 1970s. Bob Gassoff fights were legendary. Coach Barclay Plager united The Kid Line — Bernie Federko, Brian Sutter and Wayne Babych. I was a Sutter fan. Tough. Feisty. Liked to mix it up on the boards.
Dan Kelly was to hockey what Jack Buck was to baseball.
In the 1980s, as a sports writer, I covered Blues home games for the Belleville News Democrat. After I left the newspaper, I covered hockey games as a stringer for the Associated Press in St. Louis a few seasons. I learned the game from other writers in the press box. I was there when Brett Hull came to town. The most professional interview was Rob Ramage. Ron Caron was a hoot. I interviewed Wayne Gretzky. Bernie Federko always had time for an interview.
What I remember most was that Dad went to many Blues games with me. He’d buy one ticket and wait in the hallway for me after games for an hour or more until I finished writing and filing stories. Dad was a Brett Hull fan. Liked to sit down low to watch the fights. He loved the Checkerdome hot dogs.
It’s not been easy being a longtime Blues fan. I’m always waiting for a Judge Houston to show up and void our success. Or Nick Kypreos to run into my Grant Fuhr. Or Mike Keenan to bench. Brett Hull and trade Curtis Joseph. Or Steve Yzerman to beat us with a slap shot in double overtime. You enjoy the good times. But always waiting for the rug to get pulled out from under you, right?
This playoff season, in between games, I’ve had a few moments to reflect on my affection for Blues hockey:
▪ The Blues’ simple blue note logo is as strong as any logo in sports, on any level, period.
▪ My mood swings alter by the score of the last Blues playoff game. Win and I’m singing “Gloria.” Lose and I’m contemplating a slip off the Eads Bridge.
▪ Hockey has gotten a lot better to watch on TV. Of course, the quality of our TVs has improved, too. It wasn’t as enjoyable to watch hockey on those little TVs with poor definition where you couldn’t tell the puck from a fly on the screen.
▪ National TV announcers don’t annoy me. I don’t expect a national announcer to be as supportive as local announcers who get paid by the Blues. But I’ve missed John Kelly, Darren Pang and Bernie Federko on TV telecasts. I’ve missed Kelley Chase on the radio, too, all year.
▪ Those inspirational videos by Kelly Chase and Brett Hull for the playoffs are awesome.
▪ I’m responsibly cheap. There was no way I’d spend $900 for a ticket. But I may have emptied my 401k account to attend a game with my late dad, though.
▪ I’m a loner when it comes to big sports events on TV. No Ballpark Village or Enterprise Center watch parties for me. I like my own chair, and my own TV, in my own porch room. I can text friends. Talk to my wife. Yell. Brood. Cheer. Food, drinks are cheap. Lines are short. No distractions.
▪ I’m hopelessly superstitious. Same chair. Same position. Same shirt. As long as the Blues keep winning, nothing’s changing. Lose, and it’s time for a new jersey or shirt.
▪ “Gloria” by the late Laura Branigan is an OK song. It makes no sense; that’s the beauty of it. But we could have done better song-wise.
1982 was a good year. The Cardinals won the World Series. I graduated from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Two underdogs. I’m sure no one was betting on either of us. Along with “Gloria,” other hit pop songs in 1982 included Freeze Frame (J.Geils Band), Somebody’s Baby (Jackson Browne), Edge of Seventeen (Stevie Nicks), 867-5309 (Tommy Tutone) and Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey. It may have been different playoffs had Journey been playing in that Philly bar rather than Laura Branigan.
▪ Part of my “new” attitude with Blues playoff hockey is that it’s “one game at a time.” Don’t look back; don’t look forward. And that’s hard to do as a Blues fan because I’m always looking back. I’m looking forward to our next game with high enthusiasm and optimism that it’s something to sing “Gloria” about again. After all, this season is about Coach Berube, O’Reilly, Schenn, Pietrangelo, Binnington, Tarasenko, Thomas, Sundqvist, Steen and Maroon and not about Judge Houston, Mike Keenan, Grant Fuhr or Steve Yzerman from the blueline.
In Game 6, we could win it all. I hope. I pray.