Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like
If you’re a typical American, you probably didn’t notice that the St. Louis Blues won the Stanley Cup last Wednesday night. They beat the Boston Bruins, one of the original six NHL teams, and also the team they faced when they were last in the finals, way back in 1970.
I had just turned thirteen when that series started on May 3. There were only four games. The Blues lost all of them. In fact, the Blues had been in the finals for each of the two years before that, 1968 and 1969, and they got swept by the Montreal Canadiens in both. This was kind of a setup because the way the league had organized its expansion, a new team with a roster of fading older players and super-young inexperienced ones would face one of the established teams in the finals. Whatever expansion team made it was to have been crushed.
But since it’s father’s day, I’m thinking of three people who would have died to see the Blues finally win the cup after fifty-two years. My own father, his father, and my brother Joe. They all loved the Blues through thick and thin, and—in a strange coincidence—they’re all long dead already.
Joe wasn’t a father himself, but he made me sometimes feel like I was his father. I’ve written about him before. As for my dad and his dad, I think the Blues, when they came along for the ’67-’68 season, might have been a bonding factor for the two men. They went to a lot of games together, and no doubt drank a lot of beer in that old cow shed of a building, the St. Louis Arena (now demolished). It was a way for them to distract themselves from their sense of disappointment in each other.
Ironically, my dad moved his own family to Virginia in the summer of ’68, so that was the only hockey season he and his father would have together. Because when we moved back to St. Louis the following year, Dad had decided to leave the family and seek his fortune in California. His dad never got over it. Emotionally disowned him to a great extent. Of course, his own griefs and shortcomings made it hard for him to show us how he really felt, but Dad told me later how his father had told him on his deathbed, “You’re no son of mine.”
About ten year after Grandpa Brennan died—Charlie was his name—Dad made a swoop through town to attend a hockey game with his three sons. Blues vs. Maple Leafs. Dad and I were to meet my brothers there, so it turned out that the first time Steve and Joe had seen Dad since Charlie died was when they ran into him in the bathroom just before face-off. They hardly recognized each other.
But the game did what it was supposed to do. We all got into it. We yelled ourselves hoarse. We drank a decent volume of Budweiser. And for some good time we were satisfyingly distracted from our disappointments.
Later in that visit, Dad paid little attention to my sister, Judy, the baby of the family he hardly knew, and showed visible discomfort with his grandkids, Steve’s kids, broadcasting that he would be having nothing to do with them as the years went on.
Meanwhile, the Blues played season after season without getting into the finals. They made the playoffs in all but nine of their fifty-two seasons, always eliminated before hometown fans could get too worked up. They almost left town one year, a buyer in far-flung Saskatoon ready to make the deal. A St. Louis businessman came in and saved the day, so that at least it would remain hypothetically possible that the iceman might one day cometh to St. Louis.
It’s pretty tempting to wonder what might have happened if the Blues had won the cup in the ‘80s or the ‘90s. I have a feeling it might have been a slow-drying glue that could have made a seal that lasted. Joe’s and Dad’s relationship was almost exclusively talking hockey. My own years with Dad focused heavily on the Blues’ highs and lows, roster changes, close calls, and failures. We went to a game once in San Jose, though I can’t remember if the Blues won or lost that night.
I spent Game 7 of the 2019 finals texting back and forth with Judy, thumb-typing again and again, GOAAAALLLLL!!!
All of this is just to make the point that sports championships, as trivial as they can seem, send out wide ripples, over the whole country, across generations, and you never know what it means to someone when a perennial loser finally brings home the trophy.