WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

I gotta right to sing the Blues ♪🏒🥅🏆

A ’68/’69 Blues puck my dad gave me

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.”

Heavy stuff.

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.

10 comments on “I gotta right to sing the Blues ♪🏒🥅🏆

  1. dancingblackbird
    June 16, 2019

    My family moved to St. Louis from our reservation in Kansas in 1962. In `68 the Blues started and were the first sports team my brother and I took an interest in. We use to go to the old arena when he was back in town and sit in the cheap seats up high. I have lived long enough to see the Cubs win World Series and Blues win a Stanley Cup. I live in the southwest now for many years and still listen to KMOX over internet. Johnny

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 16, 2019

      Thanks for commenting, Johnny. I’m sure you remember all the old names like Glen Hall, Al Arbour, the brothers Plager, and on and on. We used to shake that old building, didn’t we? 😆

      • dancingblackbird
        June 16, 2019

        It was an easy building to shake my friend. I got to shake the hand of many of the old players. they were quite accessible. We would wait out side for the bus to see them arrive for the game. They looked very different before helmets. I also remember going to the circus there with my sisters. We even drove to Chicago a few times to watch them play the Black Hawks. Thank you very much for the post and a little trip down memory lane. My brother had a Scotty Bowman autograph from an open practice session

  2. Audrey Driscoll
    June 16, 2019

    I was living in Saskatoon when there was a possibility of the city getting an NHL team. I must admit I’d forgotten that it might have been the Blues, but I certainly remember the excitement. Not surprising it didn’t work out ; Saskatoon is way too small a market. Good for them, winning the Stanley Cup for the first time. No Canadian team has managed that since 1993. We have to console ourselves with basketball instead.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 17, 2019

      Yeah, that was a scary time for Blues fans–mid-’80s I think. Some fella named Harry Ornest saved the day, though I believe the NHL rejected the sale anyway because Saskatoon wasn’t ready for prime time.

      Ironic that Toronto is now the NBA champ and St. Louis the NHL’s!

      BTW, it had been so long since I watched hockey that I had forgotten how bone-shattering physical it is! Those guys are gluttons for punishment. 😳

      • Audrey Driscoll
        June 17, 2019

        So are some of the fans — vicarious punishment. I doubt if Saskatoon will ever be NHL-ready. But I gather Seattle might get a team soon. Hopefully, the Vancouver Canucks will improve enough for a good rivalry to develop. (I don’t actually watch sports, but I like to keep track of Canada’s “national” sport).

  3. 1WriteWay
    June 17, 2019

    Neat story about how sports could bring a family but not keep it together. Sports is a great distraction, sometimes fooling people into thinking they have more in common than they really do.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 17, 2019

      Very true. I’ve known lots of families who relate strictly on a sports basis. You can keep a lot of grim stuff under the carpet that way I guess …

  4. cinthiaritchie
    June 17, 2019

    I love this post. I don’t follow hockey, though one season my son and I attended the Anchorage Ace games when Scotty Gomez was still playing. But I loved this post for what it said beneath the hockey references, what it said about your father and grandfather and their fractured relationships and how they didn’t know how to relate to one another, or to their own children either. I especially love this line, “It was a way for them to distract themselves from their sense of disappointment in each other.” Wow, that line tells an entire story. It’s almost chilling how telling it is. And I wonder how many men out there build relationships with other men around sports and sports teams, and how crucial these teams and relationships are to their lives, and the lives of their families, etc. Nice posts. P.S. The ending, where you are texting back and forth with your sister, was kind of beautiful, in a very simple way.

    • Kevin Brennan
      June 17, 2019

      Thanks, Cinthia. I’m so glad you caught that bit at the end with my sister. She’s 8 years younger than me, but we’re super-close, and it hasn’t had a thing to do with sports. 🤗

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