When we reach a certain age, it’s natural to take stock of where you are in life and how you got there.
For a hockey team like the St. Louis Blues, it’s no different; they’re in the midst of celebrating their 50th season as a National Hockey League franchise. And that’s where we come in.
We’ve been telling you all week (and for some of you, I’ve been blathering on about it for a lot longer) about the first installment of our little project, “50 Years of the Blues: Moments and Memories.” It is a loving look at the first half of the half-century of this town’s hockey team. And turning 50 is a big deal; it’s one of those mileposts of life to remember the important moments and the people of significance who have made a difference.
So why should you invest an hour of precious time into watching? Even if you’re not a hockey fan in general, or a Blues fan in particular?
Well, not to be overly dramatic but a sports franchise becomes a part of a city’s culture after 50 years. St. Louis is identifiable as the home of the Cardinals for many who might not know the difference between a pitcher’s mound and Cahokia Mounds. And it’s the same with the Blues-- the St. Louis Blues. The St. Louis Blues. As in W.C. Handy’s classic musical work. A composition that the team’s original owners knew would get people’s attention.
And yet, we found a sampling of the St. Louis population that didn’t like the name of their new team when the NHL awarded the franchise back in 1966. Thanks to longtime KSD/KSDK employees Bob Garger and Ray Hoffstetter for saving a classic piece of film, you’ll be able to see how some people thought the name was dull, even colorless. The Blues, colorless? But yes, that’s what was on the minds of people who stopped and talked to KSD-TV’s Bob Chase back in the day. And you’ll see that tonight.
You’ll also see how the team that has become so entrenched in the city’s landscape and history nearly died – twice. Once in its childhood and again in its teen years, the team barely survived; once thanks to a civic venture, and then again by a man who ran the gamut of description – from savior to carpetbagger, and a lot of things in between. You’ll see both rescue operations in the show.
Then, there are the events. You don’t reach a half-century of life without meaningful moments happening. In this case, there is reaching the cusp of hockey’s seasonal Holy Grail; not once or twice, but three times – in their first three years of life. There is the new Blue who scored the biggest goal of a season when he had played only a handful of games with the team, and walked unnoticed through an airport celebration sparked by that goal. There was the brawl to end all brawls, when the police got involved and arrests were made – but the case never made it to trial. There was the Cinderella season when a young team surprised everyone, threatened the established kingpin of the league, and then flamed out and quickly faded into mediocrity. There was the renegade period, hacking off the other teams and the NHL, and the punishment the league handed down to try and teach the “rogue” Blues a lesson.
It is said that a person becomes the sum total of the five people he or she spends the most time with. A franchise is formed by the influential people that leave their deep imprint. And there are many with the Blues that you’ll get to know a little better tonight. The man who turned the Baby Blues into the best of the first expansion teams – a man current Blues coach Ken Hitchcock feared and was intimidated by – as well as the man who chased him off, along with a whole lot more coaches. In fact, this man fired two of the three winningest coaches in league history and admitted to being impatient.
When you look up in the rafters at Scottrade Center and see the retired numbers of Blues’ greats of the past, one name might be unfamiliar but it’s a name worth knowing. He made an impact on the league at a young age, died all too soon, and set the franchise back several years with his death. He’s a man worth getting to know more about. As is his final coach with the Blues, a man so respected that even today men in their 60s still refer to him as “Mister”; this man also had a significant encounter in a restroom that kept the Blues in St. Louis.
You’ll also see another respected hockey man, a guy willing to take part in an April Fool’s Day joke at his own expense and one who can’t be quoted by anyone else without speaking in his distinctive way. You’ll get a glimpse into one of the true characters of the team – a man prone to violence and wound up in one of the remotest points in North America, a place where he said “I’m just here to die.” And then there is the premier storyteller of the franchise, a man who has been a part of the Blues for their entire history and will soon take a more prominent place atop Scottrade Center.
Speaking of stories, there is the goalie who prevented goals twice with each single save. Another goaltender who heroically kept a Blues team in a playoff series before going on to become a hero with another team after his hockey career ended. The “pretty boy” who became hockey’s Iron Man. The future Hall of Famer who thought he was working out his career-ending contract only to find out he was to be traded. The woman who tinkered with an iconic uniform. The “gift” given to the team that took away a popular coach. And then there is the greatest game in franchise history, a comeback for the ages; you probably know that story, but get ready to hear a couple of stories that resulted from that game, including the hero who went unrecognized by the network carrying the game.
It has been a pleasure to bring these stories back to life. Ten years of film and another 15 years of outdated videotape formats were combed through to support the many interviews that were done. Hours of conversations were happily logged and notated. Many more hours went into the editing process, piecing the individual stories together, and then several more hours were devoted to making the singular pieces into a seamless presentation. While feeling temporarily proud of the work that has resulted, there is also the realization that it’s going to be done all over again to bring the second hour-long program to life. And I can’t wait. And not too far down the pike, I hope you’ll come back to this website to read and see much (and I mean much) more on the history of this franchise.
When one undertakes a project like this one there are many people to thank. Sports Director Frank Cusumano gets a big shout out for steering me in the direction of the endeavor in the first place and for being this project’s biggest cheerleader; my sports colleagues Audrey Dahlgren and Larry Thornton get thanks for their patience as I pursued the excellence this became; Bill Bennett, the editor who turned a rough concept into a wonderfully finished product; Larry Johnson, Tom Stasiak, Rick Meyer, Don Galloway and Andy Sidwell for setting up nice interview shots and then patiently waiting for me to run out of questions; the many folks who thought they would be interviewed only to find themselves in long storytelling sessions – thank you for opening up and giving this show its “soul”; our fine technical folks who helped me transfer hours of material that I brought up from the basement; our fantastic assignment desk who had the foresight to make sure a trained professional was (mostly) recording the many interviews; the producers and managers who saw fit to promote the show; and to you for reading this far.
I truly hope you all enjoy this special. If you were going to watch already, I hope it exceeds expectations. If by chance I’ve intrigued you enough to get “the Blues” and watch, I hope you’ll decide it was an hour well-spent. And maybe – just maybe – some will now have the impetus to look back on their own lives and recognize the people and events that have given the experience on this rock some personal meaning.
And hopefully, like the St. Louis Blues, you’ll find a history worth celebrating.