Game One of a Celtics’ playoff series. Gosh, it brings back memories of the 80s, when I witnessed so many sports events that Boston from Loserville to City of Champions.
For those who are new to Boston or just visiting, here’s a handy, dishwasher-safe pocket guide to some “must see” landmarks in one of America’s great sports towns.
Lake Placid, New York. It was here that the United States pulled off one of the greatest upsets in sports history, defeating the heavily-favored Soviet Union team, 4-3, with a bunch of college players and amateurs. While this technically did not occur in Boston, or even in Massachusetts, I watched it happen at the Seven’s bar on Charles Street in Boston, where as a result of a rip in the space-time continuum, we knew that the US had won before the people in Lake Placid did! It was incredible! We were chanting “U-S-A . . . U-S-A” in the third period, when everybody at the rink seemed completely clueless that we’d already won!
South Main Street, Worcester, Mass. Again, not actually in Boston, more like fifty miles away as the crow flies, but who wants to fly with a dirty, possibly disease-bearing carrion bird? It was here that Carlton Fisk hit his historic home run in the bottom of the twelfth inning of game six of the 1975 World Series on the television in my apartment. A recent transplant to the East Coast from St. Louis Cardinal country, I was moved that night to develop a rooting interest in the Red Sox as my favorite American League team, a decision with consequences that reverberate to this day for my wife.
One Boston Place, Boston. It was here that the world, or at least the part of the world that I then occupied, first learned of the tragic death of young Len Bias from a cocaine overdose. A Boston Celtics season ticket holder at the firm where I worked came walking down the hall mumbling “Len Bias is dead” in a somber tone that suggested the President had been shot. The first-round pick that the Celtics used to select Bias–projected to be ”the next Michael Jordan”–was acquired in exchange for Gerald Henderson, a starting guard on the Celtics’ 1986 championship squad whose steal of a James Worthy pass in game two of the 1984 NBA Finals led to a Celtics victory in overtime.
The tragic death of Len Bias taught a lesson that one hopes will not soon be forgotten; never trade a starting guard for a draft choice.
Massachusetts Turnpike, eastbound, Framingham exit. It is here that David Henderson hit the home run on the radio of a Toyota Corolla against California Angels’ relief pitcher Donnie Moore in Game 5 of the 1986 American League Championship Series as my fiancee and I were returning from a getaway weekend at a Vermont bed-and-breakfast that did not have a single TV. With only one strike needed to clinch the Angels’ first-ever pennant, Henderson homered to tie the game, and in the 11th drove in what proved to be the winning run with a sacrifice fly off Moore. The teams returned to Boston where the Sox won two straight games to advance to the 1986 World Series.
Moore, who had long battled depression, was subsequently traded to the Kansas City Royals, which didn’t help. He ultimately committed suicide as California fans and the media never forgave or forgot that he “blew” game five. In Donnie’s memory, I recall this moment in baseball history for my wife whenever we pass this exit.
Nino’s Pizza, Cambridge Street, Boston. It is here that I once had a slice of pizza with a friend and noticed an autographed picture of Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito above the booth we were sitting in. This is my only link to the 1972 Boston Bruins, the team that won two Stanley Cups. Esposito was known for his gritty play in front of the net which often produced second-chance goals. He is the punch line to the most famous graffito in Boston sports history. “Jesus Saves” wrote an anonymous author with a religious turn of mind above a urinal; “Espo scores on the rebound!” a wag writes just underneath.
“Let’s go to Nino’s!”
Jordan’s Furniture, Natick, Mass. In the 1986 Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics faced a tough Milwaukee Bucks team led by Sidney Moncrieff. Celtics center Robert Parrish sprained his ankle as I’m shopping with my wife for a couch–and came back out after half-time to play hurt! They’ve got a TV with the game on–I can’t tear myself away as I watch Parrish gut it out in a demonstration that inspires his teammates to sweep the series. My wife asks me whether I prefer the bluish-green sofa that I’m sitting on, or one that’s covered with red chintz on the other side of the store. “This one’s fine,” I say as I settle in to watch the game. She has buyer’s remorse as soon as the thing is delivered, and blames me. Parish retires in 1997, outlasting the couch by several years.
Beacon Street, Boston. On November 23, 1984, my girlfriend and I are scheduled to have dinner at a fashionable restaurant with her smug sister–an investment banker whose bonus alone is five times what I make. It is the fourth quarter of the Boston College-Miami game, with Miami leading 45-41. “Della’s waiting in the car,” my girlfriend says.
“There’s only time for one more play,” I say. “Tell her to blow it out her panty hose.”
My girlfriend starts to get all teary-eyed. “You and your stupid sports!” she says. “All right,” I say and turn off the TV. Gerard Phelan catches Doug Flutie’s “Hail Mary” pass and BC wins, 47-41. Thankfully, I have since been able to see the replay a few times.
Suggestion: Next time, call the restaurant and tell them you’ll be a few minutes late, the ball is about to be snapped for the college freaking football play of the century.
Looney Tunes Records, Newbury Street, Boston. In 1987 I sell the only Michael Jackson album I ever owned–”Thriller”–at this used record store. Chuck Sullivan, son of New England Patriots’ owner Billy Sullivan, organizes the Jackson Family “Victory Tour,” which includes Michael, Jermaine, Tito, Randy, Marlon and Jackie Jackson–in fact, every Jackson since Andrew.
The tour is a financial disaster, leading to the sale of the Patriots to Victor Kiam, then to James Orthwein, who threatens to move the team to St. Louis. Instead, Robert Kraft purchases the team, and four Super Bowl victories are the improbable result of this “Butterfly Effect”–the notion popularized by mathematician and meteorologist Edward Lorenz that the flapping of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil can cause a tornado in Texas.
Hanscom Field, Bedford, Massachusetts. It is here that, on October 28, 2004, I was scheduled to board a flight for St. Louis to see Game 5 of the 2004 World Series, which ended on October 27, 2004. After four games.
Greenwich Village, New York. Again, while technically outside the 617 area code, it is here that Bucky Dent hit his historic home run off Mike Torrez on a television in my college roommate’s apartment, propelling the New York Yankees to victory in a one-game playoff to decide the 1978 American League Eastern Division champions. I was sitting between two Yankee fans. I suppose it could have been worse, but only if I had been there in person.
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “This Just In–From Gerbil Sports Network.”