Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Like it Happened Yesterday

Over the weekend, I came across a file labeled "November 5th, 1980" safely tucked away in a storage box. When I opened up the folder, there were only a couple of items contained within, but a far greater amount of memories were also included.

Taking up most of the room in the folder was a hockey program - GOAL The National Hockey League Magazine. Upon seeing the cover with Tom Lysiak's picture front and centre, I instantly recalled that date, now 34 years in the rearview mirror, and the events of a week spent in the great city of Chicago, Illinois.




I was in Chicago attending a business conference that ran from Monday to Friday. Usually when I went out of town, I tried to arrive at my destination several days in advance of work related assignments. This gave me time to do the tourist thing and proceed at my own pace. However, this couldn't be done on the trip to the Windy City.

Looking back over that week, three things stand out in my memory bank.

During the day, there was little time for anything but the conference. The only break came at lunch and even then, there was no escape. A catering company handled the task of feeding everyone in the allotted one-hour period, thus ensuring we could get back to the grind on time. Luckily for me, a portion of the agenda dealt with information relevant only to U.S. matters. Being the lone Canadian in the room, all agreed I could be excused for the afternoon session.

This time off provided me with the opportunity to get out and do some sightseeing. Since I hadn't planned any activities in this regard, I decided to buy a map and hit the pavement. For the most part, my walking tour was restricted to the downtown core. After covering some distance, I decided to take a break and enjoy a cool beverage, then continue my journey. About 20-minutes back into my travels, I discovered my map wasn't in my pocket. I either left it behind in the watering hole or it fell fell to the ground from my jacket.

Following several rights and lefts, I came to the conclusion that I was lost. Whatever sense of direction I had disappeared. The surrounding landmarks didn't register with me, and attempts to find a cab seemed harder than locating union boss Jimmy Hoffa. The situation went from bad to worse when I drew a blank on the name of my hotel.

I felt like Johnny Bower facing Bobby Hull on a breakaway with The Golden Jet deciding to shoot instead of going for the deke.

Eventually, I regained my bearings and made it back to familiar territory. A cabbie was more than willing to help a lost visitor if it meant avoiding a potential call for a pick-up on the south side of Chicago. In a way, we were both helping each other. Needless to say, I didn't mention my adventure to anyone else. It was bad enough being told how many times I used the word "eh" in a conversation.

The second memory of that trip was less painful to recall. As timing would have it, I was south of the border during the 1980 Presidential election. The race for the White House involved incumbent Democratic President, Jimmy Carter, hoping to keep his keys and Republican hopeful, Ronald Reagan, eager to change the locks.

There was a lot of chatter at and away from the conference on what a Reagan presidency would mean for the Country. I remember sitting in a bar with a group of colleagues and more than one expressed the view that Reagan would waste no time going to war in the Middle East. Jimmy Carter's inability to free the Iranian hostages left many with the opinion Reagan would go all out to resolve the situation.





On election night, I hung around the hotel to soak up the atmosphere. And there was plenty of that to go around. The ballroom was party central for Alan J. Dixon, who won the Illinois Senate seat for the Democrats. In a time when security wasn't a major priority, I encountered no interference walking in and out of the ballroom.

During the festivities, a radio reporter from St. Louis approached me and asked if I would answer some questions. I told her I was visiting from Canada and in all likelihood wouldn't have much to contribute. Taking this into account, she crafted her questions to get the view of how the American political system looked to someone from a foreign land.

Overall, it was a thrilling night and an experience I fondly remember when watching the American elections on television. But the best was still to come.

The next night, Wednesday November 5, 1980, I wanted to top the feeling of the previous evening. For this to happen, the dice would have to fall in my favour. First, there had to be a Chicago Blackhawks game at home and a ticket available for purchase at the box office.

Early on Wednesday morning, I purchased a newspaper, which revealed that the Hawks were scheduled to play a home game that evening against the New York Rangers. The fact these were two Original Six teams was an added bonus.  The stars were truly aligned when I walked into Chicago Stadium and didn't depart disappointed.

Living in Toronto, I couldn't imagine the process being as easy as it was in Chicago. There were no line-ups at the ticket window and more importantly, a ticket could be bought on the spot. To come home and repeat this at Maple Leaf Gardens would be next to impossible. The demand for tickets was overwhelming with a waiting list growing by the second. In Chicago, hockey fans didn't have these problems.



After picking my jaw off the floor, I made my way through Chicago Stadium. Walking around the building, I couldn't help but think of the games I watched on TV from there or stories I read in books, magazines and newspapers. Names kept bouncing around inside my head - Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote and Glenn Hall to mention a few. The Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup in 1962 at the Stadium.

Even before the drop of the puck, I got goose bumps listening to the National Anthem. There may have been a small crowd on hand (one newspaper summary lists 10,986), but the cheering, clapping and foot stomping produced while honouring America still left a ringing sensation in my ears.

As for the game, Chicago and New York skated to a 3-3 draw. The Rangers held a 3-2 lead going into the final frame, but couldn't shut the door on the Blackhawks. At the 7:25 mark, Grant Mulvey beat New York goalie Doug Soetaert for the equalizer.




When Mulvey found the back of the net, the Chicago faithful erupted with joy. I watched with amazement the reaction of one guy who sat in front of me. In a state of total  euphoria, he leaped out of his seat, screaming to high heaven and ran past my row heading for the concession stands. When he reached the top of the stairs, he kicked a glass panel that resulted in a significant cut to his leg.

Looking back, there were several highlights. I got to watch Phil and Tony Esposito play against one another. Every so often, my attention focused on the two coaches - Keith Magnuson (Chicago) and Fred Shero (New York). For pure excitement, Chicago's Denis Savard brought the crowd out of their seats each time he gained possession of the puck.




Later on, when the demise of Chicago Stadium became public, the Chicago-New York game took on a greater meaning for me. I was happy that I witnessed at least one game at the original Madhouse on Madison before it was demolished.

Although I can't watch hockey from the grand old building anymore, there is one Chicago tradition that remains intact. Late last night, while watching the mid-term election coverage on CNN, one result caught my eye. In the Illinois Senate race last night, Richard Durbin, a Democrat, defeated Republican candidate Jim Oberweis.









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