Niagara Gazette

July 21, 2013

SINGER: Sporting tradition in 2013

By B.B. Singer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Despite laudable innovations, such as this year’s first Women’s Porter Cup at lovely Niagara Falls Country Club up the hill from central Lewiston, today’s sports world also yearns to cash in on the current nostalgia boom. You see it all over the place–in the stockings of certain pro teams mirroring a younger, “Field of Dreams” era in baseball; and recently, in the choice of Merion country club as venue for the 2013 U.S. Open, despite the fact that it was putatively too compact a course for today’s pros, and too surrounded by fine homes and such to allow room for a huge influx of fans.

But this was the grand old dowager where Bobby Jones completed his Grand Slam in 1930; and where in 1950, Bantam Ben Hogan recovered from a terrible car accident, drove a thrilling one-iron into the 18th green (I used to find two-irons next to impossible!), and won in a playoff. And where Jack Nicklaus was then defeated in a playoff by a rising star, Lee Trevino, in 1971.

Somehow, despite nay sayers who said today’s pros would crucify this smallish gem of a course, it didn’t happen. Despite, or in part because of soaking rain (making greens hold, but U.S. Open-type rough more cloying), Merion fared admirably, and not one player broke par, including the winner, England’s Justin Rose. And there was even tradition in yet another runner-up finish by Phil Mickelson, overly sassed by the media (easy to forget he’s also won three Masters and a PGA).

Tradition was in the air, too, at hockey’s Stanley Cup finals this year, featuring two Original Six teams, the Boston Bruins and Chicago Black Hawks. And with old skating royalty predictably on hand. I can remember that royalty in its heyday–Chicago’s “Golden Jet,” Bobby Hull, the most electrifying player I saw as a kid, or the Hawks’ Stan Mikita, one of the rare ones then born in Europe. For the Bruins I beheld a blond pup of a defenseman at his N.H.L. outset, one who would then revolutionize the game–Bobby Orr.

When I went out West for a higher degree, I didn’t stay as true as Sabre fans did here over the years. But I have two friends, one in Syracuse, one a Montrealer living on the West Coast, who carefully followed hockey’s evolution from the Original Six onward. They know as much about the French Connection, LaFontaine, Hasek, and others who made it big here as do any fans in Greater Niagara.

Both friends say the game has changed immensely, not least, the average size of players, and that includes sasquatch goalies in cumbrous equipment, who fill up today’s nets. Apparently there’s now less room on the rink to dipsy-doodle, and one of these pals said a heretical thing–that the iconic Gordie Howe would barely have made today’s NHL!

To which I retort that goalies who played without masks, and other players who routinely absorbed now verboten stick chops on arms and legs ... well, putting it diplomatically, you can’t compare apples to oranges. Howe was among the greatest of his time, in a truly demanding era, and why wonder how he would do today in the era of bearded wonders?

It’s nice, however, to have had these Original Six teams vie for hockey’s championship, won by Chicago, and again, to see graying royalty around, too. You remember the old song from the Broadway musical and subsequent movie, “Fiddler on the Roof”– “Tradition”? It’s something we could all apparently use these days, and despite a truncated, strike-reduced N.H. L. season this year (which would never have occurred in the Original Six period); and despite how much has apparently changed in size and tactics (and remuneration!), tradition really was welcome in the Cup finals, as it was in the 2013 U.S. Open.

And thankfully, Patrick Kane et al. will doubtless trim those superstitious playoff beards over the summer!

B. B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.

B. B. Singer has taught at several colleges in the area, including Niagara University.