From the hockey hotbed of Israel comes a reminder that today, May 24, is the 40th anniversary of Bob Nystrom’s goal that gave the Islanders the first (of what would be four consecutive) Stanley Cups.
"You're tellin' me?!?!" Nystrom told journalist Hillel Kuttler in their phone conversation, which is part of Kuttler’s podcast series about how noted athletes are trying to stay safe during the virus plague. A few weeks back, Kuttler reached the hallowed Brooklyn Dodger nonagenarian Carl Erskine.
Kuttler, a Queens boy now living in Israel, had to remind me that the best team I ever covered has a Big Four-Oh anniversary.
Kuttler had a 30-minute chat with Nystrom, who is currently holed up in Boca Raton, Fl., but has been a resident of Long Island since playing for the Islanders. Kuttler recalled “that glorious afternoon when I sat on a stool at the Charlie O's pub in Rockefeller Center, glued to the TV throughout a terrific game, climaxed by Nystrom's magical goal off superb feeds by Henning and Tonelli.”
It’s true. In that final sequence, the broadcaster described how a Flyer “took a hit from Nystrom” -- that was known to happen – and the puck went squirting up the ice, followed by a back pass from Henning to Tonelli on the right side and a cross to Nystrom for the goal, just as they practiced it, for years and years.
The Islanders had been showing talent and discipline but a lot of potential dynasties never happen. This one did. The Islanders won three more, and Nystrom, a tough guy from out west in Canada, was a vital part of it. He could play with skill…and he could play rough….and he could handle the guff from Al Arbour the bespectacled coach when he needed somebody to scold in practice. Nothing bothered Bobby Ny.
One of the last N.H.L. players to not wear a helmet, as the league got serious about safety, Nystrom was the guts of those four teams. The Islanders, a frugal outfit run by Bill Torrey, were not restocking with expensive stars as the Yankees did, so the team stuck together under Arbour. Sixteen of them played on all four Stanley Cup teams and three others played on three championship teams.
Go ahead, Islanders fans, try to remember all of them.
Every player on that list evokes a smile from me…and I am sure from Kuttler, and all Islanders fans of a certain age.
Kuttler asked Nystrom how he would rank the Islanders with other Stanley Cup dynasties like the Oilers who followed them, or the Canadiens, who preceded them, and Nystrom said: "I would put us up there with the best ever to win the Stanley Cup."
These days I don’t indulge in much nostalgia -- life is too serious. Haven’t seen a second of Michael Jordan and don’t plan to watch a second of Lance Armstrong, and I don’t watch old games even when Willis Reed or Rocky Swoboda or Mookie Wilson or Mike Bossy are involved. But I love the old days, and I love hearing Bob Nystrom, 40 years after his goal, talk about social-distancing. He never did much of that on the ice, back in the day.
Hillel Kuttler’s interview with Islander immortal, Bob Nystrom:
Omigosh, you never know what will pop up. I picked up “the paper” in the driveway on Monday and there in the sports pages was a column I wrote 33 years ago, and it seems like yesterday.
Actually, it did involve two yesterdays – a seventh game of a Stanley Cup series that began Saturday night outside Washington, finished Sunday morning on Long Island (I was columnizing from home) and appeared in the Monday paper.
In those days, there was no Web, no 24-hour urgency to the newspaper business. I watched the Islanders (descendants of the mythic champs I had loved covering from 1980-83) battle the upstart Capitals for the right to move on to the next round.
Sports columnists were caught up in the interminable pedaling on the hamster wheel, the typing, the travel, the creating - - a mission, an honor. Only six months before, also on a Saturday night, Mookie Wilson and Bill Buckner had gotten caught up in another epic game.
In the long madness of that night, I declared that the Red Sox’ misery was somehow linked to their disposal of Babe Ruth nearly half a century earlier. One gets very wise very late at night.
(And speaking of momentous marathons in the middle of the night, one of my favorite books about sports, and suffering, is “Bottom of the 33rd,” about baseball’s longest game between Pawtucket and Rochester, by Dan Barry, now one of my favorite bylines at the NYT. By the quirks of the calendar, that April 19 was both Holy Saturday for Christians and Passover for Jews, spiritual overtones galore.)
The Islanders-Capitals marathon also began on Holy Saturday and led into Easter Sunday while the lads kept playing, and playing, and playing.
I was living the life of the sports columnist, circa 1987 – when you knelt before the editor-in-chief and he tapped you on the shoulder with a mythical sword and dubbed you a knight of the keyboard, giving a modest raise for the honor of working your fingertips and frazzled brain around the clock, around the calendar-- three or four columns and week, often on deadline, deputized to explain sports to Times readers (and editors.)
I took my mission seriously and went out to slay dragons around the clock, around the week, around the cycle of sports as we knew it then. Fact was, I loved it, the freedom to think, and type, and see it in the paper, regularly.
(How trivial it all seems now, when most of the “news” of sports is about whether to resume competition, while in the Real World people are merely hoping they and their loved ones can continue breathing and eating. It is just possible that the longing for sports only leads to more Foxed-up yahoos picketing state governments to get people “back to work,” no matter what those scientists say about the killer virus. Personally, I don’t miss sports at the moment, well, except for the Mets.)
As my column from April 1987, materialized in the NYT, I was proud to read the way a columnist could converse regularly and familiarly with readers.
After the Islanders outlasted the Caps, I seem to have slept for a few hours, and gotten up early on Sunday and written about our Saturday evening – walking the dog often, my wife prepping Easter dinner (we had two friends coming for dinner), our youngest-the-busboy coming home from Louie’s smelling like fried shrimps, and how I switched channels so often that I also watched chunks of my all-time favorite movie, “The Third Man.”
But I wrote the column – keeping the faith with the holy mission of the sports columnist. Thirty-three years later, how much fun it was – and still is.
* * *
Here is the 1987 column:
Here’s a review of Dan Barry’s lovely book about the longest baseball game:
Doing what we were told to do – get the heck out of the way if you have no skills – some of us are hunkering, blessed to be healthy at the moment, with a roof over our heads, and food.
It sounds trivial, but while many people suffer and some serve (and suffer), others are at least able to catch up on one thing or another for diversion. People are cooking at home, putting things in order, just in case, reading, exercising, getting in touch.
Some are watching the gift of plays (from the National Theatre!!!) movies, operas, ballet, concerts, literally streaming before our eyes and our minds.
Sometimes the themes are universal: louts and bullies, fools and despots, always with us.
On Saturday evening, the PBS station in my town played the classic film “A Man for All Seasons,” from 1966. It holds up magnificently, including lush scenes on the River Thames.
Viewers never can get away from the multi-menaces of our time. In this version of history, a young and lean satyr of King Henry VIII (Robert Shaw) menaces Sir Thomas More (Paul Scofield) to approve the king’s desire for a divorce, and a son and heir.
Henry romps through the mud of low tide to visit the More family, where he notices the educated and comely daughter Margaret (Susannah York), and drops a phrase of Latin on her. She replies. He is impressed. He drops another phrase of Latin on her. Then, with the skilled grace of Martina Navratilova rushing to the net, she responds with a stream of Latin.
King Henry VIII goes blank as the ball/phrase whizzes past him. He is exposed.
We have seen that look before – often, recently – as the talk, the concepts, the facts – get too much for another satyr in our midst. Henry backs away, over his head in much more than mere river muck.
You know how that movie ends.
On Sunday evening, NBC played the 2018 version of “Jesus Christ Superstar,” the 1970 rock opera, filmed live in an armory in Brooklyn. Jesus (John Legend) wanders through the hippie dancers, far more befuddled than the committed Jewish mystic of the Bible, but look, it’s a rock opera.
Christ is passed up the chain of command, all the way to King Herod of Judea – none other than Alice Cooper in the role he was born to play. Mincing and menacing, Herod takes the measure of the feared preacher, offers him a way out, and is infuriated by his mute resignation.
“Get – out --- of – my – life!” Herod spits.
You know how that rock opera ends, too.
There is no ducking the contemporary menace here – the addled bully who cannot comprehend what the committed know and do. Furious sacrifice is never out of style – Melville’s “Billy Budd,” a prime example. (Actually, I think Trump's obsession with Barack Obama is like the rage of Claggart toward Billy Budd.)
I am sure Dr. Anthony Fauci, from Regis High and Holy Cross University, knows all the themes here. He does not seem afraid as he stands near our Dolt for All Seasons, our orange-hued Alice-Cooper-Without the 60’s Leather Outfit.
Dr. Fauci was still here, as of Tuesday morning.
* * *
In addition to being menaced by the virus and our freebooter president, Americans in the South and East were menaced on Monday by a brutal storm. On Long Island, we double-hunkered, moving to safe parts of our homes, away from windows, on lower floors, if possible.
It could have been worse. At 6 PM, the sky lightened in the west, the sun appeared. People who have been staying the heck out of the way emerged for exercise, for air, for the illusion of normalcy. I went on a walk, encountered dozens and dozens of liberated strollers, some with their dogs.
I did not see one mask in the quiet streets but people swerved on wide paths. I heard a couple of guys talking about a rainbow, but I had not seen one. Then I ran into John and Reina Teeger, long-time friends, out for their stroll. John showed me his smartphone capture of the rainbow, arched across the western sky. We talked about our families.
For a few moments, life was normal. Then we headed to our homes, later to catch up on the spreading menace of the virus in Third World countries, the cupidity of Mitch McConnell and his mute White Citizens Council, the mounting evidence that our Herod, our Henry VIII, was deep over his head in this crisis.
May the rainbow protect us.
has filed an interview with, of all people, me.
It's on his blog. (Just past photo of rat!) My thanks for his interest. GV
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see: