Talking About Sports Shrines
NB: Please save your best stuff about resumption of BB/Soccer, seasons, etc.. I am planning a piece on this by midweek when the plot thickens some more. Best, GV
* * *
Last week I wrote about missing the Kentucky Derby – the place, the season, the event itself.
Some readers mentioned other grand sports sites and events – Jim Nabors singing at the Indy 500, walking into Yankee Stadium (or almost any other ball park) and seeing the green grass, a day trip to Saratoga during “the season.”
I wracked my brains about sports places I have visited:
--Ebbets Field in 1944, when I was 5 and my dad took me to an off-season bond drive event.
--My first assignment to Notre Dame football in 1964, remembering a nice man up the block when I was a kid, who took me to see a few live Notre Dame games in a movie house in Flushing, and told me proudly about having been on a great Notre Dame team and never, ever, getting into a game.
--Azteca Stadium in Mexico City in 1986, feeling the place physically rock when El Tri was on the move – the appeal of any home team during the World Cup, but particularly for our neighbors to the south.
That was just three off the top of my head. Last night I remembered going to the Montreal Forum in 1984 and getting a tour from Camil DesRoches, the grand old publicist of Les Habs. Camil was old school – suave, bilingual, mustached, loved the cultures of Canada plus the U.S. He implanted the lore of Les Habs in my brain, so I wrote about it.
I kept up with Camil for many years after. He would send me cassettes, particularly of Montreal’s chanteuse, Danielle Oddera, and her duets and interpretations of Jacques Brel. Nowadays, the Forum is a cineplex; my friend Camil DesRoches passed at 88 in 2003; I still treasure my visit to this home to a great team, a great culture.
Please write about a sports shrine in your life:
* * *
My column from 1984:
SPORTS OF THE TIMES; FIRST VISIT TO THE FORUM
By George Vecsey
He pointed to a color photograph on his office wall, a picture of the Montreal Canadiens who won their fifth straight Stanley Cup 24 springs ago. His total impartiality was tempered not in the slightest by his being employed by the Canadiens for the past 46 years.
Camil DesRoches spent yesterday morning escorting a greenhorn on his first visit to the Forum, a pilgrimmage somewhat akin to the first visit to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, or St. Peter's in Rome or Westminster Abbey in London: the feeling of closeness to the soul of a people.
''I always say that hockey is like a religion here in Quebec,'' Camil DesRoches was saying. ''We are perhaps 90 percent Catholic, but we are all hockey fans.''
Camil DesRoches is a classic Gallic gentleman, nearly 70 years old, with a thin mustache and a large heart. He loves his wife, he loves Broadway musicals (he saw ''Oklahoma'' 26 times), he loves wine (''We have never had a bottle of milk in my house, and I still have all my teeth''). But just as strongly, he loves the Canadiens, and he loves the Forum, for which he is now the publicity director.
He was conducting the tour on a day of both sadness and anticipation. Yesterday morning, there was a funeral for Claude Provost, a member of the five-time Stanley Cup champions, who died on a tennis court in Florida last week. Later in the evening, the current Canadiens would work on stopping the Islanders from winning a fifth straight Stanley Cup.
The Islanders were taking a brief workout as Camil DesRoches led the visitor into the stands. Outside, on a perfect spring morning, the Forum seemed an ordinary brick building, surrounded by traditional Montreal tenements with their dark fire escapes. But inside, the Forum seemed a holy place, where one lowered his voice.
On the morning a Canadien was being buried, it was not hard to remember that in this building in 1937 the body of the great Howie Morenz was put on public display after his death from complications following a broken leg (suffered, as the history books always say, when he crashed into the boards on the St. Catherine Street side of the Forum). The Forum was filled with 15,000 people, yet it was as silent as a cathedral.
Yesterday the Forum's lower red seats glistened, as if painted five minutes earlier, and so did the middle white and upper blue sections, forming a classic tricolor. The stands of the Forum are oval-shaped, following the shape of the rink itself, just as the best bull rings and soccer stadiums of Europe are tailored for one sport, rather than multi-purpose arenas not quite right for any sport.
''There used to be eight columns,'' Camil DesRoches was saying. ''So in 1968, we rebuilt the Forum completely in five and a half months months, leaving only the seats. Look how narrow they are. But nobody complains, because we get more people in that way, 16,400 seats in all.''
From the rafters hang 22 banners, signifying
the club's Stanley Cups, 20 of them won since
the Forum opened in 1924.
''The best game I ever saw here?'' he said. ''Maybe in 1936, when the Maroons beat Detroit in six overtimes when Mud Bruneteau scored. I got home at 2:25 AM. Or maybe it was Dec. 14, 1965, when our so-called amateur club beat the Russians using Jacques Plante, who had just left the Rangers a few months earlier.
''Or maybe it was March 23, 1944, when Maurice Richard scored all five goals to beat Toronto, 5-1, and they named him all the top three stars of the game. Or what about the game in 1979, when Boston got a penalty in the last minute and Lafleur and Lambert scored to win it?''
The pucks from the Islanders' target practice started slamming into the shining red seats, so Camil DesRoches continued the tour. He pointed out Le Salon des Anciens - the Old Timers' Room - where former Canadiens are welcome.
The Canadiens are noted for their propriety, including a private room for the wives of the players. Only recently have patrons been allowed to carry beer to their seats, an experiment that would end at the first abuse.
In the lobby, two escalators form the pattern of crossed hockey sticks, a sight Ken Dryden, the retired goalie, always found compelling. Nearby, is the Pantheon of Montreal hockey, the plaques of 30 players and coaches from Quebec who had their best years wearing the bleu, blanc, rouge.
Near the entrance is Le Club de Bronze, 11 bronze busts of journalists and broadcasters considered to be friends of Montreal hockey. The 12th bust is of Camil DesRoches.
''I feel funny every time I see that,'' he said with a shrug.
The next stop was the Canadiens' dressing room. On one wall are plaques containing the names of every player since 1917. Above the lockers is a line from Dr. John McCrea's poem, ''In Flanders Fields.''
In English it says: ''To You, From Fallen Hands We Throw the
Torch, Be Yours to Hold It High.''
On the other side of the room, Camil DesRoches has translated it into French:
'' Nos Bras Meurtris Vous Tendent Le Flambeau, A Vous Toujours de le Porter Bien Haut.''
Camil DesRoches said: ''I have been told I did a good job of translating but also making it rhyme in French.''
Over a glass of vin rouge, Camil DesRoches talked of being the youngest of 19 children, of being taken to the cellar when he was 6 years old and being shown the barrel of beer and the bottles of wine.
''My father said: 'You are almost grown up now. You can drink what you want - but never get drunk.' I got drunk once, when I was 17, and my father made me stand almost naked in front of my family, in that condition. I never got drunk again in my life.'' Sipping his wine, he compared three of the great Canadiens of his 46 years: ''Maurice Richard was the Michelangelo of hockey - such dedication, he would work on his back painting the Sistine Chapel, never give up. Jean Beliveau, complete finesse, what style, he was the Da Vinci of hockey. And Guy Lafleur is like Raphael, whose career was not long, but he was an artist and he had a great time.''
When lunch was over, Camil DesRoches concluded: ''I hope you enjoyed the visit to the Forum. Also, I hope you see what it means to our French environment here in Quebec, just like the language, part of our life.''
5/6/2020 11:54:38 am
5/6/2020 12:00:06 pm
Bruce: not off target at all.
5/6/2020 12:10:58 pm
5/6/2020 01:06:37 pm
George, the Forum column really resonated with me. I was born in Montreal in 1955 and my dad took me to my first game in 1963. The game was against the hapless Bruins but the wild card in that was I was a Maple Leafs fan, so I rooted against the Canadians. My uncle, who I adored, lived in Toronto so I always rooted for the Leafs. We sat high up on the Canadians end with a raucous crowd. Thinking back, my father probably thought he had nothing to worry about if I was rooting for the Bruins, they'd be lucky to score one goal. Not to be, the Bruins won 6 to 2. I cheered loudly each time they scored. I've often wondered how uncomfortable my father must have felt with me cheering Boston as we sat in the belly of the beast so to speak. Thanks again for sparking some fond memories.
5/6/2020 01:21:35 pm
5/8/2020 08:39:49 am
Dear Richard Taylor: thanks for the great comment. How civilized, fans in Maple Leaf Gardens. Friend of mine still remembers Met fans aggressing her young nephew, who wore a Red Sox jacket or cap to 1986 WS game.in Shea. GV
Mike from NW Queens
5/6/2020 11:03:15 pm
GV, thanks for the trip down memory lane, once again.
5/7/2020 08:45:35 am
Mike: I know, I goof on the Yankees -- they ruined my childhood, you understand -- but I totally understand the way you felt in "The big ballpark in the Bronx." The real one, not the new theme park.
5/7/2020 02:29:03 pm
I was undecided on my choice for a favorite sport’s shrine until I read today’s NYT story about when the Knicks actually won at NBA championship in 1970. They were generally very competitive at that time.
Mike from NW Queens
5/7/2020 02:39:36 pm
Alan, thanks so much for stirring up more memories for me. The Millrose Games, (the Eamonn Coughlin era), were an annual favorite at MSG and yes, the WWF! A night out for sure. Speaking of Marv, we used to mute the TV at home and put him on the radio for those NY Knicks. 50 years ago, so sad as well.
5/7/2020 07:48:30 pm
Alan: Old MSG is my choice as well. Saw the circus there. Saw a Roy Rogers Rodeo show there with Dale Evans, Rusty, Pat Brady, Bullet, and even Trigger! They had what they called the "World Series of Basketball" in which the Harlem Globetrotters played "semi-seriously" against a team of college All-Americans. Chet Forte of Columbia was the captain of the All-Americans.
5/7/2020 09:46:49 pm
5/8/2020 08:47:03 am
Roy, thanks. Ah, yes, the old Garden. The games. The fans. I saw Althea Gibson play there, and the Globetrotters against college stars who were trying. The Globies had to go all out to win, those kids were serious. We saw Gene Autry there....and the circus. And yes, Nedicks, alongside the marquee. The sweet orange soda and the sizzling hot dogs. On the sidewalk -- one pay phone, where gents looked at their notes and made cryptic calls. (bookies/bettors). Couple we know live in nice apt. with patio facing the old MSG block. All those memories come roaring back., GV
5/7/2020 02:50:47 pm
5/7/2020 03:28:57 pm
Bruce and Mike--Thanks for your kind comments.
5/7/2020 04:23:30 pm
5/7/2020 05:09:12 pm
Just two of many favorite sports cathedrals: Track and Field's Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore., and the L.A. Coliseum...
5/7/2020 05:55:24 pm
John, your choice means a lot to me because you have been so many places for Newsday, and you wrote a lot about T&F.
5/7/2020 06:29:37 pm
Somewhere I have made a list of all the stadiums and arenas I've been to, everything from Lambeau Field in Green Bay to Michigan Stadium to Kiel Auditorium in St. Louis (the old Hawks arena). I think the total is more than 200, and doesn't even count the international places. A favorite there would be Monjuic in Barcelona.
5/8/2020 08:53:16 am
John, excellent recall of Montjuic. The classic view for photographers -- Gaudi's unfinished church with the spires. His city, unforgettable. In 92 Olympics, I had the Timesmobile at the NYT flat (a/k/a La Casa de Pulgas). One morning I told Dave and Jano and Sandy, my flat-mates, that I would drive them to the press center but we had to make a stop at Parque Guell on another hill, with eccentric benches, tables, etc. Memorable outing -- half an hour of hooky, with classic Olympian view. GV
5/8/2020 11:44:19 am
Many great shrines already covered here. Here's mine: Van Cortlandt Park, for scholastic and college x-country competitions. I assume it's still a race venue. It was both a terrifying and thrilling place to compete in my late 1960s running days, with thousands of the finest harriers from across the tri-state area. Glory days.
5/8/2020 03:47:12 pm
Peter-I believe that Van Courtland Park is still being used as a x-country venue.
5/10/2020 08:23:01 pm
Thank you, Alan, for confirming my hunch that Van Cortlandt is still a going concern for x-country runners, and for sharing your daughter Jen's story. Classic! (We used to live in Suffern, BTW. Both of our kids, now grown, were born at Good Sam's.) In HS I ran for St. Mary's (Manhasset, LI), though I lived in Port Washington (yes, George's home). Sunken Meadow was a punishing course.I still "run" thanks to improved shoe technology but suffered mightily as a scholastic runner from chronic shin splints. But still, great experiences and memories.
5/10/2020 09:01:23 pm
Alan Rubin's daughter here. I loved running in Van Courtland Park for my 4 years of high school cross country and imagine I still hold claim to the slowest time ever recorded. While it is a bit impolite to fact check my own father - I was not talking to a boy during the race. It was my first race my first year running. I didn't train before highschool started and was out of shape. And I had a horrible sense of direction. I was so far behind that I couldn't see the race, took a wrong turn and ended up on the cross bronx expressway. Didn't dim my love of Van Cortland and made me a shoo in for most improved that eyar.
5/11/2020 02:40:27 pm
Jen is probably right in correcting me, but I somehow still remember hearing that wrong race story.
5/8/2020 03:50:34 pm
Peter: The web says it is still used for cross-country meets including elite ones. You must have run there more than once to have a familiar feeling for it. I have never been there, but recently read about it in a great book "Island at the Center of the World," by Russell Shorto. At the cutting edge of history -- not just your races. GV
5/10/2020 12:17:47 pm
5/8/2020 12:33:00 pm
Roy, the memories keep on rolling out.
5/8/2020 03:56:58 pm
Alan: Forte was a terrific player. Saw him for Columbia once, against Red Lee of Yale.
5/8/2020 05:07:56 pm
George, that is the place.
5/8/2020 08:23:44 pm
Alan, George, Mike, Bruce, Roy, Peter, John, Richard,
5/8/2020 09:24:41 pm
5/8/2020 09:39:25 pm
5/8/2020 09:43:54 pm
5/8/2020 10:30:35 pm
5/8/2020 10:36:48 pm
5/9/2020 09:17:08 am
Apparently, while I must have been on some other planet, I missed the news that you were still writing regularly on your Web site. Oh how I miss your NYT columns (and Red Smith and Dave Anderson) while commuting into the city on the LIRR forever (35yrs). I was down some quarantine rabbit hole or another when I stumbled into it. How wonderful!
5/9/2020 12:27:59 pm
5/9/2020 12:44:46 pm
5/9/2020 01:56:32 pm
Bruce and Alan,
5/9/2020 06:41:47 pm
Don, thanks for the lovely words. Yes, I've been writing this since retirement near end of 2011 (!) My friend Boston Becky said I would go nuts without an outlet, and she was right. I became obsessive about this -- more so during this Time of the Troubles.
5/10/2020 08:32:16 pm
Alan -- I commuted daily from Suffern and later Spring Valley to New York between 1983 and 1989. First train, then the Red & Tan bus lines. It really wasn't bad as far as commutes go, but it was still 3 hours out of my day, every day. When my #2 was born, I looked for alternatives to the NY suburban grind and found it, working for a small consulting outfit outside of Hartford, CT. We're still here. My kids and their spouses/others live in Manhattan. The usual story, right? Cheers.
5/11/2020 01:02:21 pm
5/11/2020 01:27:12 pm
Alan: Thank your daughter Jen for contributing and for confirming my Van Cortlandt x-country memories. The life overlaps continue. I live in Glastonbury, just next to Manchester, and have many P&W friends and neighbors, as you can imagine. (Sorry for out-of-sequence reply but could not find a "Reply" tab on your latest post.
5/11/2020 02:32:31 pm
Peter- Do you happen to live on the historic main street in Glastonbury? One of co-workers was recently married and had purchased one of the old homes. It was always a delight to visit them.
Mike from NW Queens
5/9/2020 03:07:11 pm
Wow.......this blog post like a Timex Watch, keeps on ticking!!
5/9/2020 04:14:04 pm
This is fun. I just wish we had a female responder talking about a youth soccer pitch or a large arena or stadium. Or they have better things to do. Could be the case. GV
5/9/2020 04:50:05 pm
5/9/2020 08:14:51 pm
I'm joining this thread late and just wanted to say "Thanks" to bruce for providing the link to the video of the reception for Maurice Richard received at the last game at the Forum.
5/9/2020 08:29:27 pm
5/10/2020 11:06:05 pm
Jen;’thanks for setting the record straight. Was your dad at the meet — or did he add A bit
5/11/2020 06:52:52 am
5/11/2020 01:46:26 pm
Randolph: Thanks. I have to say, some columns are like yesterday, I remember thinking/writing....This one, I didn;t remember doing it, although I surely remember the sad event, and the Jordan era.
5/11/2020 12:45:09 pm
george-went to 3 games at ebbetts field.first games with my friend was on the new lots line of the irt to yankee stadium in 1959.after the mets -dodgers memorial day doubleheader did not go to yankee until 1984.the first time in the old garden was 1959 knicks with willie naulls and richie gurein.all the best george.ahron
5/11/2020 01:49:30 pm
What I remember about getting to Ebbets Field is that it took a bus from my house to Jamaica, then 3 el/subway trains....or else LIRR to Atlantic Ave. and then, I think, one subway. There could have been a Dodger ball park where Barclay Center is now. Didn' happen.. Hope all is well with your family. George
5/11/2020 02:47:33 pm
5/12/2020 10:39:14 am
I went to Fenway Park in 1986, but what I remember is getting there early, sitting in the steps outside and watching everyone go by, and letting my mind go back to what it might have been like in 1946, crowds milling asking each other if Ted Williams could really make it to .400, or 1967, with Yaz's name the one on everyone's lips.
5/12/2020 10:55:14 pm
Ray: I know, that narrow lane feels
Comments are closed.
“I don’t think people understand how Covid affects older Americans,” Mr. Caretti said with frustration. “In 2020, there was this all-in-this-together vibe, and it’s been annihilated. People just need to care about other people, man. That’s my soapbox.”
---Vic Caretti, 47, whose father recently died of Covid at 85.
---From an article by Paula Span, who covers old age for the NYT, which currently has 2646 comments, the majority criticizing the American public – and public officials – for acting as if the pandemic is “over.”
Classic wishful thinking, at a lethal level.