On December 3rd, 1987, former Boston Bruins star forward Phil Esposito had a special retirement day celebration back in the venerable old Boston Garden (aye, the original one!)
Nowadays, NESN is evoking any and all such "great moments in Boston sports" in a futile effort to determine which one stands out the most...
On some occasion, they had video evidence to back up the nomination, as it is with this great (or rather touching and well-staged; not to mention classy, from an organisational point of view) unforgettable moment - and here is that evidence, thanks to YouTube - again:
Am I aging myself too much by stating that I remember seeing this LIVE on cable TV back then? (And how did I see it, I wonder? Probably it was a Boston-Montreal game again? That would explain why it would have been broadcast in my area! Otherwise, even though Bruins captain Ray Bourque originally hailed from the Montreal area, they didn't give a damn about any Bruins ceremonial presentations in that area! Unless I saw it all in some highlight reel somewhere? That is quite possible too - although the ENTIRE ceremony? (Yeah - even the bits with Phil's bimbo wife by his side - I remember it all!) Anyhow - no matter where and how I saw it all originally - the video above captures the entire thing for us ALL to see! And remember fondly...
I'm just too lazy to track down the information about who the Boston Bruins were scheduled to play and did play back on that cold December day back in 1987!
Sue me, willya?
Now, NESN presents these "greatest moments" in a playoff format reminiscent of the March Madness tournament too - forcing fans to choose each round...! That is, quite simply put, pure torture for the fanatic - but that is beside the point right now!
And so it was retirement day...
Well, a "retirement day" it was, yes, but for Phil's number 7, not for Phil himself! He had been out of the loop for a while already back in 1987 - although he remained involved in the world of hockey in some capacity (but that wouldn't last.)
It was nice to see Phil surrounded by some of his old teammates, several Boston Bruins officials (such as the perennial Harry Sinden) and applauded by all the fans and the Boston Bruins players of the day, several of whom even I, an assiduous fan of the team, cannot recognize or readily recall at all...!
Tis a golden moment in the midst of an overall very successful time for the Boston Bruins as the team made the playoffs every single year (a record they own exclusively now - something like 30 straight years qualifying for the playoffs; it will never be equalled!) and they counted in their line-up, aside from team captain Ray Bourque, two future front office figures and vital cogs in the championship-seeking wheel back then: Don Sweeney and Cam "The Man" Neely! Neely was, in effect, the heir apparent to Esposito - but Bourque wore Espo's old number 7... Bourque was the second coming of Bobby Orr - however it was another defenseman that would successfully lead the Boston Bruins back to Cup glory, one handpicked by Neely himself: Zdeno Chara, of course, in these past playoffs that completed the 2010-2011 season. But we are digressing right now...
Back to Espo's moment with Bourque and the Bruins...
The young Ray Bourque acted so nobly and unselfishly in surrendering his number and jersey back to the veteran who wore it before him - he had always acted as "team first" exemplary athlete and that was why he had been given the "C" (first as a co-captain with veteran Rick Middleton and then by himself as the role-model and blueprint for all Bruins players to come!)
Phil Esposito recognized the gesture from "one of the greatest players today" - that was the best accolade that he could give to the Bruins player who comes ahead of him and maybe even ahead of Neely himself and second only to Orr as "greatest Boston Bruins player EVER". Espo also recognized the 1970s fans, the "love story" between them and the team that he had been a part of, a team led by Bobby Orr... As you can hear him say in the video, he had been "looking forward to this for a long time".
Phil Esposito, alas, ruined everything by his attitude afterwards - not giving a flying fig about Boston's championship runs in subsequent years (the young man who so unselfishly gave him the jersey off his back there, Ray Bourque, captained two teams all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals; the very next year after that touching moment and in 1990. The team could have gone all the way in 1991, 1992 and especially 1993 too. Each time, Phil acted as he had no ties whatsoever, not even on an emotional front, with the team that made him famous. Heck, the team that made him him a legend. (Yes indeed - and if you all think it should be team Canada in the 1972 series versus Russia, well, think again! In that series, all Phil proved was that he had a temper...) And, to see that, is just plain sad.)
Speaking of a temper, Esposito's is displayed in the very next video - ironically it comes on right after the retirement of the jersey and number video, by association on YouTube. I swear, sometimes, YouTube seems to be downright malicious in the associations that they make when it comes to their "related videos" - but that is another story! Most ironic of all, though, is the fact that Esposito's temper is displayed here while he was a New York Ranger recently traded away from the Boston Bruins in the seventies and he exhibits no love lost for his old team already - which is the professional thing to do, of course, in the wild wild mercenerial world of hockey and all... But, still. Also of note: in his Rangers days, Espo wore a familiar number that he would legate to Ray Bourque by sheer circumstantial happening: the number 77.
Oddly enough, as you saw, this video leads to that one: a new Espo on the block taking on another contemporary of his with a familiar name that evokes another era entirely, that of the camaraderie amongst Big Bad Bruins: the Cup champions of the early 1970s! It only comes to reaffirm that Phil is no longer pals with anybody in Boston - even through namesakes who might be no relation at all! Phil couldn't care less about his old teammates now: Wayne Cashman, Ken Hodge, Derek Sanderson
Even Bobby Orr, whom he addresses as "the greatest player to ever play the game" at the retirement of his jersey and number back in December of 1987...
Phil wasn't at any of the games in the latest championship glory that befell his old team, from May to June 2011. Bobby Orr was. Several others were. But not Esposito. He was quoted once again as not caring one bit about it... His exact quote was: "I could care less about Boston" according to some sources, which, alas, displays a lack of education as well as the attitude problems that were never solved since the seventies and, most likely, his trade (and now, due to old age and all, those will never be solved, most assuredly.)
Phil Esposito was a more prolific scorer than Terry O'Reilly was - but the latter is the better Bruin. (The former, as good as he was, couldn't beat goalies such as Dreary Dryden when it counted the most. O'Reilly beat'em all up - and then he led the Bruins on several triumphs over the likes of Rampant Roy, as a coach in the 80s! Espo's track record as a GM and coach over the same span of time, in NY and Tampa, is quite dismal in comparison.)
Phil Esposito may have had a higher profile Wayne Cashman, Johnny Bucyk, Ken Hodge and the rest of the 1970s Bruins - and he may have had a cleaner image (back in the seventies especially) than Derek Sanderson - but all of these former Boston Bruins are greater than he is for they remain in the club's entourage, participate in the Bruins' Alumni activities that benefit their community, have been associated with the organisation in their post-player careers off-and-on for all these years and remain, hence, a part of the Bruins family.
Phil, meanwhile, is much like the prodigal son that is lost.
And, in his case, the prodigal son will never return.
It's his loss.
Still, his passage through Boston contributed to two Stanley Cup championships and several excellent seasons in which the Bruins dominated the entire NHL. When his attitude started ruining everything -and Bobby Orr's knees began giving him trouble- Espo was traded for two key components of the Bruins team that competed for the Cup in the late 70s: Jean Ratelle and Brad Park. While Espo sulked in New York and the Rangers sucked, the Bruins were still top contenders without Esposito in their line-up. Alas, they were also without Orr at that point - which accounts for their inability to convert on those championship opportunities circa 1979.
While the Boston Bruins celebrated the well-deserved 2011 Stanley Cup championship, Esposito chose not to participate in the celebrations with his former team and the extended Bruins family.
Again, it's his loss.
In comparison, former Bruins forward Normand Léveillé drove al the way from Montréal to celebrate with this extended family - despite his handicap and despite the fact that he played so few games as a Boston Bruin before illness stopped his career short in such a cruel way.
Phil can rot in Florida now - or wherever he may be! His lousy attitude and apparent jealousy of the success of his former organisation (something he could never emulate in his tenure as GM anywhere) makes him obsolete now, despite his achievements and contributions to Boston's success in the past.
I am sure his brother Tony is not like that with Chicago - and the classless Blackhawks organisation is the one that deserves such treatment, not the Bruins!
But that is another story - for another blog!
Here, we must enjoy the beautiful moments of the past - even if they are tainted with some bittersweet memories and afterthoughts...!
And so - despite everything, Phil - we still have this beautiful moment back in December of 1987, between you and Ray and the entire Boston Bruins universe!
Whatever you say or do now and henceforth will never affect nor change that!
Ray Bourque's gesture of pure team spirit, reeking of that as it did of genuine generosity and respect for the team's history, its past and his predecessors, actually inspires me once in a while, every now and then, almost with clockwork regularity...
My American relatives were the beneficiaries most recently, as it was so very befitting and all, given that they reside in the Boston area... My luminous presentation that re-enacted (with a twist - a luminous twist, of course!) the Ray-Phil moment but added several layers to it was something else - and it was immortalized on video, too, for posterity! It can be viewed on the small chunk of Vimeo that belongs to me! My colleagues, circle of friends and acquaintances are the other beneficiaries - as they hold the honour of residing in the same township that was once home to Ray Bourque: Ville Saint-Laurent...! A veritable shrine is devoted to him there, in his old stomping grounds, inside the arena that bears his name, so anyone will get where my inspiration came from when I perform the same act there...! It is truly the late 1980s team, with the newly-crowned number 77 captain of the team, Ray Bourque, that I am so fond of here: Esposito, I remembered faintly from the Stanley Cup years - and then again, I liked Derek Sanderson and Bobby Orr much more than Phil! I will always view the late 1980s/early 1990s Boston Bruins team as a team of destiny that saw its destiny go unfulfilled; an uncrowned champion that I will always view as such, although official records say otherwise... That gesture alone, on the part of Ray Bourque, giving the shirt off his back and relinquishing the number he had worn since his debut in the pros, to me it is evidence that there was a champion, who belonged to championship-caliber organisation that was simply waiting to be confirmed as such. A champion, hence, who gave us a bright example (dare I say a luminous example?) of humility, respect and dedication to his cause... Saudades inhabitate us always - and shape our actions, each and every day!
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