WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A NY RANGERS FAN
1967… that was the year that I became a NY Rangers fan. 7 years old in a house that didn’t really follow hockey. I caught hockey fever (Rangers fever) like a kid catches the flu…. sudden, hard and relentless. My life was consumed. Back in those early years I didn’t really have someone to share that passion with. My family was big sports fans but just not hockey. My older brother was a casual Rangers fan but certainly not like me. How could you not be? Jean Ratelle, Rod Gilbert, Bob Nevin, Harry Howell, Eddie (you didn’t need to say his last name!). We had a good team that year but got ousted in the first round, upset by the Chicago Blackhawks. The disappointment that would become part of my life started early. We went on to lose in the first round the next 2 years as well. The scars were stating to grow as were the callouses.
In 1970-71 things started to change. Brad Park became a star, Walt Tkaczuk was becoming a presence. The GAG line was one of the best in the league, Stemmer was so clutch and Eddie, well he was just Eddie. Led by the "Cat" Emile Francis things were looking up! We were ousted in the semis by the Blackhawks again but we had taken that next step. Then came THAT year. ’71-’72. We had finally gotten back to finals after so many years. My first experience of the Stanley Cup Finals for my beloved team. The year we really started to HATE those Bruins with all those stars including the Great Bobby Orr (who always overshadowed Brad Park, my favorite player who was #2 to him for many years). I remember watching a few games but also listening to some on my radio (as all games weren’t televised then). Living and dying with every shot, every save. The piece of my heart that was dedicated to the Rangers was growing.
When I was growing up (in my pre-teens) and being the only one of my immediate friends who loved hockey I found myself shunning plans with my friends on a Saturday night to watch the games on TV. Back then the Rangers played an away game almost every Saturday so all of those games were televised. I was totally absorbed. I remember one night (I was probably 11 years old) when my mom came running into the den frantically. "What happened" she said? "What are you talking about" I said? She said that she and my dad were around the corner getting the Sunday paper and Carvel (which was a tradition every Saturday night) when they heard screaming as they were walking back. "Oh" I said…. "The Rangers just SCORED"! She was not happy. This is my life as a Rangers fan.
As the years went by my love and frustration for the Rangers grew. Through the good years and the bad. The jubilation and the depression. And then came 1979… What a great team! Ulf Nilsson, Anders Hedberg, Espo, Duguay, Murdoch, JD and my favorite, Steve Vickers. We were well on our way to our first Stanley Cup Championship in 39 years! And then came that night in February when that hated, loathed, a**hole from out on the Island ended it for us. That’s right, the man who’s legend is tied to our famous chant Potvin SUCKS!! Denis Potvin lays a hit on our best player Ulf Nilsson. A hit that would draw a 10 game suspension today. It knocked him out for the rest of the season and effectively ruined his career and our chances to win the Stanley Cup. The team was so strong that it was still one of the best teams in the league. We still made it to the finals but without Nilsson we would not be able to overcome the mighty Canadiens. And that would be the closest we got until 15 years later.
The rivalry with the islanders was really starting to mushroom. My High School years were filled with arguments and fights (play fights) with islander fans and hockey games between us got very "physical". Play by play during these games was often spewed as one us would lay out another… "Vickers slams Trottier into the boards" I would yell after I slam one of my islander friends into the boards! They would do the same to me. You didn’t want the Rangers to be on the losing end as you knew the next day would be hell in school. And if we won you didn’t want to be them. Nothing else mattered. The Rangers HAD to beat those jerks on the island. What were these geniuses from Brooklyn doing following the islanders anyway? Frontrunners!! We hated them (even though they were our friends!)
When I graduated college and got a job one of the first things my friend and I did was get season tickets. We couldn’t really afford them but hey, this was the Rangers, it was our dream! They were impossible to get but we knew someone who had tickets for years but he was getting older and he couldn’t get to the games anymore. He was a mentor to my friend so he wanted us to have the tickets. So for the next 3 years we bought the tickets from him until we finally were able to talk MSG into transferring the tickets into our names. Section 315. It was a section you didn’t dare walk by with an Islanders or Flyers jersey on. Beer baths were common if they dared utter a word! We were a tight knit group who were there for years together. We all knew each other and lived and breathed every minute, all the ups and downs together. All of us having that need that place in our hearts and in our souls. We were as one. I had those tickets for 9 or 10 years. If I missed 2 or 3 games a year that was a lot. My typical Sunday from October to December was going to the Giants games and then heading straight to the Garden for the Rangers game. I was never so happy! Then marriage and money and kids forced me to give up my tickets. It was sad but at least I had those years.
During those years I had brought friends to games who weren’t really hockey fans (until they came to the games and got swept up into it). I converted one of my friends who was a diehard basketball nut into a diehard Rangers and hockey nut. Well, lucky for me he got seasons tickets too and when I lost my tickets he would invite me to games. He eventually upgraded his seats to 2nd row behind the Rangers bench. He had them for years and luckily for me I was able to enjoy the 1994 playoffs from that vantage point! I was in the papers almost every game, every time there was a picture of the bench you could see me standing and cheering. This was my life.
To this day my wife claims that the 2 best nights of my life were when the Rangers won in 1994 and 2 days later when the Rangers had a party in a Russian nightclub in Brooklyn to celebrate. It was set-up by Sergei Nemchinov who was friends with the owner. Luckily for me and my friends we knew someone who supplied equipment to the club and the owner knew our friend was a huge Rangers fan. He offered him a table and he invited me and my friends to join him! I will say this, besides the birth of my children these 2 nights WERE the best nights of my life! Every Ranger was there except for Graves who was accepting an award in Toronto. Getting autographs, partying and dancing with the Rangers, holding and drinking from the CUP! UNBELIEVABLE!! To this day I have the shirt I was wearing signed by everyone except Graves, I have the pictures of us holding the cup, I have a puck from game seven against the Devils given to me by the linesman Kevin Collins (another story altogether) which still sits in my freezer (don’t ask me why!).
I eventually got season tickets again in the late 90’s and early 2000’s for another 5 years of torture and joy before I had to give them up again for financial reasons. This time though I got to enjoy the games with my boys. They never had a chance. They were going to be diehards no matter what! My oldest was 3 days old when we watched our first game together. I would hold him or lay him on the bed and we would watch the games together. It was the same with my other 2 boys. It is a household consumed by the Rangers. If you know me you know I am The Rangers and they are me. Brad Park, Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Steve Vickers, Rexi Ruotsalainen, Messier, Graves Leetch, Richter, McDonagh, Lundqvist, Kreider, Stapan, Zuccarello…. Some of my favorite Rangers. They are embedded into my life, my heart, my soul.
Being a NY Rangers fan is more than being an avid fan. It is more than being a dedicated follower. It is about intertwined, it is about the yelling, the screaming, the absolute idea of not giving a sh*t about what anyone thinks of you as you are bleeding your soul for this team. It is about getting emotionally bankrupt through every day of being a fan. Of watching the goals, the hits, the highs and lows. Laughing, screaming and yes even crying, the good tears and the bad. Making the fortunes of the team more important than the fortunes of things in your life. I have played on softball teams, floor hockey teams, roller hockey teams, football teams, etc. for years. I have coached my 3 boy’s teams in many different sports. I have been to the finals as a player and coach multiple times. I have won as both and lost as both. And I can tell you this… none of those championships and none of those defeats come close to the emotions I encounter when it happens to the Rangers. Whoever had that poster in ’94 that read "Now I Can Die in Peace" could not have possibly summed it up any better.
When I watched Lundqvist after the devastating loss in game 5 I felt his emotion, I felt his pain; I was screaming at the tv and feeling the emotion he was feeling in OT when his team couldn’t score a goal for him, for them, for us. His utter frustration showed, just for a second but I was right there with him. He and the team left it all there on the ice. We got robbed out of 2 wins this series by the refs. But the bottom line is the teams that win are the ones who overcome the obstacles, the bad calls and the puck luck. They are the team that deserves to be the champions. LA found a way to win 3 games in OT against us. They were suffocating at times, not giving us space. We did the same to them in a game or two. Our superior speed had them on their heels but champions dig deep and find a way. They had the experience, they were there before and in my eyes that was the big difference.
If we can keep this team together (minus Richards who needs to be bought out) and get a key free agent or two and we bring up some good young players from the minors I think that experience will be invaluable and it will lead us to the promised land next year. Hope and belief…
People say that you can’t possibly feel the same as the players who have gone through the battles, the emotions and the camaraderie of actually being on the team. We aren’t playing and leaving it out on the ice. That is absolutely true. We are just fans, not actual Rangers. But I will tell you this… although I don’t play and I don’t feel pain (physically) of being out there, I have been living and dying with this team far longer than anyone on the team. For longer than any of them is even living. That gives me the right to feel the way I do…
That is what it means to be a NY Rangers fan.