By Darvin Babiuk
Upset? Yeah, I'd have to say it was an upset, Doug's denial to the contrary. It wasn't just the triumph of the small, prairie team over the big city one. It wasn't just the fact that the New York media had already all but planned the victory parade for their team. It wasn't just the discrepancy in the quality of play between the two team's superstars, not that Doug hadn't simply wiped the ice with with New York's latest saviour, the one they'd literally bought from this very same prairie team just two short years ago.
I'm not one of those old-timers who can cite you chapter and verse on why old teams like the Wanderers or Maroons pulled off bigger upsets, and players such as Eddie Shore, Doug Harvey, or Frank Brimsek had outplayed their opponents to a greater degree than Doug had wiped the ice with the Wonder Boy. I have been playing hockey intelligently since I was six, however. I was six when a neighbour convinced me to watch a game between the Leafs and the Canadiens on the merits of the play rather than blindly following the team my father cheered for. Sixty minutes later I was a lifelong Canadiens fan. Lifelong, that is, until they abandoned their firewagon brand of play for the clutch-and-grab, take-no-chances style they played today. But that was okay. By then, they had been replaced with another team that stole my allegiance anyway. They, not the Canadiens, were playing the game the way it was meant to be played, taking it beyond where even the Canadien teams of the glory years would be hard pressed to match it. In those ten years that small team from the prairies had only won everything there was to win, collectively and individually. They'd done it not once, but several times and the Wonder Boy had led them to it.
But the Wonder Boy was no longer with them. He was not part of the wildly cheering, beer swilling, champagne-spraying group in the winner's dressing room. Instead, he was down the hall with the group of stunned, silent group of New York players who had gotten to believe the big city press clippings about their invincibility. No amount of money or glory could make up for that.
"Gawd, that stings," he had said five years ago, when they'd won the Cup for the first time. The champagne spraying wildly around the room was getting into his eyes. Magnum after magnum was being poured over his willing head by teammates as the TV cameras rolled.
"I didn't know it would sting like that," he had said. Whether from the champagne or sheer joy, the Wonder Boy was crying. By the fourth championship, people were beginning to say that it was he, and not the Magic, that was winning the championships for the team. Accordingly, after the last one, he was unceremoniously "sold" to the New York team by the prairie team's owner. He wanted to get his money's worth, he explained, before his most precious commodity's value depreciated through age. It was an apt explanation from a man who'd made his fortune selling first used cars and then real estate. It was not so readily accepted by the legions of fans who'd give heart and soul over to the little team that could. Nor by the Boy Wonder, who had given everything he had, too. He cried that sad day when he was sold like a used Chrysler to the highest bidder. So did the fans. Many of them began to think of it as the day the Magic died. As loss followed loss the following season, so did the players. But it didn't. The Magic only went underground. A year later, it was bursting forth and blossoming all the more furiously for its hibernation. The Magic was back, but he was crying again, the Wonder Boy was. He'd had to forfeit his rightful place among the magicians down the hall. Upset? Yeah, I'd have to say he was upset.
"Doug! Doug!" yelled the network sportscaster, trying to catch the underdog team's captain's attention over the din of the winning locker room Ecstatic players, stripped to the waist were joined by girlfriends, family, fathers, and friends in a spontaneous outpouring of celebration. Full-throated yells, cheers, and tears of joy mingled with the spraying champagne. Of course, the media was there to put their own special slant on it.
"Doug!" tried the sportscaster again, dragging the jubilant captain away from congratulating teammates to the unblinking eye of the TV camera. His network blazer was getting horribly stained from the champagne. "Doug, tell me, how does it feel?"
Doug, chest heaving, stripped to the waist save for the suspenders that criss-crossed his impressive chest, answered by tilting his head back and letting out a high pitched howl of pure joy. Rivulets of champagne flayed off chiselled muscle. Even in repose, he looked like he was in motion. Other than that marvellous body, there was not much there to tell you that you were dealing with a leader. Gap toothed; the bottom two missing; prematurely balding; grinning a goofy, Huck Finn grin -- he was light years from the carefully coiffed package that was the Boy Wonder. They both had the Magic, however. The cameras couldn't catch everything; they couldn't catch the fire in his eyes. The cameras couldn't tell you, but his opponents could. Out of those eyes blazed an intensity and fire that would have left even the most dedicated evangelist wanting. I can do anything, those eyes said, and you just try to stop me.
"Doug!" insisted the network reporter. "You won this one without perhaps the best hockey player in the world. He's in the dressing room down the hall. Does that make it sweeter? How big an upset is this?"
"Upset?" questioned Doug. "What upset? I ain't upset. We knew we could win."
"Oh, come on, Doug," insisted a print reporter from one of the larger New York dailies during the commercial break. "It's as big an upset as I've ever seen and I've been covering this game since anyone who was anybody was either named Bobby or wore the number nine. I'm talking about Hull and Howe and Orr," he added, in an offhand, arrogant manner to the local press.
"No, it's no upset," repeated Doug, cutting off the bitter retort of the local paper's sports columnist. "Last year was the upset. There's a lot of other good players on this team that know a thing or two about Magic. A lot of you forgot that. A lot of us forgot it. This team's won four Stanley Cups --"
"Five, five," chanted nearby teammates, emptying the last of a magnum over his head.
"I mean five," said Doug, correcting himself. "No one player can carry a team that far, except maybe a goaltender, and even then five years is a long time. No," insisted Doug, to the evident delight of the local press, "this wasn't an upset at all."
"Christ!" muttered the New Yorker, shutting off his tape recorder in disgust. "Give me a break, will ya, Doug?" he pleaded "I've already wired my lead in. Played up the upset angle."
"Why'd you do a dumb thing like that, New York?" asked the local columnist, astonished. "Didn't you learn anything in journalist school?"
"Yeah, I learned about deadlines," replied New York, rolling his eyes as if dealing with a simpleton. "You're two hours behind the real world. If I'd waited 'til after the game, it wouldn't have made it into the morning edition. That's not exactly news is it?"
"We may just be country bumpkins to a big shot reporter like you," opined the local columnist, "but out here we generally wait for the news to happen before we report on it. Just funny that way, I guess."
New York dismissed him out of hand. "Come on, Doug," he whined. "Throw me a bone. How am I going to look to my editor when my lead goes on about his stunning upset, and then the guy responsible for it denies it was an upset at all. Give me something," he pleaded.
"You guys in the big city forget that the one great thing about sports is that it's the last live theater?" asked the local. "You can't script it, you can't manage it, and P.R. boys can't do nothing about it until it's already done. That what makes it Magic, what makes it real, and not even the New York press can change that, much as it looks like you want to."
"Come on, Doug," pleaded the reporter, ignoring him. "Give me something, anything. This could mean my job."
Doug paused. It wouldn't take much to give him an opening to fit the lead into. The red eye of the TV camera blinked on again. "Doug" broke in the network sportscaster. During the break he'd somehow found a clean suit. "We're going live. We've got the Prime Minister on the line."
That was unusual. Seldom did a Canadian leader phone a team to congratulate them on a win. It could have been hat this ideological clone of the Reagan and Bush Presidencies was aping their custom of congratulating World Series and Super Bowl champs. The intent was no different than the people at Disney, who paid the winning athletes outrageous amounts simply to say that they were going to Disneyland right after the game. The politicians had just thought of it first and somehow got it for free. This Prime Minister was badly in need of some --any-- kind of favorable publicity. The polls said it all: a statement on constitutional reform, a Free Trade deal that hadn't panned out, cutbacks in social programs, unemployment, a growing deficit, rumblings of regional separation, a controversial new tax, environmental disasters: there weren't too many areas that the PM could clam good press these days.
"Is that you, Doug?" asked the Prime Minister's gravelly voice. "How are you doing? I just called to say that I'm awfully proud of what you boys did out there today. We all are, the entire country."
Beside the camera stood New York, his tape recorder once again 4rolling. "Give me something, anything," his eyes pleaded. "Give me something to get my editor off my back."
"Well, Mr. Prime Minister," Doug answered. "I wish I could say the same to you, but I can't. The country's in a mess and a lot of us figure it happened on your watch. Gosh, I guess you're just having a bad year."
Three sentences; that's all it took. Three short sentences and the movers and shakers had become the moved and the shaken. The New York reporter slumped against the wall, crestfallen, tape recorder still rolling, as the locals rushed to file their copy. The man who modeled himself after the Great Communicator and ended up being the Great Manipulator had just been manipulated right off the stage. The network hurriedly broke for a commercial. The Wonder boy was sitting in the wrong dressing room weeping. No one had gotten what they expected that day. Go live and you were left with what is.
Upsets? Yes, I guess you'd say there were a few that day.