It’s stating the obvious that the sports world has changed rather dramatically in recent decades. Free agency, longer seasons and monstrous contracts (and profits, in many cases) have shifted the landscape for fans, as ticket prices are now often out of the reach for many of us.
In sports like football, artificial turf has changed the look and feel of the game. In hockey and football, injuries occur more often and are seemingly more serious. (It could well be that our growing awareness has at least meant more reported injuries.) The equipment itself has created huge problems because more than simply protect, it causes serious damage, too.
Everything is so corporate now—advertising all over the boards; in-arena promotions; constant hype.
Things are just different.
For its part, hockey is the same sport, but it’s a different game. It's so fast, everyone shoots hard now. Players wear armour and work out twelve months a year.
And there are so many commercials during the broadcast. Every little thing is sponsored.
It’s all about money, and understandably so, I guess.
But still, there are things I miss about the old days. Now, the old days for some VLMers may be the ‘90s, while for me it kind of goes back to the late 1950s and into the 1960. But we all have memories of when things were different, eh?
Not everything was perfect in “the old days”, I realize, but here are a few things (and people) that I miss:
- King Clancy, who was an ever-present figure in the Maple Leaf organization for decades. He was always good for a hopeful (though not always realistic) outlook on the blue and white.
- Punch Imlach (above right): love him or hate him, he ran the Leafs for a decade. Some say he should have won even more Cups but he did build teams that won four championships in the '60s.
- Paul Morris as the public address announcer. Every goal, every penalty announcement was intoned the same way. No phoney drama.
- Hockey Night in Canada being exclusively on CBC. No criticism of Sportsnet, but HNIC, when I was a kid, was always about Saturday nights on CBC—the National network. (Where I was raised, we didn’t even have a CTV affiliate station—Canadian content meant CBC.) After the game, if I’m not mistaken, “Juliette” (a Canadian production) came on between 10:30 and 11pm.
- Ward Cornell’s simple interview style and ability to host HNIC without undue fanfare and hype. (In later years, beginning in the early ‘70s, Dave Hodge was fine, but not my cup of tea so much…)
- The fact that, in the really old days (at least where I lived in southwestern Ontario) HNIC was the only hockey game you saw all week. It was so special. Today, fans can watch several games a night—all at once. That’s great, but I miss the special feeling around Saturday nights.
- When the games started at 8pm on Saturday nights. They have switched the time to 7pm now for a variety of reasons, including the desire to have “double-headers” on television. But I preferred 8 o’clock starts. It just felt “right”.
- Leaf games on the radio from Chicago on Sunday nights, starting "late" at 8:30 my time. When the nearby Red Wings were at home, I'd listen to Detroit games starting at 7 on Sunday night, then flip to the Leaf game at 8:30. A full night of old-time hockey listening.
- Maple Leaf Gardens. There was nothing like walking into the Gardens on game night, especially against a good team. If the Habs, Bruins or the Flyers were in town in the '70s, the feeling was really something. The old pictures on the walls alone made each visit memorable.
- The Montreal Forum. I was fortunate to attend a number of games there in the late 1970s. A real hockey shrine, at least to my impressionable eyes—so much history. Just watching games on television from the Gardens or the Forum was great.
- The old “greys” at Maple Leaf Gardens—a great vantage point to really watch the play develop.
- The feeling in the air around the Gardens on the night of a playoff game, walking up the subway steps and that sense of building excitement.
- The old Esso commercials, with actor Murray Westgate as the friendly neighbourhood Esso dealer. (As a kid, it’s like you felt he really worked for Esso.)
- The interviews that Cornell and Hodge did with players between period, where they and the players could actually sit for a few minutes and have a bit of a conversation—not the rushed, breathless, stand-up Q&A’s we see nowadays.
- The days when regular-season games ended in a tie. You never heard the word “overtime” until spring—and playoff time.
- When games simply ended in a tie (still seems like a fair result to me, after 60 minutes) and there were no shoot-outs. Enough said.
- A 70 game schedule, which was about right. (82 games is still too much, especially given the injuries that players are experiencing.)
- When the season ended in April/very early May, just as the weather was turning nice.
- Foster Hewitt on the radio (especially Sunday night Leaf games on CBC radio), and Danny Gallivan doing Hab games on television. For me, they were the best.
- The Canadiens being so good, because it gave me, as a Leaf supporter, something to hate and a team to root against.
- The intense rivalries with Montreal, Detroit and Chicago. Before expansion in 1967, teams played each other 14 times a year. It sounds like a lot, but it worked.
- The Leaf players of my youth: Bower, Horton, Stanley, Duff, Armstrong, Keon, Ellis, Baun, Walton, Pulford and many others. Those guys won championships together. Yes, there were only six NHL teams at the time and you only had to win two rounds in the playoffs to become champions, but those were the best players in the world at the time. The game is faster, probably much better now, in some ways, but I liked the pace of the game back in the early ‘60s.
- The fact that I knew the names of all the players in the league back in early '60s.
- Bobby Orr, Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard, Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe. All great Leaf rivals, I hated—and admired—them all.
- Affordable ticket prices.
I don’t miss Peter Puck, the early ‘80s Leafs, the Broad Street Bullies, Harold Ballard, Howie Meeker (as enthusiastic as he was), TV broadcasts with a red dot following the puck and assorted other things. But I do miss everything I mentioned above.
What do you miss?