I just finished two books: Gare Joyce's When the Lights Went Out - the story of the punch-up in Piestany at the 1987 WJC and a history of the NFL called America's Game by Michael McCambridge. I'll have more formal reviews of both books up later this month (spoiler alert: they are both fantastic reads) but in the interim I thought I'd post an anecdote and a link to this rather neglected blog space.
First up, the NFL...
There's a thoroughly entertaining read over at the Atlantic Monthly this month. One of their contributors gets his hands on the game film of the 1958 Baltimore Colts - New York Giants championship game and has the current Philadelphia Eagles coaching staff break down and analyze the film for him. I can't get enough of reporting from the backrooms of sport and first-person insights on coaching and strategy. This piece makes me long for something similar to be done in the NHL ranks. Perhaps a look at the 1976 Super Series when Red Army tied the Canadiens 3-3.
The piece can be read here.
And there's a supplementary piece with the author here.
And now to the World Juniors...
After the bench clearing brawl in '87, the Soviets and the Canadians were disqualified from the tournament and Canada was given 30 minutes to get out of Czechoslovakia (a clip of the horrific fight can be found here). The Canadian team was playing for the gold medal and instead went home empty handed. On top of that, the squad was all but abandoned by Hockey Canada and vilified by the majority of the Canadian and even American press (the story made the New York Times). Into this environment, an unlikely guy stepped forward to recognize the efforts of the Canadian Junior squad. I'll turn it over to Joyce:
"The day after the fight, Mr. Ballard was walking through the office and a few of us were talking about it," says Bob Stellick, then the Leafs' public relations man. "He asked us if there was anything he could do for these kids and I said 'well, you could give them medals.' I didn't really expect him to do anything, but right away he told me to look into it - and of course with Mr. Ballard it has to be top-end, no expenses spared stuff. The biggest medals, encased in glass." Ballard would claim it was an act of public-spiritedness, but it was more than that.
No. 1: Ballard was a contrarian - especially when it came to playing the media game. He loathed most of the commentators who were taking swings at the Canadian team. He couldn't have stomached the idea of agreeing with them.
No. 2: Ballard hated communists in general and the Soviet Union in particular. No use for them at all. Didn't want them playing in his arena. Ever. If the Canadian juniors lost their medal because of a Soviet plot, he thought someone should make restitution. And if it could be him, if he could get some headlines, all the better.
Once the medals were struck, Ballard brought in as many players as he could - almost all from the Ontario Hockey League - for a presentation prior to a Leaf game.
If only Ballard had that type of touch with his own hockey team...
"A medal from the tournament would have been great, a gold medal even better," Shawn Simpson says. "But those medals from Harold Ballard signified a lot more for us. We didn't need a medal from that tournament to know what we about. But if we had those medals, we'd never know the public's appreciation."
Greg Hawgood: "It took weeks, maybe months, for me to get my medal. They did send me a letter first. The letter said that they were sorry it was taking so long, but that it was going to take some time to get it just right. When they sent it, I thought it was just great."
"It was a special thing for me, especially going on to play for the Leafs," Luke Richardson says. "Trophies or medals aren't something you think about or look at every day. They aren't something you look at or pull out of a drawer. Sometimes you don't even know where they are. I won't lie, I'd like to have had a medal from the tournament. And I think we earned that and deserved that. But I look at that medal from Harold Ballard as being as legitimate as any we would have been given at the tournament. I know where it is exactly - in my father's safe."