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E-mail, Feeds, 'n' Stuff

Wednesday, July 15, 2009


In my sophomore year in high school, in the dead of winter, I discovered pro basketball and pro hockey. Living in the armpit of New York City, my friends and I followed the Knicks and the Rangers, respectively. We watched them on TV, but especially listened to them on the transistor radio on bitterly cold nights. The games were allowed as an audio backdrop as we dealt with translating Caesar's Commentaries on the Gallic Wars and Xenophon's Anabasis. There were no Nets, no Islanders to distract us. There were six teams in the whole hockey league, as I recall.

Back then, the announcer who made both Knicks and Rangers games come alive over the radio airwaves was a young fellow by the name of Marv Albert. Hockey games featured the sounds of the puck hitting the sticks, and of the big daddies of the game slamming each other into the boards. That and the organist doing the "Charge!" thing over and over, game after game.

Even 40 years ago, a big part of any hockey game was the fighting. Every team had one or two guys who were sent out in mid-game just to instigate fisticuffs. Oh, they played the game, too, but their primary role was to get one of the other side's better players into the penalty box for fighting or retaliatory dirty play.

By the time the game was over, my brother and I were already in bed, maybe even asleep -- Mom was a strict lights-out enforcer in those days -- but if the score got too lopsided while we were awake, we'd turn off the radio and throw on Cream or the Doors for a side before we crashed. Gosh, so many good things were right at hand.

And so it was that we felt a little pang just now when we read that the Rangers' enforcer from those days, a guy named Reggie Fleming, has left us at the age of 73. He seemed like a gentle enough guy off the ice, but he was hired to fight, and he never shirked his responsibility. Fleming played for several teams, and he lived in Chicago, but for the years I was glued to that transistor, he threw punches for New York. God rest his soul.

Comments (2)

Here, I grew up with the Buckaroos, playing in the Memorial Coliseum. I learned to appreciate cowbells, and the difference between offsides and icing.

We got the kids going up and the veterans coming down. Some of these guys were the old enforcers of the NHL. Guys like Jack Bionda and Connie Madigan...of course, the teams we played also had the same kind of guys.

All the guys with gap-toothed grins.

If you squirrel around in YouTube, you can find a remarkably large sampling of Reggie Fleming in (pugilistic) action. He once instigated a bench-clearing brawl in Toronto that resulted in every player on both teams being fined $20. (Yes, twenty dollars.)

Those guys from the Orginal Six -- before huge contracts, before helmets, even -- were the toughest pro athletes the world has ever seen.

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