Thursday, January 16, 2014
Old Time Hockey
This 71/72 O-Pee-Chee Norm Ferguson was a one dollar card (shipped) and worth twice that <grin>. I enjoy the expansion era NHL clubs (the expansion that brought the league from 6 to 12 clubs) and the Oakland/California Golden Seals were saddled with ugly unis, a stupid name and terrible colors and were therefore pretty cool to me. I don't remember Ferguson from his days with the Seals but I saw him play in the WHA for several teams in Houston against the Aeros. He appears to be stoned on this card doesn't he?
Maybe the most fun I've had in sports venues was during the heyday of the WHA Houston Aeros during the 1970s when they played in the decrepit old Sam Houston Coliseum in downtown Houston. Those games were just a blast. The WHA was a rough and tumble league of NHL castoffs and has-beens mixed in with a few young and established stars that the league somehow was able to sign away from the NHL with big money contracts. The franchises seemed to shift every year and I recall more than one team folding during a season.
The Aeros had Gordie Howe and his sons and they captured back-to-back Avco Cups in the first few seasons of the franchise's existence. My college buddies and I loved those teams and going to the games. How could you not? The rival Minnesota Fighting Saints always lived up to their name (the 'fighting' part, not the 'saints' part) and building rocked when they were in town. In their second year they had a guy named Gordie Gallant (isn't that the coolest hockey name ever?) who was a cheap shot artist and enforcer who would whip the Aeros' fans into a frenzy.
At the Coliseum the visiting team would have to walk a gauntlet of fans between periods and at games end, trudging on their skates up a rubber mat along a path formed by a couple pieces of rope to the locker-room. It passed right through the concession area. Fans would give the Fighting Saints (we had another 'F' word that we used instead of 'Fighting') a real going over. I'm surprised that none of us ever got clobbered with a stick or kicked with a skate.
After three or four seasons the Aeros moved to the shiny new Summit (now Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church) and a lot of the fun went out of it. Oh we still loved Aeros hockey but losing the Coliseum took away some of the charm of the whole thing. Eventually the NHL absorbed four of the WHA teams but not our beloved Aeros.
One last WHA story... It occurred the day after the Aeros won their first Avco Cup. A good friend who worked at a department store that had a tie-in with the team was headed into work when he spotted the Avco Cup trophy sitting all by itself on the loading dock. Just sitting there apparently after being delivered by the team for a promo. No one was paying any attention to it as it sat just feet from the morning downtown workers hustling by. Hard to imagine the Stanley Cup in that spot.