Many refer to being a sportswriter as a dream job. Generally though, people who make that assumption are tremendous sports fans, usually with loyalties to very specific teams. And obviously that runs in direct conflict with the principles of journalism, which require the utmost in objectivity. You can be a fan of sports — probably have to be — but you actually should probably avoid your favorite teams like the plague.
So now I’m looking over at John Vanbiesbrouck (Beezer!! Holy cow, how cool, fancy seeing you here. Can I get your autograph?) and something dawns on me that really hadn’t — I’m going to be completely starstruck and in awe of my heroes as I attempt to interview them. But I bury it, and try to act professionally. I say nothing to Beezer. Stay calm, remain professional. What I remember of this night comes back to me in images and blurbs.
I remember going to the media room, where there was a giant buffet of cold cuts, salad, and pasta that at the time, 22 years old and basically blogging out of my parents’ basement, looked for all the world like filet mignon and lobster tails.
I remember sitting down to eat with John Davidson (JD!! JD!!!) and Derek Sanderson, in town as the Bruins’ color guy, and as he told me about his two artificial hips and smoked (a lot), found myself mesmerized and couldn’t get up to leave. It was totally off the record, it had nothing to do with my assignment, my tape recorder was in my pocket. But it just felt like something that I should sit there and absorb. In retrospect, they couldn’t have been more different, but there was no mistaking the fondness that JD clearly had for Derek. Also in retrospect, probably that story — Derek Sanderson — was the story I was really looking for. I missed it.
I remember making my way out to the arena at ice level. It was early and the place was empty, but standing right near center ice, where the Rangers used to emerge from their dressing room, were Ron Greschner (Gresch!! Loved watching you all those years, baby!) looking about 6-foot-8 to me, and Chris Nilan (careful, he may wanna go), wearing nothing but a towel around his waist and looking about as wide as Gresch was tall. I introduced myself. “Goalie tapping?” said Nilan. “I’ll give the goalie a nice little love tap for ya.” They laughed and I remembered thinking of course Nilan was an enforcer and, as he resumed his conversation with Greschner, his edginess was palpable.
The game was the game. I sat dutifully in the press row atop the 300’s on the west side of the building, about 10 rows further back than where my uncle’s seats were growing up. I managed to sit through the game feigning complete indifference at the outcome, looking more disinterested with each goal scored. The Rangers tied the Bruins at 5-5. As OT wound down, and the tension in the crowd along with it, my personal tension level ratcheted up as I made my way back down to ice level. I stood waiting between the locker rooms as the Rangers filed right by me and off the ice (WOW! This is so cool!).
I needed to calm my alter ego, Fan-boy, down a bit. I decided to hit the Bruins’ dressing room first. From what I had seen, there was no player with a more elaborate pregame ritual than one Raymond Bourque.
One thing about MSG pre-renovation, is that the visitors’ locker rooms gave new meaning to the word closet. There was a room big enough for a team of peewees, some showers, but no real great common area like the Rangers had. So 22-year old Peter, roaming around with a tape recorder but no clue, I wandered right into the Bruins room as they were changing their gear. Before I could even open my mouth, a sweat-covered Bourque looks right up at me and says “not yet, not right now, wait.” I was mortified with myself — how rude of me. I stepped outside, and waited. The Bruins threw all their gear into a giant bin, and filed into the showers. “OK,” says Bourque after about five minutes. “Now.”
I stumbled back into where I probably wasn’t supposed to be. But Bourque was exceptionally nice. He was soft-spoken, answered all my questions politely, made very light of his superstitious nature (as if I had imagined the whole routine that I’d seen him perform at least three times that very night, typical of people who are superstitious). I would have felt completely comfortable and at ease if he hadn’t been sitting there completely naked.
There was no towel, there was no underwear, there was no washcloth, there were no socks (or should I say sock). There was nothing resembling any item of clothing nearby. Part of me didn’t care. I’ve been in plenty of locker rooms at the gym, etc, everyone’s naked at some point, nobody thinks too much about it, or did back then anyway. Then again, I wasn’t his teammate or anything. I was too young and naïve to even suggest a towel — did I suggest a towel? I don’t even remember. Did I take off all of my clothes too so that we’d be on equal footing? Was this normal? Did Carp sit around interviewing Mess en flagrante delicto? Was Bourque making me pay for being intrusive?
In retrospect, of course not. I’d wandered into where I really shouldn’t have, I think, and he tolerated me.
The longer this night went on, the more silly my story idea seemed. Goalie tapping? Goalie tapping? Screw that. You haven’t lived until you’ve interviewed Ray Bourque stark raving naked.
I interviewed a few more Bruins, who actually seemed relieved to not have to answer more questions about the game (as opposed to laughing me out of the building as I feared). I will say one more thing about the B’s. Cam Neely = House.
I pulled myself together, made sure my clothes were on, and walked down to the other end of the hallway. Fasten your seatbelt, Fan-boy. It’s time to meet the Rangers.
(Part III next week.)