Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate and a visiting professor at the Frederick S. Pardee Center for the Study of the LongerRange Future, speaks on November 27 and 28
Week of  23 November 2001 · Vol. V, No. 14


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A cup for all seasons
Jack Falla's newest book explores the quest for hockey's Holy Grail

By Brian Fitzgerald

"I want to kiss the Cup," said Montreal Canadiens forward Rejean Houle, during the on-ice victory celebration following his team's defeat of the Chicago Black Hawks in the 1971 Stanley Cup finals. His affection for the trophy is symbolic of the attitude of hockey players and fans toward the sport's Holy Grail.


So when sportswriter Jack Falla received a call from a representative of Key Porter Books, asking if he'd like to edit a book on the Stanley Cup, he could barely contain his enthusiasm. That was like asking defenseman Ray Bourque, after 21 Cupless years in Boston, if he would like to hoist the trophy over his head before he retired, even in a Colorado Avalanche uniform. Falla's answer was a resounding yes.

Falla (COM'67,'90) a COM adjunct professor who teaches a sports journalism course, not only edited this year's Quest for the Cup: A History of the Stanley Cup Finals, 1893-2001, he also wrote about a third of it, detailing the finals from 1984 to 2000. After all, he had seen Cup celebrations firsthand during that era, covering Wayne Gretsky for Sports Illustrated during the Edmonton Oilers' 1984 and 1985 championship seasons.

Quest for the Cup is Falla's sixth book. His last, Home Ice (McGregor Publishing, 2000) was published to rave reviews. Still, he was bowled over when he discovered that he was the only American sportswriter involved in Quest for the Cup. "The four other writers are all great Canadian journalists," says Falla. "It was quite flattering."

The book is 304 pages of heaven on ice for hockey fans -- it contains some award-winning photos, including the famed shot of Bobby Orr in the 1970 finals. Orr is horizontal in midair after scoring the winning goal in overtime, completing Boston's sweep of St. Louis. There are classic photos from every era, from the goaltenders who wore cricket pads in the late 1800s to the 1988 "fog game" won by Edmonton in the Boston Garden. The book shows numerous smiles with missing teeth, 1970s sideburns, the standard "ice spray" shots of players skating toward the camera and then stopping abruptly, and even the occasional fight. "My favorite photos," says Falla, "are the ones taken back in the days of no helmets, no masks, and no ads on the boards."

As for the writing, Falla's biggest challenge as editor was reading the text for tone. "I tried to get a uniform voice throughout the book without interfering with the styles of the writers," he says. Quest for the Cup marks Falla's return to sports history books. He had previously written a history of Boston College athletics and of the NCAA, but Home Ice was personal -- about his backyard skating rink and the community of family and friends who skate there every winter. "Home Ice was from the heart," says Falla. "Quest for the Cup is from the head and the archives."

The book contains some lore that even self-proclaimed experts on the Stanley Cup may not know, such as the lack of a Stanley Cup champion in 1919 (the series between Montreal and Seattle was canceled because of the worldwide influenza epidemic) and the origin of the slow parade with the Cup around the opponent's rink after a victory. For years players had circled the ice with the trophy after a victory in their home arenas, but never in enemy territory, until Montreal captain Jean Beliveau initiated it in Chicago Stadium in 1971. The moment was captured by The New Yorker's Herbert Warren Wind. The Black Hawks fans "perceived almost instantly that they were looking at no conquering foe," wrote Wind, "but a rare gentleman whose manner as he displayed the Cup said, 'I am not merely celebrating the Canadiens' triumph. I am celebrating the superb game of ice hockey and what it means to all of us.'"

Bruins fans will appreciate coverage of the team's Stanley Cup victories in 1929, 1939, 1941, 1970, and 1972. However, they may not be able to suppress a shudder of frustration when they think of all the Cups Boston should have won in the early 1970s. "The Bruins will be the first ones to tell you that they should have won four or five," says Falla.

The Stanley Cup is "probably the most recognized trophy in the world," says Falla. "I don't really know what the World Series trophy looks like." And exactly how much covetousness does the Cup inspire? In the book, Falla quotes Wayne Gretsky's autobiography. "The Cup is addictive," writes Gretsky. "You think it's yours and you become like a selfish kid -- you don't want anybody else to touch it, see it, have it, or study it."


23 November 2001
Boston University
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