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