Quick Takes

          Thanks to Jonathan Krost for this information, and, as usual, he’s absolutely accurate. Fullbacks were once an integral part of NFL rushing offenses. In fact, at the close of the 60’s, the top four all-time rushers were fullbacks. They were Jim Brown, Jim Taylor, Joe Perry and John Henry Johnson. And the fifth all-time rusher at the time, Don Perkins, gained most of his yardage at the fullback position. The NFL rushing game is not the same today.

          The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. How ridiculous is that? Not the team; the name of the team that owner Arte Moreno gave it. Nothing wrong with having your own identity. The name Anaheim Angels was just fine, especially since they finally turned the corner after decades of being second fiddle in the area. Arte, the watch wasn’t broken; why fix it? You should have listened to your fans.

          Steve Nash joined a hapless Phoenix Suns team, and was directly responsible for completely turning that team around this season. In a land of giants, especially giant egos, Nash stood out as the quintessential achiever and team player. He is most deserving of the league MVP award.

Story of the Week


          It’s been a long time since I wrote a feature story about one of my favorite sports, hockey. The NHL owners and players have issues that, even after a full year of dispute, are still not resolved. However, I thought you might find this retrospective interesting as it shows how much the game has changed from a personnel standpoint.

          Old values die hard. Old-guard thinking was typified by legendary Conn Smythe, who believed that his Toronto players owed him complete allegiance. That meant signing the contract he put before them without consulting an attorney or business manager. The game today, when there is one, is a multi-million dollar business. The structure of the game has changed almost completely, and that’s what this article is all about.

          Way back when, before the universal draft, players were signed literally in their very early teens. The boys signed an amateur card, which made them club property and started them on the road to a hockey career. A scout saw a bright prospect playing on a local, unsponsored team. With his parents’ consent, he was signed by a NHL team, and assigned to a certain club, depending on his ability.

          The best teams were usually in eastern Canada. But wherever his assigned team, the boy’s moving expenses were paid for. His room, board and tuition in school were provided, and he received a whole $10 a week for spending money. On Christmas and Easter, he was given a vacation home. And if the young man decided, with his parents’ permission, to quit school, the spending money was increased to $60 a week since the club didn’t have to pay school tuition for the boy. It was an incentive for the boy to quit school as that amount of money was, in many cases, as much as his father earned. These kids were there to play hockey and make something of themselves in that arena, pardon the pun. It was precisely how the likes of the great Bobby Hull started. Hull told stories about how homesick he was, but he knew this was his only ticket to financial independence eventually. He wasn’t the only boy in that situation; it was the norm and not the exception.

          By the time the young player was ready to turn pro, he had played hundreds of games in league competition, received fine coaching, and learned the tricks of hockey. Despite the money he may have received, he was still considered an amateur because the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association made the rules and permitted this practice. (The NCAA could learn something from this.)

          Territorial rights preserved and protected dynasties in Montreal and Toronto, the two Canadian franchises of the NHL in those days. (The U. S. franchises of the NHL were in New York, Boston, Chicago and Detroit.) No club could come within a 50-mile radius of any NHL team and sponsor a junior program without the permission of the NHL team in that area. Naturally, a large percentage of players and would-be players came from a 50-mile radius of Montreal and Toronto, and that made it difficult for the other four teams to compete. Think about it; there was no advantage, for example, for the Rangers to have exclusivity in Hoboken. Kids in the U. S. didn’t exactly grow up able to ice skate and tote a hockey stick when they were five years old. I know I didn’t.

          The face of hockey changed in more than one way with expansion. The practice of sponsored clubs ended. As of January 1, 1966, player lists were frozen; every player on that list remained the property of the parent club. After that, players were put in a draft pool. If that had not been the case, the new teams would never have achieved equality as the established NHL clubs would have had an ongoing backlog of players, and an overwhelming reserve for many years.

A universal draft took place with NHL expansion in 1967, and the teams in Los Angeles, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Minnesota (Bloomington) and St. Louis were allowed to draft first (for their first three years), and then the established veteran clubs drafted from the pool of eligible players. As the young players were drafted from the teams of the Canadian Amateur Hockey Association, these teams were compensated by the NHL clubs. After the first three years of expansion, all 12 NHL teams drafted in order, starting with the teams with the poorest records, and so forth. Through this point in time, the modern NHL groundwork was laid.

This article is a brief summation of the changes in the structure of the NHL down through the years into expansion. That’s when I became the avid hockey fan I am, living in St. Louis when the Blues hit the ice in 1967. I miss the NHL, and I hope the missed season of 2004-05 hasn't done irrepairable harm to the sport.

Last Week’s Trivia

Thanks again to George Ostfeld for this one. What was Dutch Levsen’s claim to fame? He was the very last MLB pitcher to hurl two complete game victories on the same day. He did it on August 28, 1926 as a Cleveland Indian. He allowed but two runs in 18 innings of work in those two complete games that day. That record will stand forever. George, get well soon, buddy!!!

Trivia Question of the Week

Another good friend, this one fellow St. Louisian Lewis Bettman, provided this week’s trivia.  (Lewis and I go way back, like 45 years way back, and the combination of Lewis, the beautiful then-soon-to-be well known actress Mary Frann and I changed the Army Reserves forever one summer day in 1962. Isn’t that so, Dr. Bettman? I really should do a feature story on the incident. After all, it definitely was “sport.”)  

This record was set in 1920. It was set by a Hall-of-Famer of his sport. It was finally eclipsed in 2004. What was the record, who set it in 1920, and who broke it 84 years later? See next week’s Sports Junkie for the answer.