Monday, November 16, 2009

A Horror Show at Madison Square Garden

A Reporters Worst Nightmare...My Own at Least with the Late Great Herb Brooks

It came one night at Madison Square Garden during the 1983-84 season. Herb Brooks was the Rangers head coach. As you may recall, Herb coached the 1980 U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team to a tremendous upset victory over the Soviet Union en route to the gold medal at Lake Placid. He was in his third season as coach of the New York Rangers and was doing a good job turning a group of talented and semi-talented individuals into a team capable of upsetting the top teams in the NHL on any given night.

Now I can't tell you about his lockeroom demeanor, but I can tell you Herb was a very personable man off the ice. Sometimes on an off-night, he would go to an Islanders or Devils home game to scout the opposition on his own. And for whatever reason, he seemed to take a liking to me even though (he didn't know) during my free time I was a fan of the hated rival Islanders. We would often sit in the media room before the game and casually chat about hockey and other things.

On this night at the Garden, the Rangers offense couldn't get untracked. They lost a low scoring game and the team was in the middle of a scoring slump.

I was standing in front and to the right of Herb as he answered a reporter's question about the lack of offense (or OH-fense as he would pronounce it). He was giving his explanation in coach-speak...lots of technical x's and o's; good for newspaper reporters, very boring for radio listeners. He went on for a couple of minutes, and as he did my mind wandered on things like "will there be any food left in the press room when I go back for my coat," and "I hope I don't miss my train." As Herb finished, I figured I'd jump right in and ask him about the Rangers lack of offense.

"Herb, what about the lack of offense?"

Cackles, gaffaws, and laughter of all kinds erupted from the group of newspaper and television reporters seated behind us. Herb looked down at me, paused, and grabbed my thin leather tie (popular at the time) from the bottom and slowly rolled it up in his fist into a ball.

"What did I just finish saying?"

The laughter grew louder. I turned beet red. Herb smiled gently and let go of my tie. He could've screamed, thrown something, called me a name or embarrassed me in front of my peers in any number of ways. Instead, he paused and gave a shorter more radio-friendly answer. This on a night where his Rangers lost a tough one. I slithered out of the press conference with a wet shirt on a very cold night.

I learned a simple yet very important lesson that night- always listen to what the person you're interviewing is saying. And thanks Herb, wherever you are, for being a gentleman.

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