Sunday, June 27, 2010

For Datsyuk, Crime Really Does Pay

I don’t know what kind of a guy Frank J. Selke was, but he must have been some kind of awful.

The National Hockey League has a thing about naming awards and trophies after people, not accomplishments.

Baseball, basketball and football all have Most Valuable Player Awards. The NHL has the Hart Trophy, to show you.

There’s not a piece of hardware that the NHL gives out that isn’t named after a person, which means you need a cheat sheet to keep track of who means what.

Pavel Datsyuk of the Red Wings is the world’s best thief on skates. He wears a visor on his helmet, but he ought to wear a mask. If he did on the streets what he does in NHL rinks, he’d have a rap sheet that would make Kwame Kilpatrick blush.

The NHL names its award for the best defensive forward after Frank J. Selke, which means it’s honoring Selke, the longtime Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens executive of the '30s, '40s and '50s, by rewarding on-ice crime.

What’s next? The Al Capone Award for most creative tax evasion?

Datsyuk, this week in Las Vegas, just captured his third straight Selke Trophy.

This means that Datsyuk, for three years running, has been recognized by the league as being the best in pilfering the puck from the other guys. His face shouldn’t be in a program, it should be on post office walls across North America.

This description of the superstar Datsyuk may seem to be an oversimplification, but the NHL tracks takeaways, a politically correct word that means the same as stealing. Try being mugged and filing a police report that says the perpetrator committed a “takeaway.”

In the category of puck stealing, Datsyuk is consistently near the top, if not leading the thieves. He was at it again this season, finishing second in the whole NHL among forwards. That, combined with his other criminal activity, earned him Selke No. 3.

Datsyuk does all this while also being among the very best offensive forces in the league. He giveth AND he taketh away.

"This trophy is special for me,'' Datsyuk said in a phone interview. "I'm happy to represent the Red Wings. I hope it's not my last one.''

Talk about brazen; he hopes to strike again!

There’s an art to the grab, of course. Datsyuk doesn’t just smash a window and make off with the puck. He’s too refined for that.

First, you have to accept that Datsyuk with a hockey stick against his brethren isn’t a fair fight.

It’s like Michelangelo squaring off against Tom Sawyer in a battle of paint brushes.

Datsyuk uses his stick like the surgeons at Beaumont use their fingers.

It starts with what he does offensively. Datsyuk could stickhandle the puck on a bed of nails. He doesn’t ever lose the puck, he just gets tired of playing with it.

All he needs is a slab of ice the size of a welcome mat and you could spend the entire afternoon trying to touch the puck and all you’d get is an ice cold stick.

Datsyuk could stickhandle in a phone booth and never touch glass.

He uses that same aplomb when it comes to his petty crimes when he doesn’t possess the puck.

Datsyuk takes the puck away in stealth fashion. He doesn’t mug the other guy. He doesn’t drape himself all over his opponent and strong arm away the vulcanized disc of rubber.

It’s a “now you have it, now you don’t” kind of a thing.

He usually comes from behind you. Most of the good crimes start that way, I know. But even if you know he’s behind you, it doesn’t do you any good. In fact, Datsyuk could give you a call and set up an appointment and tell you that he’s going to relieve you of the puck and it wouldn’t mean jack squat.

A common method is for Datsyuk to glide up behind you and neatly use his stick to lift yours off the ice surface, mid-stickhandle. In a flash, he has the puck and is skating away with it. He does it so fast you’d swear he was playing with giant chopsticks, not a hockey stick.

Another modus operandi involves Datsyuk pretending like he doesn’t know you have the puck, allowing you to skate by him, presumably unnoticed. But then a flick of his stick later, he’s poke checked you, you’re sans the puck and he’s with it and you can’t wait to see what the security cameras show.

And he does it all with a wide-eyed, innocent expression on his face that suggests a lovable scamp.

Datsyuk never changes his expression; he always looks like a puppy who got caught piddling on the living room carpet.

But hey, do you want irony? You wanna hear the kicker?

Get this—Datsyuk just missed winning his fifth straight Lady Byng Trophy.

Translated: that’s the award the NHL gives out for sportsmanship and—I can barely stifle a grin as I type this—for gentlemanly conduct.

Only in the NHL can they honor a guy for stealing and being a nice guy, all at the same time.

But it’s true; Datsyuk really IS a perfect gentleman when he absconds with the puck.

Pavel, the Friendly Bandit.

Datsyuk, when reached for comment after his latest Selke Trophy, started singing like a canary. He was quick to implicate accomplices of the past.

"(Steve) Yzerman, (Sergei) Fedorov, (Igor) Larionov, I learned every day in practice from those guys,'' Datsyuk said. "I'm happy to disappoint a guy and make him not score on us. I want to score a lot, but I'm happy if they don't score on us.''

Pavel Datsyuk’s been “disappointing” guys in the NHL for eight years now. So that’s what he calls it, huh?

Again, try that at the local police precinct.

“Some guy, he committed a takeaway of my wallet! He REALLY disappointed me!”

Why are we parsing words? Datsyuk’s getting away!

Never mind—he’s already gone.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Finally, Hockey Wises Up and Makes Jimmy D. a Hall of Famer

He'd never do it, but Jimmy Devellano should have burst into the NHL's offices in New York City and cried out, "What does a guy have to do to get into the Hall of Fame around here?!"

And he should have done it 10 years ago. At least.

They finally granted Jimmy D. Hall of Fame status yesterday. Thank goodness they're not doing it posthumously. I was beginning to wonder.

Red Wings Executive Vice President Devellano, 67, will be enshrined next year. Seems the last ones to know he's a Hall of Famer were the only ones who mattered, sadly. Isn't it always the way?

Devellano took the path less traveled to get here.

He didn't play the game. He didn't coach it. He just happened to know all about it. He was the Howard Cosell of hockey.

Jimmy D. started showing up at the hockey rink in St. Louis back in the days of the NHL's first expansion, in 1967. The Blues' first coach was Hall of Fame player Lynn Patrick, and after 16 games, Patrick had enough.

Patrick quit and his young assistant was thrust into the head coaching role. The assistant was Scotty Bowman.

So Jimmy D. becomes a hockey groupie around the Blues and Bowman, probably at his wit's end, gives Devellano a scouting job. He didn't even pay Jimmy, at first.

That's how it all started for Devellano. It's like Bill Shakespeare starting out as a copy boy.

You know the rest---Jimmy gets hired by another expansion team, the New York Islanders, in 1972. He canvasses Canada, looking for hockey players, in such glamorous burgs as Moose Jaw and Flin Flon and Cranbrooke.

Jimmy never played, never coached, but he had an uncanny way of knowing if a kid was either going to be a pro hockey stud or a pretender. He was a savant.

Devellano's scouring for hockey talent in North America under Islanders GM Bill Torrey gave Torrey the core for the teams that would win four straight Stanley Cups (1980-83).

If you went to Las Vegas and played the blackjack table with the same knack and cunning that Jimmy Devellano had for identifying NHL talent in small town North America, they'd call security and have you banned from the tables for life. They'd be phoning Atlantic City to give them a heads up as you were being led out.

Jimmy seemed to have a fetish for starting with a franchise at the very bottom.

He did it with the Blues. He did it with the Islanders.

He most certainly did it with the Red Wings.

The Blues and the Isles had excuses for their ineptitude---they were expansion teams.

The Red Wings had been in the league for 55 years when owner Mike Ilitch made Jimmy D. his first hockey hire. And they were a total, complete mess.

Devellano had never been given the kind of opportunity that Ilitch gave him in the summer of 1982. If Jimmy wanted to be a GM in the worst way, then his wish was granted.

The Red Wings were slapstick, but they weren't comedy. You need tragedy plus time to make comedy, they say, and the Red Wings just had the tragedy part down when Devellano arrived.

Joe Louis Arena in those days was a great place to study for a science test or to catch up on your reading. Mike Ilitch had himself a 20,000 seat library. The arena was so sparsely populated and so quiet, the only things missing were a microfiche reader and a copying machine.

Ilitch gave away cars. He tried other promotions, all designed to divert your attention from the players wearing the Winged Wheel.

Devellano arrived in town and no one in Detroit knew who he was. But he came from the Islanders, and they were winning the Cup every year, so what the hell?

At the presser introducing him as the Red Wings' new GM, Jimmy said in his squeaky Canadian voice, "As long as Jimmy Devellano is the general manager of the Detroit Red Wings, we will NOT trade a draft choice."

Rome would be built brick by brick, with no quick fixes.

His first draft pick as Red Wings GM was Steve Yzerman. So there.

Jimmy made good on his word. He horded draft picks and traded for more of them. He signed cheap, veteran free agents---Band-Aids. Most had seen their better days in the NHL. Some had never seen good days, period.

In 1985, Jimmy tried the quick fix, after all. Ilitch gave the blessing to spend money.

So Devellano signed one college free agent after the other, and went after some NHL mercenaries.

The plan backfired, to say the least. The Bay of Pigs was more successful.

The Red Wings won 17 games, allowed over 400 goals, and went through two overwhelmed coaches---Harry Neale and Brad Park. Both were so traumatized that neither went back into coaching.

But then Jimmy hired Jacques Demers as coach---some would say Jimmy shanghaied Jacques; his aggressiveness in going after St. Louis' coach bordered on illegal.

The climb to respectability and eventually Stanley Cup contender had begun with the hiring of Demers in the summer of 1986.

Jimmy hasn't been the Red Wings' GM since 1990, when the team hired Bryan Murray to coach and to manage. But he's been no less a part of building the mini-dynasty that has captured four Cups since 1997.

Jimmy never had much hair, and what little he had always looked dirty and was matted over his scalp as if he used a comb with the middle teeth missing. His clothes fit him like a kid playing dress-up with his dad's wardrobe. He didn't walk, he waddled.

But he knew his hockey players. Even after his GM days, Devellano was the Great and Powerful Oz behind the curtain at JLA. Then he got older and he turned Yoda for GM Kenny Holland.

You'd like to say that Jimmy Devellano has forgotten more hockey than all of us know, except that I don't think Jimmy has forgotten a lick.

The NHL shouldn't enshrine him, they should clone him.

They're finally putting Jimmy D. into the Hall of Fame. It's almost a redundant move. Nothing's been this overdue since an apology from Ann Coulter.

Cheers, Jimmy!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

McCloskey’s Rotten Draft Luck in ‘72 Meant a Short NBA Coaching Career

Before Jack McCloskey was “Trader Jack,” the risk-taking, daredevil GM of the Detroit Pistons—architect of two World Championship teams and damn near a third—he was a rumpled old college basketball coach.

The Eastern seaboard was his jurisdiction. He coached for 10 years at Penn then for six years at Wake Forest, picking-and-rolling in the sweaty gyms of the campuses of Rutgers, St. John’s, Temple, North Carolina and CCNY. The basketballs in those days had just become lace-free.

The shoes were canvas sneakers and their tops were high; if you wore them with today’s basketball shorts, the tops and the shorts would just about touch.

Trader Jack was Coach Jack, and his teams were winners.

Before he was even Coach Jack, McCloskey was Lt. Jack—serving in WWII, commanding a landing ship for the Marines.

It made a road game in Philadelphia seem like a Hawaiian vacation.

In 1972, Coach Jack was lured out of his college lair and agreed to make the jump to the NBA. Perhaps you’ve heard of a potential similar move in the news lately.

The expansion Portland Trailblazers were three years old but still in their Terrible Twos when they hoodwinked McCloskey into leaving campus and becoming their new head coach.

In their first two seasons as an NBA club, the Trailblazers had won 47 games, lost 117. They were the typical NBA expansion team; if they made it through all 48 minutes without tripping over their shoelaces, it was a good night.

McCloskey took the job, and one thing about it was attractive, for sure.

The Trailblazers, thanks to their ghoulish 18-64 record of the season before, were possessors of the first overall pick in the 1972 NBA Draft. There was no lottery back then. In those days, the “last shall be first.”

McCloskey knew a little bit about college players, and he positively drooled over the specimen from the University of North Carolina who would be the cornerstone of the Trailblazers, around whom the entire roster would be rebuilt.

Bob McAdoo wasn’t a basketball player, he was a scoring machine.

Mac was six-foot-nine but he played nine-foot-six. You didn’t guard him, you watched him with an umbrella—as he rained points on you like a monsoon.

McAdoo was, unquestionably, the most talented player that would be available in the ’72 Draft. The Trailblazers had the first overall pick. You do the math.

In February, McCloskey was on the phone, guesting on “The Knee Jerks,” a podcast I co-host with Big Al Beaton. And he recalled how things went horribly wrong in 1972.

“It looked like McAdoo was going to be ours,” Jack said in his famously raspy voice. “The negotiations were going fine. But close to the draft, the owner (of the Trailblazers) and Bob’s agent disappeared into a room.

“When they came out, the deal was off.”

To this day, McCloskey has no idea what happened. All he knows is, one moment he was about to coach the greatest college player in the country, and the next, the kid vanished—like waking up from a good dream and finding out that the giant marshmallow you were munching on really was your pillow.

Bob McAdoo, the crown jewel of the 1972 draft, the leaping, point-churning All-American from North Carolina, was so close to McCloskey and the Trailblazers yet so far. Mac might as well have been playing on Mars.

McAdoo wasn’t going to be a Trailblazer, after all. So who would? If not McAdoo, then who was the hotshot college player about to be selected first off the board?

When they told Coach Jack the name, he might have asked them to repeat it.

The kid’s name was LaRue Martin, from Loyola of Chicago. LaRue was nearly seven feet tall—a beanpole on sneakers. He was so skinny, if he had turned sideways you’d have lost sight of him.

And—get this—McCloskey had never heard of him.

Jack McCloskey, who until being hired by the NBA’s Trailblazers had scraped out a living scouting, recruiting, and coaching teenagers from across the country, had his new bosses informing him that they were about to draft a kid who was an unknown.

It was like being a wine connoisseur and having the maitre d’ bring out something in a Boone’s Farm.

“I said, ‘Gee, I know a lot of college players but I’ve never heard of LaRue Martin,’” Retired Jack told Big Al and me.

LaRue Martin, 22 years old, showed up at Trailblazers camp that fall—we assume with photo ID on his person.

Bob McAdoo, meanwhile, was snatched up by the Buffalo Braves with the No. 2 overall selection, on his way to superstardom and multiple NBA scoring titles—and a trail of migraines he caused along the way.

“LaRue Martin was a very nice young man,” McCloskey said. “But he just wasn’t worthy of that high of a draft pick.”

There are two instances when someone being described as nice should cause grave concern: before a blind date, and when you’re assessing the No. 1 overall pick of the NBA Draft.

Martin played in 77 games his rookie season, but only 996 minutes, or about 13 minutes per game. It wasn’t playing time, it was charity.

LaRue scored 340 points in those 77 games—4.4 per appearance.

Bob McAdoo averaged 18 points and nine rebounds per game and won the league’s Rookie of the Year Award. He would average over 30 points per game the next three seasons.

LaRue Martin played in the NBA for four seasons and laid in 1,430 points—total. McAdoo scored that in pre-game warm-ups in the same time frame.

Coach Jack didn’t have much luck in the NBA. First his bosses blew the deal with McAdoo. Then he was fired after two seasons—just before the Trailblazers got it right and drafted Bill Walton to play center.

When Coach Jack became Trader Jack with the Pistons as their new GM in 1979, the team had a brooding, petulant forward who wanted to be anywhere but in Detroit.

The forward was Bob McAdoo.

When McCloskey first laid eyes on McAdoo at North Carolina, Mac was fine wine. When he encountered McAdoo with the Pistons seven years later, Mac was fine whine.

Twelve years after the Trailblazers’ mistake with LaRue Martin, they managed to top it.

Prior to the 1984 draft, the Trailblazers, possessing the No. 2 overall pick, again looked at a player from North Carolina—a kid of such fantastic skills and leaping ability that he would eventually become an airline.

But the Trailblazers said no, and selected a center with bad knees from Kentucky, Sam Bowie.

The Chicago Bulls, with the next pick, chose Michael Jordan.

And you think Jim Joyce's call was bad?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Finally, Izzo Closes the Door to the NBA

Tom Izzo finally did it.

He finally uttered those three little words.

No, not those three little words---but these were even better.

"I'm a lifer."

And with that, they ought to start building a fence around the Michigan State University campus.

On top of the fence should be a sign, in huge green letters on a white background: "NBA: KEEP OUT."

Izzo, the MSU basketball coach who flirted with the NBA's Cleveland Cavaliers last week, not only told them no, he essentially told the entire NBA the same thing.

"I'm a lifer," Izzo said at a press conference yesterday, "And damn proud of it."

I wrote about the Izzo Watch last week and I was criticized for being mean spirited. Others---including MSU people---said that as much as it pained them to admit it, they agreed in principle with what I had to say.

Namely, that Tom Izzo had---to that point---failed to give the NBA any reason to keep his name off their phones' speed dials. Until he did so, I wrote, we were likely to go through this kind of thing every couple of years, ad nauseam.

And who needs that?

Yesterday, Izzo officially barred the NBA from his coaching life.

"I'm a lifer."

If his word has any merit---and we have no reason to believe that it doesn't---then this confession of being a lifer at MSU should finally take Izzo's name out of the rumor mill when future NBA coaching jobs open up.

If it doesn't, then I'm back to where I was last week: shame on Tom Izzo.

Izzo is remaining at Michigan State because he's happy there. Better than that---he's content. There's a difference, though it's subtle.

Happy means it's fun to go to work. Content means that you'll never be in want of anything as long as you keep your butt firmly planted where it currently rests.

Izzo made the right decision and everyone knows it. Probably even Dan Gilbert, the hotshot, high-spending owner of the Cavs, knows it, in his heart.

Izzo's trip to Cleveland last Thursday can now be described thusly: He came, he saw, he vacillated.

Typically, when a guy makes a trip to a city that's courting him---when he visits that team's facilities, meets its head honchos and takes a look at the roster---there's a presser called forthwith to announce that guy's hiring.


Izzo came back from Cleveland and clearly he wasn't able to pull the trigger. He likely spent the weekend asking himself why.

The answer was wonderfully simple but maddeningly elusive.

Izzo couldn't say yes to Cleveland because he couldn't say no to Michigan State.

The Detroit News' Lynn Henning got it all wrong. It wasn't the first time.

Henning wrote the other day that Izzo's taking so long to decide meant that his heart simply wasn't all with MSU anymore. Henning went one step further: Izzo had taken so long, that he had gone beyond the point of no return; he couldn't any longer stay at MSU and retain any sort of credibility.


Henning was 180 degrees wrong. Izzo took so long because his heart was at MSU. If it wasn't, he'd have signed a deal with the Cavs last weekend, shortly after returning from his trip to Cleveland.

The decision was a double-edged sword---yes to Cleveland, no to East Lansing.

It was a whole lot easier to say yes than it was to say no.

Just after Izzo took the podium yesterday---before he really started talking in earnest---a couple players rushed the stage. They embraced him, individually.

The line of players kept coming. So did the hugs.

Izzo endearingly referred to a couple of the recent graduates as "has beens" as they took their turn paying homage to their coach with silent, heartfelt hugs.

It was a wonderful 30 seconds, give or take.

You think you'd ever see anything like that in the NBA if a coach announced he just signed a contract extension to stay?

Now reverse it for a moment.

If the presser was to announce Izzo was leaving, and then his players---EX-players---did the hugging procession, you might have had the first in-presser reversal in sports history.

For the look on Izzo's face as his players spontaneously showed PDAs spoke a thousand words.


Izzo sparred with Henning for several delectable minutes yesterday, the coach's face at times barely able to conceal his annoyance and disdain for Henning's "you can't stay NOW" column.

"Now THIS is more like the UP!" Izzo said to cheers, referring to his native Upper Peninsula's way of duking it out, verbally, in public.

So Izzo stays, where he belongs. He fancies himself a Bobby Bowden, a Bo Schembechler, a Coach K, a Jim Boeheim. Izzo's words. Guys who kept their rear ends in one place, despite other temptations.

"I have no desire to be a Paterno," he said, referring to the octogenarian football coach at Penn State. "But I'm right there with those other guys."

Izzo said those three little words. He finally said them. There should be no more NBA overtures.

I hear Phil Jackson might retire from the Lakers.

That makes me think of two little words.

Who cares?

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Izzo Again Holding MSU Hostage

The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden, who we just lost, was never connected to any NBA rumors. Not once. He was the Wizard of Westwood and no NBA owner seemed to want to make him the Ace of Atlanta or the King of New York or the Prince of Portland.

NBA teams left Bobby Knight alone, too. Same with Hank Iba and Denny Crum and Digger Phelps.

All great college coaches, and not one of them a serious NBA candidate.

In college football, the pros never went after Bear Bryant or Ara Parseghian or Bo Schembechler. Or Woody Hayes or Bob Devaney or Amos Alonzo Stagg.

Texas A&M came after Bo in the late-1970s, and that was bad enough. Old Bo considered jumping ship at Michigan briefly, and later said such a dalliance would never happen again. And that was from another college.

The professional teams never dared to even place a phone call to these coaching giants because of a wonderfully simple reason.

The aforementioned coaches made it quite clear that their aspirations would always be about what they could do on Saturdays, not Sundays.

End of discussion. Bud, nipped in.

Tom Izzo would be a fool to leave Michigan State for the Cleveland Cavaliers, as has been reported that he might do. If he did, it'd be because he'd be blinded by the allure of that tiny question that can be mighty powerful.

"What if?"

"What if I left the college scene and tried my hand at the pro game? Could I do what so few have done before me---leave campus and be a success on the NBA circuit?"

I've written this column before. I've scolded Izzo, the great Michigan State basketball coach, and warned him not to look longingly at the NBA. That time, it was because the Chicago Bulls were rumored to want his services. This was a few years ago.

I'm writing this column again because Izzo makes people like me write it.

He won't do what the Woodens and the Knights and the Ibas and the Crums have done before him. Izzo won't keep himself joined at the hip with the college game. He'll never say never.

Because of that, here's what you're going to get every few years: a campus in East Lansing held hostage to its basketball coach's sadistic shell game.

Izzo won't slam the door shut on all this pro nonsense for good, because he lacks the humility that engulfed the truly great coaches before him.

Wooden would have turned beet red if this much of a fuss was made over him. And he's only the greatest college coach. Ever.

Izzo, I believe, has no serious interest in leaving his God-like status at MSU for the 82-game rigors of the NBA, with its three-games-in-five nights in snowy January in places like Minneapolis, Toronto, and Milwaukee.

He has no desire to leave his Izzone for a game where he can shout himself blue in the face and it simply won't mean a damn thing to some of these prima donnas being paid millions.

They talk about how he might like to do no more recruiting. I'll tell you this: Izzo would be BEGGING to go back to recruiting once he finds out how little influence he truly has in the pros.

Izzo was at his sadistic best during the Big Ten Tournament last March, when he all but rubbed his hands together and did a diabolical laugh as he described to reporters what he had in store for certain of his players, for poor play in the tourney.

You think that's going to hold any water in the NBA?

At MSU, it's about Izzo. His players come and go. He stays. And gets all the glory.

In the NBA, if LeBron James ever wins a championship, he'll do so with what's-his-name as the coach, tucked under LeBron's arm the whole way.

In the NBA, Izzo will be another cautionary tale---as if we need another of those.

Tim Floyd, Jerry Tarkanian, Lon Krueger, John Calipari---move over one seat. Here comes Tom Izzo.

But that won't happen.

Izzo is no more serious about taking this job in Cleveland than he is driving his car into a brick wall tonight.

But he won't say that, because he gets off on this stuff. It's enough for him to remind the people in East Lansing that he can crush them into a fine powder.

NBA teams keep Izzo's phone number on speed dial because they haven't been instructed not to---by Tom Izzo himself.

Izzo can end all this nonsense. He can come out and say, "Look, NBA, save your breath. I ain't never turning pro! And you can't make me."

The bona fide great coaches in the college game never had to deal with this hysteria. They made it quite clear: We're college coaches, son. Thanks, but no thanks.

Till death do us part.

John Wooden didn't have the insatiable need to be loved by his fans at UCLA. Thus, he never teased the NBA, never held his school hostage.

You want a difference between a legend like Wooden and a pretender like Izzo?

There it is.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

One Step Closer to Armageddon? Blackhawks About to Capture the Cup

The last time the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, they were the Black Hawks. Bobby Hull was still fuzzy-faced, and hadn't even started wearing out No. 9 yet. He wore no. 16.

John F. Kennedy was president. Barack Obama hadn't been born. Mary Tyler Moore was on television---as Dick Van Dyke's wife.

We hadn't figured out how to get to the moon. Hell, we were just getting the hang of floating a guy in space on a tether.

The Green Bay Packers hadn't won a single NFL championship under Vince Lombardi. The Lions were good.

Norm Cash was using his illegal, cork-filled bat to hit .361. It was the same year Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris both threatened Babe Ruth's single-season HR record.

There were still Edsels on the road. Ty Cobb was still alive.

The Pistons had just finished their first season in shiny new Cobo Arena. Dave DeBusschere was still playing for the University of Detroit.

"Gay" meant happy. Everyone smoked.

Hull was a 22-year-old kid in just his fourth season with the Black Hawks. He had most of his teeth and all of his hair.

We thought we had it bad in Detroit with the Red Wings, who went from 1955-1997 without a Cup. That was a mere 42 years.

The Blackhawks are going to win the 2010 Stanley Cup. It could be this week, or it might take them until early next.

They have a 2-0 series lead over the Philadelphia Flyers, who used up their city's century's worth of equity when they rallied from 0-3 down against the Boston Bruins. You come back from 0-3, you've used up your share of comebacks for the season---and beyond.

The Blackhawks are going to win this thing, and gone will be the 49-year drought. If you're a Chicagoan, that's two down, one to go. The White Sox, in 2005, ended their dry run that started in the early 20th century and overflowed into the early 21st.

All that's left is the Cubs.

Don't laugh.

The Black Hawks should have nipped this drought in the bud in 1971, when it was only 10 years old. They had a 3-2 series lead in the finals over the Montreal Canadiens, and a 2-0 lead in Game Seven---at home---but couldn't seal the deal.

Jacques Lemaire got the Canadiens on the board in the Cup-deciding game with a shot he took from near Elgin that somehow eluded Tony Esposito. Momentum shifted like the winds at Candlestick Park in April.

But the Black Hawks blew it back in '71, which was a pattern with them. Since their '61 Cup, the Black Hawks went to five Finals and lost them all. Saturday night's Game One victory was their first in the Finals since 1973.

It's all ice under the bridge now. It's Ollie, Ollie, Oxen Free. You can take all that ghoulish history and shove it in your five hole. The Blackhawks will be Stanley Cup Champions in a matter of days.

Every dog really does have his day. Blind squirrels find nuts after all. A broken franchise is still right twice a half-century.

The Blackhawks will be Cup champions for the first time since 1961. Someone get the Good Book and see if we're one step closer to the Apocalypse.

This is for guys named Eric Nesterenko and Chico Maki and Pit Martin and Cliff Koroll and Mike Veisor. And for guys named Bill White and Dale Tallon and Phil Russell and Murray Bannerman.

Hell, it's for Dennis Hull.

Some team was going to end a streak when these Finals were over. The Flyers haven't won the Cup since 1975. And counting. But that makes more sense; they play in Philadelphia, where the Phillies are just now starting to win the World Series again after about 236 years of going without, where the Eagles are allergic to the Super Bowl and where the 76ers have just hired Doug Collins, for goodness sakes.

Get used to it, folks: Chicago Blackhawks, Stanley Cup Champions.

I don't know---it's still like cheese sauce on chocolate ice cream to me.