New York is going through a championship drought.
The last New York team to win a championship was the Giants in 2011 after their Super Bowl victory over the Patriots in Indianapolis. As our friends to the north celebrate yet another title with the Patriots and our friends to the south in Philly continue to bask in the glow of the Eagles and possibly the 76ers, we are left to wonder, why not us?
It did not hit me watching the Patriots defeat the Rams in Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta, but it hit me watching a ceremony at Madison Square Garden on Friday night. You see, it has been 25 years since the Rangers won the Stanley Cup in 1994. Even though it was a quarter of a century ago, it seems like it was yesterday. I loved that team. The talent, friction, chemistry, and brilliance had me mesmerized as a teenager. Mark Messier, Brian Leetch, Mike Richter, and Adam Graves were the cornerstone pieces for a team that finally delivered for a fan base that was so starving and so deserving of a title.
As the legends were introduced to the Garden faithful and walked on the red carpet to center ice to the cheers and adulation of those in attendance, it brought back so many memories of a playoff run that made all the pain of pain of past playoff failures worth it. They were special, made even more so by my youth at the time as a teenager getting set to go to college. In a strange way, you seem to cherish some things more when you are young. Maybe, it is the little responsibility or maybe you glorify your youth as you age, but I can remember where I was for each and every one of those playoff games. It was special.
As the Rangers honored that team, it brought back a rush of memories of that spring that was so special for so many in the metropolitan area. The spring of ’94 was awesome.
Nights and days of quality hockey and basketball, filled with anticipation, excitement, pure joy and adulation for the Rangers and for the Knicks.
It brings back great memories of going to MSG with my dad to watch Rangers hockey and watching my favorite player, Alexei Kovalev, fly up and down the ice. Going to Rye Playland to watch an open practice and the players seemed larger than life, almost superhuman, trying to accomplish what was thought to be the impossible and bring the Stanley Cup to MSG. Through the Messier guarantee, the Stephane Matteau goal against the Devils, and a gut-wrenching seven-game Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks, they did it.
On that decisive June night at Madison Square Garden, I was there with my dad, Paul. My Uncle Pete and my cousin Peter John were there as well. To be there, on that night and to take in that legendary game and accomplishment in person is something that I will cherish forever.
Maybe that year was made more special because of the deep pain of past playoff failures and disappointments. Maybe because people were locked into the team and the games and not what was trending on social media. That team grabbed this city’s attention and they were loved. Hockey was more relevant in this city because of that group.
Mark Messier was the ultimate captain that delivered on his promise and goal to bring the Stanley Cup to New York. He had help though in the All-American puck-moving offensive defenseman in Leetch. The gritty goal scoring machine that was the forward Graves. Mr. Lady Liberty in goal with Richter.
There was the mind-numbing talent of Kovalev and the assist machine in defenseman Sergei Zubov. Those were just a few of the key components of a championship team that broke the curse and brought the Cup to NYC.
They were honored and rightfully so on Friday night and it made me long for the days of relevant springs as we had in ’94.
Maybe the Rangers rebuild won’t take quite so long and maybe the Knicks will sign Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving this summer. There is nothing definite in the two previous sentences. Uncertainty reigns supreme right now at MSG.
But what Friday night does show you and should show everyone is that this city loves its heroes and its champions and if you should ever win in this city, it is unlike anything else you have experienced in your life. In the busiest city in the world, one that famously never sleeps, it will stop every now and then to remember those great teams/players that brought the fans so much joy. Teams that touched their fans heart and grabbed our attention. Teams that won and players that delivered. Just ask Messier and the rest of the ’94 team. They still bask in the glow of a championship from a quarter-century ago.