On Sept. 28, 1972, Paul Henderson scored arguably the most famous goal in the history of hockey. With 34 seconds remaining in Game 8 of the 1972 Summit Series, he poked a rebound past a sprawling Vladislav Tretiak and sent an entire nation into a colossal eruption of joy and relief. This, for many, was the defining moment of Canada’s sporting history. People who saw it remember where they were at the time, the way others remember the news of JFK or the moon landing. Kids were pulled from their classrooms to watch it live on TV (the game was in Russia, so it aired here in the morning). It was that big.
I was not quite two years old. It didn’t affect me that much.
(As an aside, if you are ever in doubt as to whether the person you are speaking to is Canadian, ask him/her to repeat the Foster Hewitt call of the Henderson goal. Any Canadian should be able to do it verbatim (the part between “Here’s a shot!” and “Henderson – has scored for Canada!”) and with proper inflection. It has been repeated that many times.)
When I was in elementary school, it must have occurred to the teachers that our life experience was somewhat lacking since we’d all effectively missed out on the greatest moment in sporting history, and as a result we spent a surprising amount of time watching Canadian sports on TV. There was a set in the classroom throughout most of the 1978 Commonweath Games from Edmonton, I’m fairly certain that certain events of the Lake Placid Olympics were viewed, and of course there was Monday, October 18, 1981.
The summer of 1981 hadn’t been great for Canadian sports. There had been the ’81 Canada Cup, in which we’d swept the round-robin part only to get slaughtered 8-1 by Russia when it mattered. In the fall, though, Montreal and LA hooked up in the NLCS. If there was a “Canada’s Team” in baseball at that point, it was the Expos. The Blue Jays were too new and still mired in dead last. The Expos were far more established and were actually pretty good, with a lineup including the likes of Carter, Raines, Dawson and Cromartie.
What was significant, though, was that if the Expos managed to win it, this would have been the first time a Canadian team ever made an appearance in the World Series. This was a big deal, and given that the deciding Game 5 was an afternoon game on a school day, and we had a two-hour time-zone lead on Montreal, it was a prime opportunity to give a new generation of kids its own 1972 Moment.
That afternoon, we were piled into a multi-purpose room near the library. The school was open-concept, so actual rooms were kind of hard to come by. The old rotary-dial TV was wheeled in on its six-foot brown dolly and we sat down on the floor to watch history. We picked the game up in about the sixth, Ray Burris and Fernando Valenzuela going toe to toe in a 1-1 tie.
For the first while, not a lot happened. The Expos managed to get a couple baserunners in the 7th but couldn’t score. The Dodgers got a runner as far as second in the eighth. In the bottom of the 8th, Tim Wallach pinch hit for Burris and grounded out.
Heading into the 9th, the Expos went to starter Steve Rogers. He’d gone the distance in a Game 3 win on Friday. Why they wanted him rather than a reliever is a mystery, but he was the biggest name they had and they ran him out there to hold the fort. He started out well, getting Garvey and Cey. Then on a 3-1 pitch he gives up a freaking gopher ball to Rick Monday. He got the last out, but the damage was done.
The Expos then came this close to giving us the actual moment we’d hoped for. With two out, Fernando gave up back-to-back walks to Carter and Parrish. The tying run was in scoring position, the go-ahead run at first. Bob Welch relieved Valenzuela and with everything on the line and a nation (at least a roomful of Grade 6 students) collectively holding its breath, Jerry White grounded the first pitch to second. One toss later, it was all done.
I know there are a lot of people who love Rick Monday. I know he stopped someone from burning a flag and this was important. I’m even kind of partial to the Dodgers at times. But not Rick Monday. Rick wrecked our 1972 moment and can’t be forgiven this.
I was wading through a stack of ’81 OPC a little while back and happened across the Monday card. About 2 cards later, there was the Rogers. Forever joined. The Monday seems to be a super-rare (worth an extra nickel or so) grey back, so I can’t do anything bad to it. 🙂
Also – for old times sake: