St. Louis Blues’ Vladimir Tarasenko, of Russia, celebrates after scoring during the second period of an NHL hockey game against the Vegas Golden Knights Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)</p.

 

I live and breathe politics like most of you. But every once in awhile, it’s refreshing to poke my head outside of the political sphere and focus on matters utterly apolitical – sports, for instance. I’m a HUGE sports nut fan. As a St. Louisan/Missourian, I was raised on Cardinal baseball and Tiger football/basketball and Blues hockey. (And adored the Rams when they were here…but we won’t mention that.) I would say the majority of my TV-watching time is devoted to sports.

Fans from this neck of the woods have enjoyed major highs (Cardinals’ World Series wins in 1982, 2006, 2011, Rams’ Super Bowl win in 1999) and endured heartbreaking lows (World Series losses in 1985, 1987, 2004, 2013, Super Bowl loss in 2001, the Rams’ departure — and football Cardinals’ departure before that). Not to mention the infamous “bad calls” that have rubbed salt in the wounds.  (See, e.g., Don Denkinger, the 5th Down call.) I realize it’s not unique but St. Louis sports fans are emotionally invested in their teams. Seriously emotionally invested.

So it’s not terribly surprising that St. Louisans (and Blues fans everywhere) are rather giddy at the moment. The Blues, you see, are headed back to the Stanley Cup Finals — for the first time in 49 years. Which is exciting in and of itself but made all that much sweeter this year by the fact that, as of January 3rd, the Blues were dead last in the league. Dead. Last. In the entire league. (That’s 31st place for those keeping score.)

Last night, the Blues won the Western Conference Championship, defeating the San Jose Sharks 5-1 and winning the seven-game series 4-2. To really sum up how big a deal this is to Blues fans, how improbable, I’ll share the “story” referenced by local TV news anchor, John Brown of Fox2News last night:

-I’d begin with a team that has never won Stanley Cup and hasn’t been to the finals in nearly 50 years.

It’s true. Though the Blues entered the league in 1967, they’ve yet to win the Stanley Cup. They had some close calls early – they made it to the Finals three times: In 1968, 1969, and 1970. That was the last time – 49 years ago. In fact, the Blues are the oldest active NHL team never to have won the Cup.

-I’d put that team in last place in the NHL halfway through the season.

Also true, as noted above. October – December were ugly. So ugly that…

-I’d fire the coach and bring in a guy that very few people know.

Head Coach Mike Yeo was fired on November 19, 2018, at which point the Blues held a 7-9-3 record. Craig Berube was brought in as the interim coach. No, I’d never heard of him at that point either.

-I’d promote a rookie goalie… who would miraculously get hot… and lead the team to the playoffs.

Goaltender Jake Allen held the job when the season opened. He’d had some success previously but seemed to be struggling this season. (His defenders weren’t helping the matter.) So, they shook things up and put 25-year-old rookie Jordan Binnington in goal beginning January 7th. Binnington started off with a 3-0 shutout against the Philadelphia Flyers and began his tenure with a 3-0-0 record, earning a nod as NHL First Star of the Week and Rookie of the Month nods for February and March.

-I’d have one playoff series go to 7 games and win it in double-overtime.

The Blues faced the Dallas Stars in the second round of the playoffs. It was a hard-fought series and stretched out to not only a seventh game but to double overtime in that seventh game.  The game-winning goal was put in by St. Louis native Pat Maroon – against St. Louis native Ben Bishop (in goal for the Stars.)

-I’d have the refs steal another game in overtime (by an obvious penalty that wasn’t called.)

Game Three of the Western Conference Championship Series went to the Sharks 5-4 in overtime, after a seriously missed call involving a hand pass. Many fans (myself included) were concerned that the blown call would take the wind out of the Blues’ sails (similar to what happened to the Cardinals after the blown Denkinger call.) But it didn’t:

-After that “hand pass”, I’d have my team outscore the competition 12-2.

The Blues bounced back and won Game Four 2-1, then came roaring back in Game Five and won 5-0, before putting the Sharks away in last night’s game 5-1.

-I’d have one of the hottest Hollywood stars as their biggest fan and even talk about the team on Jimmy Kimmel.

Native St. Louisan Jon Hamm loves his St. Louis Blues and isn’t shy about sharing that.  As he noted to Kimmel:

“That would be the first time they will have made it to the Stanley Cup Finals in my lifetime,” he said. “I was negative 1 … the last time they made it: 1970.”

Hamm isn’t the only celebrity St. Louisan to proclaim their Blues love, by the way:

-I’d also write a story line about how the other professional sports team in town (who everyone loves) starts showing up at games to cheer.

Also true. The Cardinals are in the thick (albeit early months) of their season but have been huge supporters of their Blue counterparts

 

View this post on Instagram

 

lets go @stlouisblues

A post shared by Yadier Molina (@yadier_marciano_molina) on

-During one playoff game, I’d write in a tornado that cancelled the baseball game so the entire city could focus on the clinching game of the Western Conference Finals.

No, that really happened. Just last night, monster severe weather moved through St. Louis just before the Blues were slated to play. The weather predictions were sufficiently dire that the Cardinals opted to postpone their evening game against the Kansas City Royals (good call.) My evening commute home was accompanied by tornado sirens and alerts to “TAKE COVER NOW!” blasting out of my phone. Once home, I quickly grabbed the dog and headed for the basement where I waited nervously for half-an-hour, watching the radar. (I also made a point to take the extra knife set that was sitting on a shelf at eye level and shove it back under the stairs behind some other storage shelves. I saw “Twister” – I wasn’t taking chances on flying projectiles.)

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Hunker down, friends. ❤️

A post shared by SmoosieQ (@smoosieq) on

More than one person made reference to “Sharknados.” Fortunately, neither the tornado(es) nor the Sharks had the bite once feared and the Blues prevailed.

-Then I’d have them play the team that beat them 49 years ago, from Boston no less.

Yes, it was indeed the Boston Bruins who beat (swept) the Blues in the 1970 Finals, so it seems more than fitting the Blues will have a chance to even that score. Not only that, the Blues have an incentive to avenge their fellow pro-teams (the Rams for the 2001 Super Bowl loss to the Patriots, the Cardinals for the 2004 and 2013 World Series losses to the Red Sox). Boston looks to be tough. But the Blues are a team on a mission.

-And just for kicks, I’d include a little girl battling cancer who is befriended by the team. She would survive and go on to be at the playoff games.

Brown’s reference here is to 11-year-old Laila Anderson, who’s been battling Hemophagocytic Lymphohistiocytosis, a rare immune disease which required her to undergo a bone marrow transplant in January. On May 9th, she rang the bell at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, marking 100 days since the transplant. She’s been at every home playoff game since and has been an inspiration to Blues players and fans alike.

But who would believe all that?

Who would believe all that, indeed? Blues fans would. We’ve weathered the losses and lean years and watched with breathless anticipation as the team mounted its beyond-improbable run at the Cup. (And sometimes, we haven’t watched — there have been games that were so close and so nail-biting, I’ve just had to walk away from the television.)

And now, as a town, we’ve taken up the Blues’ adopted “victory song” — Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.”

Fans of the St. Louis Blues have been noticing that Laura Branigan’s smash single from the early 1980s has been playing in the locker room after wins these days. The song was first heard last week in Florida after a come-from-behind 3-2 win against the Panthers and could also be heard following wins in Tampa Bay and back-to-back wins against the Nashville Predators.

So what’s the story behind the new victory song, which was nominated for a Grammy, went platinum and spent 36 weeks on the Billboard Top 100 chart in 1982?

It all started with Alexander SteenJoel EdmundsonRobert BortuzzoJaden Schwartz and Robby Fabbriwatching the Eagles/Bears NFC Wild Card game in Philadelphia back on Jan. 6.

“We got together with some friends and watched the game with a bunch of Philly guys who grew up there,” Edmundson told stlouisblues.com. “They had a DJ in the bar and whenever there was a commercial break, they would crank the tunes and all these guys from Philly would get up and start dancing around. They played this song Gloria a couple of times, and this one guy looked at the DJ and said ‘keep playing Gloria!‘, so they kept playing it. Everyone would get up and start singing and dancing. We just sat back and watched it happen. Right there we decided we should play the song after our wins. We won the next game, we got a shutout, so we just kept on playing it.”

“Gloria” has become such an integral part of this story, that local radio station Y98 has taken to playing it 24 hours straight following their past two playoff series wins.

As a 50-year-old, that song has special meaning to me — it harkens back to my adolescence, to a year (1982) when the Cardinals won the World Series (for the first time in my lifetime) at the same time I was learning a great deal about loss following the passing of my grandfather and a young man named Richard (my sister’s boyfriend). There’s a lot of unspoken emotion tied up in it for me, and clearly, I’m not alone in that.

Even Laura Branigan’s manager has gotten in on the celebration.

And do you want to know one of the most remarkable things in all of this? There isn’t an ounce of politics involved in it. Just a sports team and their town and their fans watching — and enjoying — an incredible and improbable story as it unfolds.

There’s no guarantee the Blues will win Lord Stanley’s Cup. But I certainly wouldn’t bet against them. And if they do, there’ll be just one thing left to do:

PostScript – John Brown’s story resonated so well, Fox 2 turned it into a mini-movie – Watch below: