My Boston, My Beanpot

In 1995, on the occasion of the last Beanpot Tournament to be played in historic Boston Garden, I was featured speaker at the annual Beanpot Press Luncheon. Here’s what I had to say at that time – about what the Beanpot means to me and to the city, and about why it will always be special, and uniquely Boston. This is one of my all-time favorite addresses.

beanpot on iceI’m honored to be allowed to address you today. This is the last time we’ll be gathered for our Beanpot Luncheon in the House of Magic, as Eddie Powers used to say. We all have so many memories from this building.

I’m not going to do much personal reminiscing about Beanpots past, though. I have a much bigger message. I have some thoughts about Boston. About this tournament. About its mystique. Its grandeur. Its irresistibility.

I would like to tell you my biggest Beanpot thrill, however. On that wild overtime night, back in 1980, Alan Segal and I were on the air. I had the play-by-play mike when Wayne Turner scored his goal. Northeastern has won the Beanpot! After 29 years! And I told the world about it. That’s a big thrill, for people like me.

There was another man on play-by-play that night. He probably told more people about it than I did. I want to thank him for all he’s done for Boston sports, and congratulate him on his retirement. Longtime Boston Bruins announcer Bob Wilson, would you please stand and be recognized?

That was special. We all like to see the underdog win. But that goal was the most important in the history of this tournament. It made the Beanpot a four-team event. It brought Northeastern to a new level of prestige. It was level Northeastern hadn’t yet achieved, and which it’s maintained to this day. That goal re-made Northeastern hockey. We’re all better off for it. And I told the world about it. That was a thrill.

But enough of my personal memories. Whenever Snooks Kelley took this podium, we all looked forward to him. And he said the same thing every year. The Beanpot is not just an athletic must. It’s a social must.

And that’s true. There are people in Boston who come to the Beanpot who never attend another sporting event. I think I know why that happens. That’s my message.

So no more personal reminiscences…although 1976…Richie Smith…going around Gary Fay for that shorthanded goal…Gary’s still got a bruise on his cheek where he fell down…one of two shorthandeds by BC that night…I was broadcasting that game too, with David Pearlman…another big upset, BC over BU…that was special But why is the Beanpot so special to Boston?

Father Frank Sweeney of Boston College has a book about out city. It’s called “It Will Take a Lifetime.” And it begins this way:

Boston to me is the poetry of its street names. Cornhill. Cricket Lane. Haymarket. Pudding Lane. Appian Way. Province Steps. Battery March. Damnation Alley. Pie Alley. Turnagain Alley. Winter Street. Summer. Autumn, Spring.”

The first time I read those words they just leapt off the page at me. That’s because when I was a little boy, I and my friends used to sneak into town from Winthrop on Saturdays and explore our city. Meet it up close and personal. I didn’t know what those street names meant then. But I know now. And nothing compares to Boston, for the sheer poetry of its street names. It’s just one of the things that made growing up in Boston so wonderful.

But when I was growing up here, Boston to me was its sporting life. Sport is as old as humanity. Sport identified with cities is as old as civilization. Every city has its sporting life. But here in Boston, we’re truly blessed. We of my generation have four matchless traditions. They’re really not traditions, they’re more like defining events. They remind us of who we are. They make our city a small town. They bring us together. These four traditions are:

Fenway and the Sox
 The Boston Marathon
 Celtic Pride
 and the Beanpot Tournament

beanpost schoolsAnd the greatest of these is the Beanpot Tournament. It’s the most essentially Boston, of all these four, for reasons that we’ll see. But let’s look at them.

Fenway and the Sox. A field of dreams. It was in the movie. And well it should have been. You’ve all had the same dream I have. I dream of being Carlton Fisk. Only in Game 7, not Game 6. And when that ball goes off into the night, and the series crown comes back…finally, we banish the miserable ghost of Harry Frazee, and we welcome back the shade of the Bambino, back to where he really belongs…everybody from Boston has that dream. We’re all waiting together for it to happen. And some day it will.

The Marathon. The most ancient of athletic events. Once a year, it happens here. On Patriots’ Day. That’s the day America was conceived, and they fired the shot heard ‘round the world. For the Boston Marathon now, the whole world turns its eyes to Boston. And all of Boston turns out, millions of us, to welcome the athletes of the world to our city. That’s Boston at its best. And it’s not just a race, the Boston Marathon. It’s a man. Old Johnny Kelley. The marathon isn’t over until Johnny finishes. And we all wait to welcome that man, forever young at heart. What an achievement. Over 62 years competing in that grueling test. We’ll never see his like again.

Celtic pride. As old Johnny is to individual achievement, the Celtics are to professional team achievement. 16 world championships. Eight in a row. The Celtics always found a way to win for us. They won when they should have, and they won when they shouldn’t have. No matter how much they were up against it, the Celtics always dug way down, deep into the very soul of their team, and found a way to win.

You might ask what all this has to do with a talk about the Beanpot. I think it has a lot to do with it.

That’s because the man who owned the Celtics, the man who was ultimately responsible for all they were able to accomplish, was a hockey man. He was a founder of the Beanpot. He was a man for all seasons in Boston. Walter Brown. He was my uncle. I want to tell you about him.

I was the last member of my family to see Uncle Walter alive. I stopped in his office here in the Garden one day. It was about 33 years ago. I was all excited and nervous. I’d been accepted to BC High for the fall. He said to me, “You know, I wanted to go to BC High. They wouldn’t let me in. I had to go to Bryant and Stratton.”

That’s true. And he never went to college. But by the peak of his career here, Walter was president and owner of the Celtics. President of the Bruins. President of the Garden. And president of the BAA. A man of sterling character, charitable to a fault. If ever any one man personified our city, if ever there was a First Citizen of Boston Sport, that man was Walter Brown. A hockey man, first and foremost.

A brief digression. Boston has taken some hits, over the years, on the subject of bigotry. But here’s the Boston that I choose to believe in. Boston broke the color line in the National Basketball Association. It’s a bit hard to believe now, but that league had no black players until Boston, in 1952 I believe, drafted a man named Chuck Cooper. He was the best man available, and they took him.

It wasn’t as courageous as Branch Rickey’s taking Jackie Robinson. But it was the right thing to do. And it cost the Celtics and Walter Brown a lot of money. That’s because Abe Saperstein, the man who owned the Harlem Globetrotters, was furious. He now had to compete for his players. He threatened to boycott Boston, and he did. Boston had to pass up those lucrative Friday night doubleheaders, with the Trotters playing the first game.

But principle triumphed. The right thing won, over the expedient. That’s why, I think, that the Celtics were always able to reach down, further than any other team, and pull out those championships year after year. I am a firm believer that the good guys will win in the end. That’s what the Celtics did.

That’s what I choose to believe about Boston. That’s the character of our city. And it was the hockey man who owned the basketball team, one of the men who founded the Beanpot, who showed us the way.

But of all his accomplishments, I think Walter would be most proud of this Beanpot Tournament, and what it’s become. As I’ve said, he was first, last, and always a hockey man. Manager of the 1936 Olympic Team. Manager of he 1948 team. Owner of the Boston Americans. Hockey Hall of Fame member. President of the Bruins. [1995 Boston University captain] Jacques Joubert, you have his trophy.

Second, because the Beanpot, more than any of our matchless traditions, literally is Boston. His city. Our city. All of the people who built this city, who made it the world class metropolis it is – even though we don’t have a megaplex – not only come to the Beanpot. They play in the Beanpot. And who are they?

The men of Harvard are here. The people who came to these very shores first. The people who defined our American way of life. Boston is the education capital of the world. That’s because Harvard is here. Oh, there are others, but they all stand in line behind John Harvard’s school. Since 1636, the best and the brightest have gone to Harvard. They go there still. Wasn’t it only fitting that the first Beanpot champions were the men of Harvard?

beanpot mascotsThe Catholics are here. Boston College. My school. There is no group of people who have done more to shape and mold our city of Boston, since its founding, than the Catholics. In wave after wave the Catholic immigrants came to Boston. Uneducated, but devout and hard working. And when there was nobody else around to educate them, Boston College was here.

Then there’s Northeastern. I like to call them the kids of the American dream. Because they did it all on their own. The hard way. It takes an extra year to put yourself through Northeastern. You study. You work. Then you study some more. And work some more. And by the time you’re through with the Co-Op program, you’re ready for anything that life could ever throw at you. Northeastern University has given Boston many thousands of graduates in all sorts of professions. But more than that, Northeastern has given Boston an outstanding work ethic. That’s Northeastern’s enduring gift to Boston.

And there’s Boston University. And because this is the Beanpot Luncheon, after all, we save the best for last. And friends, I must confess that I couldn’t find a way to capture, in a capsule, the educational essence of BU. It’s a big, sprawling place. They’ve got everything there. All range and manner of grad and undergrad schools and programs. And maybe, just maybe, the educational character of BU has been eclipsed, from where I stand, by the incandescent personality of the man who runs the place. If you’ve got a question, the man who runs BU has your answer. And it’s always a good answer.

And I want my friends from BU to know how very special they are. I’ve been a student in the Metropolitan College. My grandfather, George V. Brown, was your first athletic director. And you play your superb brand of hockey – the pride of the East – in Walter Brown Arena.

You’re special to all of us who love the Beanpot too. Just look at the Beanpot achievement of Boston University. As old Johnny was to individual accomplishment, as the Celtics were to professional team accomplishment, so is Boston University to college hockey and the Beanpot.

Seventeen championships. 16 second places. In the title game 27 of the last 31 years. There’s no way to explain such a record. Like the Celtics, the Terriers win when they should. They win when they shouldn’t. It doesn’t matter if the coach is Parker or Abbott or Kelley.

I think I know why that happens now. I think that the Terriers, like the Celtics, carry a little bit of Walter Brown with them. They skate down from Walter Brown Arena to Walter Brown’s beloved Garden and something wonderful happens. Celtic green has become Terrier scarlet. You wear it well, BU.

And every time I see Boston University skate out onto the Boston Garden ice, the Boston College man in me says “Oh, God. Here they come again!” But the Beanpot man in me, the Bostonian in me, just tingles with anticipation. I’m seldom disappointed. I know I’m going to see something grand. And so does everyone else in Boston, no matter where their allegiances lie.

That’s what the Beanpot means to me, my friends. That’s what it does to me. That’s what it does to my city.

Boston is indeed many things. The poetry of its street names. The education capital of the world. And Boston is the Beanpot. And the Beanpot is Boston. That’s why it’s a social must. That’s why it’s irresistible. That’s why we’ve all got to be there.

Players. Coaches. Best of luck This is your time. Let’s make this Beanpot, the last one in the old Garden, the House of Magic, the Grande Dame of Causeway Street, one we’ll never, ever forget.

Delivered at the Beanpot Press Luncheon
February 2, 1995

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