Chico Resch became unlikely conduit to my Islanders fandom
We pick our favorite teams for a variety of reasons: family, friends, team colors. A good friend of mine became a Cowboys fan when he was 6 years old for the simple reason that he liked the star on the helmet; it was simply a nice bonus that he enjoyed many subsequent years rooting for the stars in the helmet — Staubach, Dorsett, Aikman, Irvin.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as this: an athlete steals your heart.
It doesn’t always have to be a star, either. The first athlete I rooted for was Felix Millan: nice player, All-Star, but I loved how he choked up on his bat. I had an early fondness for Joe Namath, too, but in retrospect that was as much a hopping-on-the-zeitgeist as anything. By the time I started paying attention, around 1974 or so, Namath was a shell of himself, and the Jets weren’t selling out at home anymore so half their games were blacked out.
So it would be Chico who led the way for me.
It was 45 years ago this month. I was 8. That, of course, is the perfect time for heroes of all form or fashion to make an impact on you. That was the year I started to realize who the Beatles were. “Happy Days” was finding its legs in 1975, so of course everyone wanted to be Fonzie.
Soon enough my father would take me to see Tom Seaver pitch for the very first time (Sept. 1, a 3-0 four-hitter over the Pirates), and that would take me to a different level.
But in that spring of 1975, life for an Island kid like me was all about the Islanders. In April they’d stunned the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, then spotted the Penguins a 3-0 lead in the conference semifinals before winning four games in a row — first team since the ’42 Maple Leafs to do that in American sports (and last team until the ’04 Red Sox). And in May, they did the same with the Flyers in the conference finals, dropping the first three.
Forty-five years ago Monday, they tied that series at 3-3, too, thanks to a 2-1 win over the Flyers. And the reason for so much of this was a 26-year-old goalie from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, named Glenn “Chico” Resch, who’d replaced future Hall of Famer Billy Smith when the Isles were way down to Pittsburgh and commenced standing on his head.
And that was it. I was gone. I was 8, so they weren’t terribly sophisticated reasons why I fell so hard for Resch and the Islanders; I liked the nickname. I liked Moose Jaw. I liked that Chico was doing all of these things a few miles up the street from my house at the Nassau Coliseum. But Chico was the conduit. Chico was the vessel. After that spring of ’75, I would never see sports passively again; I was all-in.
A lot of my friends were similarly smitten. My pal Jim McCartney — now the owner of Prost, a terrific German bar and restaurant in Garden City — became a Chico man and an Islanders fan at exactly the same time.
“Loved him,” Jim remembered this week. “I got to meet him when I was 10 years old, he spoke with my cousin and I for an hour while ignoring the adults!”
That’s the best part, of course, when you learn your hero is actually a good guy, too, worthy of those innocent devotions. I grew up to know Chico well when I spent a lot of time covering the Devils 20 years ago. I’ve called him here and there in the years since, whenever a goalie does for his team what Chico did for the Islanders 45 years ago (at least until Kate Smith intervened and the Flyers won Game 7).
“I can close my eyes,” he told me once, “and feel it all over again. It’s a good feeling.”
I did tell him that he is one of the big reasons sports became so important to me. He got a kick out of that, and also the fact that my buddy, Jim, instantly switched his team devotion to the Devils in 1982 because Chico was there by then (a legit boss move if you consider the Isles were in the middle of a dynasty).
“That stuff? It never fails to make me smile,” he said.
That only seems fair.
How’s your pandemic TV binge-viewing going? Mine is much better, thanks, now that I’m full-blown addicted to “Mindhunters” on Netflix.
I trust podcasting has become more and more of your daily existence, too. Here are two I can recommend heartily: “Daddy Issues,” co-hosted by Joe Buck and Oliver Hudson; and ex-Met Art Shamsky’s new podcast, which will debut next week, with Ed Kranepool as his first guest.
After a week of checking in with the ’69 World Series every night, I think I can state one thing with absolute confidence: Tony Kubek might have been the greatest sideline reporter of all time. Y’all about hustle.
Three books to occupy your hours, as well: “Gotham Baseball: New York’s All-Time Team” by Mark Healey; “Mr. Met,” by the inimitable Jay Horwitz; and “The Big 50: New York Yankees” by our pal, Peter Botte.
Whack Back at Vac
Dennis Daly: Mike, what was better than Friday night? Game 7 Knicks vs. Lakers on MSG, Game 5 Mets vs. Orioles on SNY!
Vac: Maybe if NFL Network could’ve found it in its heart to air Super Bowl III and make it the toggle night of all time?
Paul Sciortino: With all the various federal government bailout programs, perhaps Chuck Schumer should create a bill for eminent domain and have the federal government buy out the Knicks and Mets?
Vac: The Yankees are forever exempt from such, and because they are, and have proven to be, Too Big to Fail.
@adamholdwn68: NFL watching is a group exercise. Tailgating at the game, watching at a friend’s house or going to a bar. No one watches alone — and until we can get together … ixnay.
@MikeVacc: In theory this is absolutely correct. But I’ll be stunned if the NFL doesn’t explore every option — including empty stadiums — before throwing up its hands.
Peter Drago: There is absolutely no silver lining to this pandemic, but with the virtual Mets in third place at 18-19, I just saved myself over a month’s worth of agita.
Vac: Always look on the bright side of life, Peter!
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