Continuing in our series about bygone hockey arenas, today I have stories about two Forums in which I did radio and television broadcasts.
One of the most famous hockey arenas, and the one housing the most Stanley Cup Championships was the Montreal Forum in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Built in 1924 at the corner of Atwater and St. Catherine Street, it was the home of the Montreal Canadiens from 1926 to 1996. It cost $1.5 million to build and in today’s money that would be $20 million. The final NHL game in the Forum was on March 11, 1996, as the Canadiens beat the Dallas Stars 4-1. In between the first and last games in the building 26 Stanley Cup Championships were won by the teams that played there, two by the Montreal Maroons and 24 by the Canadiens.
My memories of broadcasting Kings’ games in the Montreal Forum:
– The sense of history as you walked in to the main lobby. Photos of all the great Canadiens players hanging on the walls, Hall of Famers such as Jean Beliveau, Rocket Richard, Toe Blake, coach Dick Irvin, “Boom Boom” Geoffrion, Doug Harvey and others.
– The 24 Stanley Cup banners hanging from the rafters, more than any other building in the NHL.
– The steepness of the seats. In the eighth row of the lower red seats you were already above the glass.
– Like many old arenas there was not a decent press box for radio and TV since the building was built before television existed. However, we did have a magnificent view of the game, with a steep angle and close to the ice. We also did not have a television studio for pre and post game shows like we have today. In fact our “studio” was in the garage area of the arena with fumes from automobiles and the zamboni.
– We would do between period interviews on the ice. Rich Marotta was my partner in the mid-70’s and one night he went down to the ice surface to interview Bob Gainey of Montreal. We discovered that Rich’s microphone would not work, so they told me to go on camera and fill the time. The score was only 1-0 so there wasn’t a lot to talk about and I was by myself with no one to interview. I filled for about 5 minutes and felt I was doing a wonderful job, when finally Rich’s mic was working and I threw down to him. The phone rang in our booth and it was someone from Los Angeles who told me Kings owner Jack Kent Cooke had called. I thought he called to congratulate me on the job I did filling the time, but he said to tell me to ‘Quit hogging the mike and let Rich talk once in a while.’
– The spine-tingling rendition of O’ Canada by Roget Doucet who sang the national anthems in the Forum in the 70’s.
– Watching and describing thrilling rushes up the ice by Guy LaFleur, Yvan Cournoyer and Steve Shutt.
– The Kings Stanley Cup Final series vs. Montreal in 1993 and Marty McSorley’s infamous illegal stick in Game 2. Montreal won Game 5 by a score of 4-1 to win their 24th and last Stanley Cup to this date.
Today a portion of the old Forum still stands but inside has been converted to restaurants and movie theatres, but no amount of renovation can erase the great memories of one of the greatest shrines of hockey.
THE FABULOUS FORUM
In my opinion the most distinctive and beautiful Forum was the home of the Los Angeles Kings from 1967 to 1999. It was built for the sum of $16 million and that included the land, and it was designed in a circular “Roman Forum” design that was so distinctive that when you saw a photo of it you knew immediately that it was the Forum in Inglewood, California. Owner Jack Kent Cooke demanded that we call it the “Fabulous Forum.” The name changed in December of 1988 when then owner Dr. Jerry Buss sold the naming rights to Great Western Savings and Loan. That was the first naming rights deal in American sports at that time and the building became known as “The Great Western Forum.”
I broadcast Kings’ games in that building from 1973 to 1999 before the Kings moved to STAPLES Center. I have so many remembrances from that building that I could not list them all in this space. Some of them include:
– The lack of a “formal” press box. Apparently the architect, who also designed the current Madison Square Garden in New York, forgot there “might” be media coverage in the two largest markets in the U.S.
– Therefore, the “Press Box” took up several rows of seats in the front rows of the colonnade at center ice. It had a decent view of the game but there were times that fans in the lower bowl would stand and block our view and that of the TV cameras. The biggest problem I had was with the “cotton candy man” when he had a full pallet and would stop in front of me so I had to look around the cotton candy to describe the play.
– The accessibility fans had to the broadcast location. One night while I was doing the play-by-play, I felt a tap on my shoulder and a Kings’ fans said, ‘Hey, Bob, I want to ask you a question.’ Needless to say I was a little busy at the time.
– The 1981 All-Star Game which featured the Kings’ Triple Crown line of Marcel Dionne, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer, all introduced together to the crowd. Kings goalie Mario Lessard was also on that All-Star team.
– The 1993 Stanley Cup Final when the Kings met the Montreal Canadiens. Before the Kings first home game in that series, I saw fans toasting each other with champagne in their seats, finally seeing something they had never seen before in the Forum.
– The “Miracle on Manchester” playoff game on April 10, 1982, against the powerful Edmonton Oilers. The underdog Kings trailed 5-0 at the end of two periods but rallied with five goals in the third period, the tying goal by Steve Bozek with five seconds left. In overtime the Kings won the game on a blistering shot by Daryl Evans for a 6-5 win and the Kings went on to win the series.
– Wayne Gretzky’s first regular season game in a Kings uniform (October 6, 1988). He scored on his first shot in an 8-2 win over Detroit.
Of course there were so many others but time and space here doesn’t permit.
The final game in the Great Western Forum was on April 18, 1999. Thousands of Kings’ fans still have extremely fond memories of the “Fabulous Forum.”