Phil Esposito’s historic hockey rant inspired by Vancouver boo-birds
Former Sun columnist Jim Taylor says the 1972 Summit Series was the most emotional sports event he ever covered
Team Canada’s Phil Esposito unleashes his famous rant during a post-game interview with broadcaster Johnny Esaw.
VANCOUVER — It’s been 40 years now, but Jim Taylor hasn’t forgotten much about the 1972 Canada-Soviet Summit Series that he covered as a columnist for The Vancouver Sun. Taylor was just a pup back then, only 35, when he was dispatched by the paper to cover Game 4 at Pacific Coliseum and the remainder of the epic series in Moscow.
Game 4, of course, is probably noted more for Phil Esposito’s post-game rant than it was for the score. (Soviets won it 5-3, by the way.) Team Canada was booed throughout that Sept. 8, 1972 night and then off the ice at game’s end. Esposito, the perspiration cascading down his face, told the country the players didn’t warrant that kind of treatment.
“I thought Espo’s rant was sort of idiotic at the time,” Taylor said this week in an interview. “Here were all these NHL players who thought they were going to win by about eight goals apiece and they had more or less told everybody they were going to win that easily. Now they’re losing and, all of the sudden, Espo is jumping up and down and ranting and somehow the fans are letting them down. I mean, what was that?
“Nobody in the NHL seemed to appreciate the fact it was going to be any kind of contest. The fans in Vancouver were upset because they had been basically told the same thing. They believed the same thing. They believed, okay, now we’re going to show those Russians.”
Vancouver fans booing a hockey team was nothing new to Taylor.
“You know better than anybody that hockey in this town is crazy and always has been,” he pointed out. “I mean, they booed Murray Hall (original Canuck) back in the day. People here boo when they’re upset. What it was, I think, was a mentality that, as Canadians, this was our game and how come these other people, these Russians, had the temerity to come over and beat us at our game.”
Taylor covered many major events during his lengthy career and maintains, to this day, the emotion of the Summit Series was unlike anything he has witnessed either before or since. It was Us Versus Them, the Free World Versus Communism, Good Versus Evil. In short, it had become war.
“I mean, I’ve covered World Cups and Olympics and stuff but in terms of pure emotion, that series would be No. 1,” Taylor said. “It was such a purely Canadian thing. We had all been brought up to think this was our game. We would always say, when Father Bauer would send those kids over (to world championships) and they’d get their butts kicked: ‘Why can’t we send over the NHL guys? Boy, if we do, we’ll show them.’ Well, we finally got to send them and it didn’t work.”
Perhaps it didn’t work in the sense of eight straight 10-0 routs but Canada did prevail 4-3-1 in the series, winning the final three games in the hostile environment of Moscow’s Luzhniki Ice Palace. Taylor concedes that the Canadian comeback was a tremendous achievement and figures the negative feedback helped spur them on.
“When we got to Moscow, I gather all the papers and the media back home were giving everybody hell but the team didn’t really know that,” he explained. “Then the wives arrived with all the stories and the clipping and everything and the players, all of the sudden, knew they were kind of being dumped on in their home country. I think it rallied them a bit.
“I have to say this,” Taylor concluded, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group come together like that and I don’t think I ever saw a leader as good as Espo was, even though he is not one of my favourite human beings. He was amazing. Paul Henderson once told me they had to win because they were afraid to face Espo if they didn’t.”
Canada did win, the free world was ‘saved’ and legends were created. You had to be there. Jim Taylor was.
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