After nearly 53 years of heartache, the Blues finally accomplished what every other major franchise in St. Louis had already done – win their championship trophy. (Photo courtesy: Darron Cummings, AP Photo)
You don’t have to be a sports historian to agree that the Blues’ first Stanley Cup was one of the most monumental moments for the city of St. Louis.
For those that aren’t from the Gateway to the West, or those who think a team’s first championship isn’t paramount to immediate history, some context may be necessary for why the Blues’ first Stanley Cup is, and always will be, one of the greatest sporting moments for the city of St. Louis. We’ll start with some of the most significant moments in St. Louis sports that came in the years before, starting with one many will remember quite well.
St. Louis Cardinals, 2011: Game 6
For Redbirds fans across the world, you already know where this is going. On a crisp October 27th, 2011, St. Louis was staring down the barrel of defeat against the Texas Rangers, who looked to claim their first World Series. Down 5-7 in the bottom of the 9th, two outs and two strikes, David Freese came in the clutch sending a pitch to the right-field wall, scoring two runs to tie it.
Texas rallied back in the 10th and grabbed two more runs. Bottom of the 10th, two outs, and two strikes again, Lance Berkman drove in the 2nd run to tie it up again. After stranding Texas in the 11th, David Freese delivered again: a full-count, walk-off, towering solo home run to straight away center field.
After five ties and six lead changes, St. Louis’ Mr. October delivered on what many still call one of the best games of baseball ever played. St. Louis surged past the Rangers the next night in game 7 to claim their 11th world series. It was the swansong for both legendary manager Tony La Russa and legendary slugger Albert Pujols. It immediately eclipsed the 2006 world series, and possibly every world series that came before that, and further cemented St. Louis’ legacy as one of the best baseball towns in the world.
St. Louis Rams, 2000: The Greatest Show on Turf
NFL fans and analysts agree that the St. Louis Rams of 1999-2001 was some of the most magical years of football the city and country had ever seen. The Rams of the ’90s were bottom-tier, projected to do worse than the expansion Cleveland Browns in 1999. The starting quarterback suffered a season-ending knee injury, bringing undrafted rookie QB Kurt Warner to the forefront. Poor management by John Shaw crippled the taxpayers of St. Louis. Dick Vermeil, a Super Bowl-winning coach, lead the Rams to just nine combined wins in 1997 and 1998.
What came next was nothing short of astounding: an NFC-best 13-3 record, powered by a dynamite offense nicknamed “The Greatest Show on Turf.” Warner had one of the greatest seasons any quarterback has ever had, with a 65% completion rating, 4,353 passing yards, and 41 touchdowns. Next to him were legendary St. Louis Rams like Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, rookie Torry Holt, and Pro Bowlers Orlando Pace and Adam Timmerman.
The Rams appeared in the playoffs for the first time since 1989 and made it to just their second Super Bowl. Their opponent, the Tennessee Titans, were making their first Super Bowl appearance. It was a defensive clinic for the first half, and despite the powerhouse up front, St. Louis lead 9-0. After another touchdown, Tennessee erased a 16-point deficit to tie it with two minutes left in the game.
Ominously similar to the LA Rams’ win in 1951, Warner threw a bomb that turned into a 73-yard touchdown, breaking the tie. The final play at the Rams’ 10-yard line has been donned “The Tackle”: Mike Jones made a brilliant heads-up play to stop Kevin Dyson’s carry just inches away from the goal line. That tackle sealed the St. Louis Rams’ first and only Super Bowl Championship.
St. Louis Hawks, 1958: Pettit Steals the Show
Believe it or not, St. Louis had an NBA team: the St. Louis Hawks, who moved to Atlanta in 1968 to become the current Atlanta Hawks. The team was led by the dominant, 6’-9” power forward Bob Pettit. Pettit played all 11 years of his professional career with the Hawks, never averaging less than 17.8 points per game (remember, this was basketball sixty years ago). He was named NBA Rookie of the year in 1955, and the scoring champion in 1956. A phenomenal offensive rebounder, Pettit was named the NBA’s first-ever MVP. He was also named MVP of the All-Star Game in 1956, ‘58, ‘59, and ’62; an accomplishment only shared with Kobe Bryant.
Pettit helped lead the St. Louis Hawks to the NBA Finals four times, from 1958-61. All four years, the Hawks faced the dominant Boston Celtics, who were beginning one of the most significant championship dynasties in all of sports. In 1957, the Celtics took down the Hawks to win their first championship, but St. Louis struck back in 1958. Celtics legend Bill Russell would sit out after game three due to an ankle injury, and the Hawks wouldn’t look back. Pettit had a 50-point game in game 6 (an NBA record, at the time) to seal the deal, 110-109. The Hawks won their first and only championship in 1958, and Pettit’s number 9 was the first number retired by the Hawks organization.
Leon Spinks, 1978: Down Goes Ali
Muhammad Ali was (and is) revered as the greatest boxer of all time. With 56 wins and 37 TKOs, Ali’s title as “King of the Ring” is one that could be solidified in history forever. However, not all his bouts were victories. In 1978, an up-and-coming boxer from the St. Louis ghetto, with only seven matches under his belt, challenged Ali for the Heavyweight Title. Leon Spinks, with a 6-0-1 record, faced Ali on February 15, 1978, for the WBC title going in with 10-1 odds of winning.
In what has been called one of the most stunning boxing upsets in history, Spinks defeated the aging, unprepared Ali by split decision. Ali had barely sparred before the match, and Spinks’ speed and tenacity proved too much for the legendary fighter. Spinks was instantly immortalized, becoming the only man ever to defeat Muhammad Ali in a title match. It was the height of Spinks’ career, and despite losing in a rematch to Ali, Spinks’ upset over The Greatest as a young boxer from the St. Louis ghetto would inspire young fighters the world over.
And Now… The Blues?
Of all the great moments in St. Louis sports listed here (and there are plenty more Cardinals moments that could be listed), notice that none are related to the St. Louis Blues. Maybe you could list Red Berenson’s 6-goal game against Philadelphia in 1968. While it’s a record that has yet to be broken in the modern NHL, that was in the regular season.
You could talk about the Monday Night Miracle in ’86, when the Blues famously came back with a four-goal third period and an overtime goal courtesy of Doug Wickenheiser. That was a playoff series the Blues eventually lost. Maybe you remember when T.J. Oshie put Team USA on his shoulders in a shootout during the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
You could even talk about Alex Steen famously scoring a shorthanded goal in overtime thanks to a rare misplay by Jonathan Quick. The same story with the Monday Night Miracle; the Blues lost that series. While the Blues had their moments, none of them came close enough to that historic, championship-caliber that all three other St. Louis franchises have experienced.
That changed on June 12th, 2019.
St. Louis Blues, 2019: Worst to First
The St. Louis Blues entered the 18-19 season with high hopes but entered the 2019 calendar year dead-last in the NHL. Not the division, not the conference, the whole league. Despite a landmark trade for center Ryan O’Reilly, and acquisitions like Tyler Bozak, David Perron, and St. Louis native Pat Maroon, it looked like it was another season of predestined failure.
Then, a new coach, an 80’s disco anthem and a red-hot (but ice-cold) rookie goaltender led them to a franchise-record 11-game winning streak, and St. Louis was right back in the hunt. The all-too-familiar shroud of playoffs still hung over their heads, however: they knew what it would take to exorcise the demons of the 52-year-old Blues.
They took the first series over the Jets and were pushed to the brink against Dallas in game 7, double overtime. St. Louisan Pat Maroon buried a rebound past the astounding Dallas goaltender, fellow St. Louisan Ben Bishop, and the city erupted. It made the next series against San Jose seem like a breeze, despite winning 4-2. Now, it was a rematch nearly 50 years in the making, when the Blues were on the bad end on one of the greatest moments in hockey history: The St. Louis Blues against the Boston Bruins for the Stanley Cup.
June 12th: Gloria
There were hard hits, big goals, excellent goaltending, missed calls, and everything rough-n’-tough about hockey that fans beg for. There were emotional wins and bone-crushing heartbreak. Most of all, there was the biggest two words in all of sports: Game 7. The Blues were headed to TD Garden as the underdogs but made no mistake in this game. The rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington made impossible saves, eventual MVP Ryan O’Reilly grabbed a goal, and the team captain scored the eventual game-winner. The Blues had finally done it: They were Stanley Cup Champions.
It was unlike anything hockey fans across the world had ever seen. It was a storybook ending to a rollercoaster season. The Blues were on the brink of a total rebuild, to become Stanley Cup Champions. Analysts praised the near-suicidal gamble of the general manager to not blow up the roster back in January. The celebration in St. Louis was tantamount to pandemonium. The championship parade saw a more significant fan attendance than any World Series win by the Cardinals, ever.
What made this win so unique, however, was the context and current atmosphere of St. Louis. The Cardinals had missed the playoffs for three straight seasons, after losing the World Series (to Boston, ironically) in 2013. The Rams had shipped back to LA and nearly made it to the Super Bowl in just their second season. Even the St. Louis University Billikens Men’s Basketball had been struggling (though they punched their ticket to March Madness this year by winning the A10 Conference). Of all the St. Louis franchises to have championship success, not many would probably put their bets on the Blues.
The Blues felt like the “little sister” in St. Louis sports since its inception. They could never achieve the notoriety that the Cardinals have, and the Rams and Hawks at least got their title. Remember when they nearly moved to Saskatchewan?
Let’s not forget the economic impact of a Stanley Cup run either: an estimated $50 million+ in revenue for the region is usually expected in a Cup-winning playoff run. Whether it’s through tickets, merchandise, hotels, or bar sales (we’re looking at you, Brett Hull!), the growth in the St. Louis area is a significant economic uptick, no matter how you slice it.
For the Blues to achieve their ultimate goal in this way, at this exact time when other franchises were moving or failing, speaks volumes for how much of a hockey town St. Louis is, and the perseverance of a team and its fanbase dying for that taste of glory. Maybe they’re not at the same caliber as Chicago, Boston or Pittsburgh (yet), but this Stanley Cup win just put the Blues a little closer, and will forever be chronicled as one of the greatest moments in St. Louis sports history.
For more local Blues stories, insights and more, visit bluesrants.com!