Back in the day growing up In the greatest neighborhood in New York City, we played all sports. You name it, we played it! We even made games up! Running Bases, remember that? Off the Point, Kick the Can, War, and of course, Taps, in the schoolyard.
A few nights ago I was surfing (no, not really surfing with a board, water and all) I was changing the channel on my television with my high-tech remote control and I came across the Detroit Red Wings play-off game.
Sorry, not much of a hockey fan. I kept changing. (Have you ever gone from channel 02 all the way to like 900 and not see one interesting program?)
Back in the early 80’s though I can recall going over to Manhattan to watch the New York Rangers battle the New York Islanders in the NHL playoffs.
Those were the days!
We would jump in someone’s car and head over to second avenue and 29th street and sit in a local watering hole.
The reason we went into Manhattan was because we didn’t have cable and the game was on MSG.
(I will blog on cable tv at a later date) First time I ever got cable the cable operator told me to expect the technician between 8AM and 5 PM; he arrived at 4:55.
Back to Hockey.
I never really played serious hockey; it was too rough for me. Plus, I didn’t know how to skate. But there were a lot of tough son-of-a-guns from the neighborhood who did play.
They use to play over in the bandshell on Saturday afternoons.
If you walked the neighborhood, you could also catch them playing on Fuller Place, 10th avenue, PS 154 schoolyard and of course the girls schoolyard.
The late Drew Thomas (bless his soul), Anthony Hajjar, and Kenny Reed (The dude was like Bernie Parent in goal) were a few guys I remember tying up the skates and flying around like NHL all-stars.
I received a great piece on Hockey in the Neighborhood titled, ‘Hockey in the Hood‘, written by Joe D.
Hockey in the ‘Hood
It wasn’t schoolyard basketball or Farrell’s football but hockey played an important part in the lives of many of the kids growing up in and around our neighborhood.
For me it started off when I was six or seven. We played hockey with clamp on roller skates and should have died if we lived by today’s rules and precautions. Helmets, knee and elbow pads would not be invented until yuppies started falling on their butts in Central Park trying in-line skates. As I recall, there were two types of skates: Union and Chicago. Union skates were lighter but didn’t hold up as well compared to Chicago. The Chicago skates were heavier and built like trucks. Either skate could be fitted with shoe or sneaker clamps but you needed the sneaker clamps if you ever wanted to turn or stop. In some ways those skates were like ski bindings because if you ever applied too much torque you would break the skate before your ankle. I am not sure that was part of their design but it did save a bone or two.
We played on the street and used sewer plates as goals. Aside from the lack of equipment, cars were our greatest concern. Not moving cars, because traffic wasn’t nearly as busy, but parked cars with long and sharp tail fins. Yes, I am talking about the early sixties, when a Chevy could Impala you if you skated into the wrong end. The kids on the block experimented with wooden pucks, real pucks and rolls of tape. Wooden pucks could sail because they were light, real pucks would do significant damage if you were able to shoot one and rolls of electrical tape worked the best. They were heavy enough to feel real but didn’t have the friction of a solid piece of rubber.
As we progressed through school we joined forces with classmates with similar interest to form teams. We tried to play anybody from a flat street. We played on three sections of Tenth Avenue, Terrace Place and just about anywhere else where we could muster a game. Not so surprisingly we never played on Sherman or Windsor! In those days hockey was a lot like little kid soccer with everyone chasing the puck. Typically the goalie would kneel in front of the sewer and scream “no lifters”. The term was directed at those kids that could lift the puck and potentially take an eye out. I don’t think anyone worried about an eye or tooth; they were more concerned with taking a shot a bit further south.
Relationships expanded through school and I was introduced to the Mecca of hockey within the neighborhood – 15th Street. Those guys were the best. Just about everyone played and if they didn’t they knew every statistic since Lord Stanley decided to host a few games. On their block hockey spanned generations and young kids played with the big guys and the game turned almost into sport. You knew you arrived when they asked you to play in the Band Shell on Saturday mornings. Damn, some of those kids were old. They didn’t drive but they did shave! Goals in the band shell were two steel garbage cans spread apart by the width of a hockey stick. The ‘parkies’ didn’t mind as long as we returned them when we were done. Lines were painted, we actually used the park benches as real team benches and we were happy as hell.
Equipment improved around this time and you could buy an excellent pair of booted skates with heavy duty wheel foundations that could really take a beating. Equipment became the norm and guys would show up wearing their best Christmas and birthday presents.
Our immediate circle of players grew as more kids from the neighborhood picked up and began to play. Again the typical age segregation didn’t matter. If you could skate and were willing to take a bump then everyone was happy to have you.
Eventually, the younger guys broke off because we had more time on our hands. What was a job? We actually began to travel to play games. We tried playing a game on one of Bishop Ford’s yards but the surface was so slippery it was like playing ice hockey with roller skates. We traveled to a playground down by Sacred Heart alongside the highway and we traveled out to Ft. Hamilton Ave and 53rd street to find a game.
The Ft. Hamilton facility proved to be a great opportunity because here history was made. I believe it was approximately 1966 when a selfless, hard working bus driver adopted our enthusiasm and offered to establish us in a roller hockey league at Ft. Hamilton. If you can believe it, Holy Name actually supported us and allowed us to use the Brothers basement to hold meetings and get organized.
We played real league hockey with nets, referees and rules. Ft. Hamilton and 53rd was not easy to get to from our neighborhood (three trains and a walk) but it didn’t matter because we were happy as hell.
Around high school we began to separate. Some guys stayed at Ft. Hamilton and developed into excellent players, even local legends. Some guys went on to play ice hockey. Around this time rubber ball hockey developed into a game of its own. The only equipment that was needed was a stick, a dead tennis ball and a net. Rubber ball hockey became the great equalizer because anyone could play. You didn’t need to skate and anyone could shoot a ball into a net. Even the big guys had an advantage because they stood like a tree in the middle of the street as you tried to stick handle around them. Goalies had no respect for their bodies as they stood on their heads to make saves. We didn’t travel as much as the roller days but I remember at least one marathon game played in the 154 schoolyard between rivals. The final score more resembled a football game compared to a hockey game.
Jump ahead to 1976’ish and Farrell’s is still the local watering hole for the entire neighborhood. We are now all over 18 and it was easy to bump into the ol’ crew and reminisce. Stories became ideas and ideas became plans. Before you knew it those same guys from 15th Street put together an ice hockey team and finagled Farrell’s into a sponsorship. By now our once small network of hockey heads had grown and we had guys joining us from other neighborhoods both near and afar. We acquired real jerseys with logos and became know as Farrell’s Nordiques. We joined a league out on Long Island and once again traveled to play. Our first games weren’t pretty but no one cared. Some guys were skating well and some guys were breaking their ankles. It didn’t really matter because we were all back together again playing for real on ice.
Whether you were a baseball, basketball, football or hockey athlete you cannot deny the joy of sweating for 90 minutes and coming back to Farrell’s to replenish those precious fluids. Damn, we were happy as hell.
We played for, I believe, three seasons and we bounced through different leagues from Long Island to New Jersey. As we matured, and I use that term loosely, we developed a small following of girlfriends and fans that enjoyed our game or, more possibly, the occasional fight. During one of our seasons we even held a gala dinner dance up in McFadden’s. I don’t recall any speeches but there must have been some. I do recall continuing the evening in Farrell’s probably all decked out in Huckapoo shirts and silly sports jackets.
If you are still reading I apologize for the length. So now we are mature, for real, and dispersed throughout the country. I hope most of us are still around but I know that we lost some of our teammates way too soon. May they continue to rest in peace. I hope you read this and remember the days as fondly as I have. Damn, we were happy as hell.
Finally, I haven’t used any names because I fear that if I used some I would miss many and those that I remembered I would probably spell incorrectly. You guys know who you are and I suspect anyone who hung out in Farrell’s during the seventies knew the guys from 15th Street.