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When The Bruins Were First In Boston

In this giddy, championship-driven era of the Brady/Belichick Patriots, the Big Three Celtics and the two-time champion Red Sox, it may be hard for younger generations to imagine the time four decades ago when the Bruins monopolized the local sports imagination. But they once did.

Bruins Bobby Orr, left, and Phil Esposito in March 1971 (AP)

Bruins Bobby Orr, left, and Phil Esposito in March 1971 (AP)

By day, we played street hockey in the burgeoning suburb northwest of Boston. We were festooned in spoked “B’s”. We played all four seasons, in any kind of weather. If parents minded the symphony of plastic blades scraping asphalt or the startling boom when puck hit house, we never heard about it. The black and gold tornado paused only for traffic and for nightfall.

The really good days were capped by a Bruins game on Channel 38. UHF antennas required adjustment so that the names on jerseys were legible and so we could understand every word Fred Cusick and Johnny Peirson said. If a late game pushed past bedtime, a portable transistor radio was smuggled under the covers. There was no sound like Bob Wilson’s wide basso profundo squeezing through a narrow two-inch speaker when the Bruins scored, which they did a lot of in winning the Stanley Cup in 1970 and 1972.

And the Bruins were near to us in other ways. We knew Bruins head coach Tom Johnson was real because we passed his house every day on the school bus. Rumors circulated that Bobby Orr, the game’s best player, lived in our town. We looked for him everywhere, but never found him.

But something happened after the 1972 championship. As the mid-’70s approached, the Celtics and the Red Sox became championship-caliber, while the Bruins were mere contenders. Attention turned to rock music, girls and teams that won titles. Orr left for Chicago. Phil Esposito was traded to New York. The spoked, Black and Gold dream had ended.

But spokes are part of a wheel, and wheels turn. The 2011 Bruins, though not yet as successful or charismatic as the Big Bad editions of the early ’70s, are pretty likable and very talented. If they end up winning it all Wednesday, it could remind us, if only a little, of the wonder we felt when the Bruins could do no wrong and, in our little corner of New England, when everything else came second.

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