Some associate the Los Angeles Kings with silver and black. I remember Forum Blue and Gold.
Some extol the virtues of Wayne Gretzky, Luc Robitaille and Anze Kopitar. My heroes were Marcel Dionne, Rogie Vachon and Butch Goring.
Some get a kick out of watching the Kings in front of a sell-out crowd at the ultra-modern Staples Center. I derived just as much joy seeing the Kings in front of a half-empty arena at the venerable Inglewood Forum.
With the Kings just one game away clinching their first Stanley Cup Final championship in the 45-year history of the franchise, I can’t help but to wax nostalgically about a team that had essentially become the Rodney Dangerfield of the NHL. And like many long-suffering fans, a title is something we thought we would never witness.
When we were young, my friends and I didn’t attend Kings games because they were popular or because it was the thing to do. Quite the contrary; we supported the team because we were fans and we were ice hockey enthusiasts. Even when the Lakers were winning championships, we still held our allegiance to the hapless Kings, because they were our hapless Kings.
I’ve talked with some of my friends who are long-suffering Kings fans. They are put off by what they perceive as “bandwagon fans” who have hitched their wagon to the team because of its winning ways this season. But that doesn’t bother me in the least. I say the more fans the better. I would be ecstatic to see a victory parade and local media coverage in the L.A. area of a Kings championship, just like we experienced in the past with the Lakers, Dodgers and Raiders.
I grew up just a stone’s throw from the “Fabulous Forum” in Inglewood, the place the Kings first called home beginning in 1967 and lasting until 1999. Even when my family moved to nearby Hawthorne, I lived just a couple of miles from the venue.
When I was a kid, my brother Chris and I would ride our bikes or walk to the Forum and the adjacent Hollywood Park race track. There was a huge drainage pipe that led from the street and ran under Hollywood Park, and we would sneak through the dark and damp corridor and end up just on the fringe of the infield of the race track.
We would also romp around the Forum parking lot, walk around the outside of the facility and fish for stray golf balls at the golf course that was right next to facility.
Through the years, I spent many a glorious night taking in Kings games with by brother and friends. Although we went to our share of Lakers games throughout the years — even seeing them win the NBA Finals in Game 6 of the 1982 playoffs against the Philadelphia 76ers — most of the time, when we made our way to the Forum it was to see the Kings.
As students, we could get into the games for $5. You could roll up to the box office just minutes before a contest and still get good seats. The five-spot bought a nose-bleed seat at the extreme top of the Forum in the highest section. Sometimes we were so high in the rafters our heads would nearly hit the roof and in some seats you had to duck down to look past the overhang that circled the stadium.
Our only saving grace was that we rarely stayed in those seats for long. In the late-1970s and early-to-mid-1980s, it was rare for the Kings to sell out a game at the Forum. On most occasions, we would retire to our elevated seats and stay there for a period or less, all the while scouting groups of empty seats in the lower bowl. At intermission, we would buy a handful of food and just casually walk past the ushers (they wouldn’t ask for your ticket when you were loaded up) and we would take our seats near the glass or in spots we could never afford to sit.
Although the Forum’s capacity was 16,005, it was almost never filled back in the day. We would routinely go to contests that were attended by as little as 8,000-9,000 fans. And if the Kings were playing popular Canadian teams like Montreal or Quebec, the local fans were usually outnumbered by French Canadians, who could be heard carrying on in French throughout the entire venue.
The Forum had an allure and a homey feeling that you just don’t get in many of today’s modern venues. Unlike Staples Center, you weren’t segregated into sections and you didn’t have the feeling of being separated into the haves and have-nots. Because of the concourse that surrounded the inside of the Forum, the affluent patrons would rub elbows with the regular folks, whether it was getting a hot dog or looking for a souvenir. It was a perfect symbiotic existence.
There were also no luxury boxes, and big wigs and VIPs were relegated to small areas up in the stands surrounded only by a small plexiglass railing.
We made good use of the concourse, cursing for girls or looking for celebrities at the intermissions between periods. We would often stop in front of the press area to listen to what veteran announcer Bob Miller was saying about the contest. Sometimes we would climb into the stands to say hello to Joe Tripoli as he tickled the ivories on the Forum Organ, or try to elicit a comment by shouting to owner Jerry Buss, who was always accompanied by a bevy of beauties in his private suite.
After the game, we would stick around and hunt for Goal magazines that were left behind, or wait to get players’ autographs at the tunnel that led out of the Forum.
It wasn’t very rewarding to be a Kings fan back then. Many seasons the team didn’t even qualify for the NHL playoffs, and when it did, it usually suffered a quick exit. But we loved the team nevertheless, and we loved the players.
We were enthralled with the “Triple Crown Line” that included Dionne, Dave Taylor and Charlie Simmer, and we respected standout players like Bernie Nicholls, Larry Murphy, Mike Murphy, Jerry “King Kong” Korab, Mario Lessard, Jay Wells, Jim Fox, and Mark Hardy.
However, where were also forgettable players like Don Howse, Dave Morrison, Mike Blake, Warren Holmes, Dave Gans, Gary Laskoski, Markus Mattsson, Darren Eliot and Allan Tuer.
Although I attended my share of memorable Kings games over the years, one contest will forever be elevated above the rest. It occurred on April 10, 1982 and it is known as “The Miracle on Manchester.” The Kings completed the biggest comeback in NHL playoff history, going from being down, 5-0, to winning the game, 6-5, in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers on a goal by Daryl Evans. What followed was the most deafening, most exuberant and most fulfilling experience I have ever experienced in sport.
Those are the kinds of memories I think about with the Kings on the cusp of winning the Cup.
If the Kings do indeed take home Lord Stanley’s Cup for the first time — which they can do with a win in Game 4 tonight against the New Jersey Devils — it will mark the culmination of years of strife and a tremendous relief for throngs of Kings fans. Although a clinching win at Staples would be fulfilling, those of us who grew up watching the team will never forget the years and the joy we derived from seeing the Kings compete in their first home — the Forum.