There is one person in Connecticut, one person old enough to have gone to Whalers games, old enough to have covered a few dozen of them for the nation’s oldest continuously published newspaper, who is not outraged over the Carolina Hurricanes’ latest appropriation of the name and likeness.
You guessed it. Now, allow me to elucidate …
I totally get how annoying it is, the thought of pro hockey players skating around Mayberry-Mount Pilot in our beloved blue, white and green sweater. Sure, it can be infuriating to think of the fluke being used yet again in a gratuitous money grab, to sell licensed items where their own unsightly threads are on clearance. Our Hartford Whalers are far more than a Twitter profile page around here, and it feels like another desecration.
But there is one thing worse than all of that:
Have you seen a Cincinnati Royals jacket recently? California Golden Seals? When was the last bring-back-the-Browns rally in St. Louis? Think they ever talk about the Kings in Kansas City or Omaha?
No, but Hartford’s hockey team lives on and on, in hearts and minds, on the full-price racks in sporting goods stores throughout North America and the Twitter feeds of adopted Hartfordites, many unborn when Peter Karmanos whisked the Whalers away.
And this all to the good. You know, if ever a fan base had a kick coming, it was the D.C. denizens who came out to see the Senators despite decades at the bottom of the American League. Then a promising young team departed for Minneapolis in 1960, taking Harmon Killebrew and company with them and a few years later they became contenders. Back in D.C., they were replaced by a hapless expansion team that lasted 10 mostly miserable years, then departed for Arlington, Texas.
That’s more jilting than any generation should have to endure, and the fans were angry enough to swarm the field and force the Senators to forfeit their last game to the Yankees in 1971.
But if the Senators faded away, the concept that the national pastime belonged in the nation’s capital did not. In time, when throw-back uniforms became a thing, the Twins and Rangers both cashed in on the ‘W’ every so often. I scored a Senators cap at Arlington one time, a few years before baseball did return to Washington after 34 years. Now hope must be kept alive for a rebirth of the Expos’ cool, if confusing, insignia.
This is not to suggest that the NHL will come back to Hartford during the natural life of anyone reading this. There’d have to be a new arena with a hefty price tag, acquiescence of the Boston and New York franchises, corporate sponsorship, a TV deal far beyond what existed the first time and confidence that games would consistently pack a downtown building when they didn’t in the 1990s.
But still there is power in remaining in the public eye, and as sure as the Rams were once in Cleveland, stranger things have happened. Dodger blue and Giants orange returned to New York with the Mets. Los Angeles got both the Rams and Chargers back. Winnipeg reclaimed its Jets, and the NBA went back to New Orleans and Charlotte. Can Seattle be far behind?
Such things happened for one reason: When the team left town, the people missed them.
We miss the Whalers as much as ever. The Yard Goats wear their colors, the women’s pro hockey team in Danbury is the Connecticut Whale. For a time even the Wolf Pack borrowed the brand. “Brass Bonanza,” an eye-roller in its day, has become the kitschy tune we can’t get out of our heads. Pro tip: If you want to run a successful marketing campaign in Connecticut, find some way to tie them in.
What if the Whalers had gone the way of the Syracuse Nationals? We wouldn’t be having this conversation. No one would be wearing their uniform. And if they did, no one would care. May you find someone who’ll remember you, foibles and all, the way Hartford remembers the Whalers.
And if you’re one of those who still cares, misses them, hopes against hope they may one day return, remember that anything that keeps the green, the fluke and the “Brass Bonanza” alive and in the continental hockey consciousness can’t hurt. Consider it a badge of honor, for it only means your Hartford Whalers will never be forgotten. The Hurricanes may be etched on Lord Stanley’s Cup, but should they ever skip town, they probably won’t be so lucky.