Vahe Gregorian

Singing the Blues: On the meaning of St. Louis’ Stanley Cup triumph

Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes congratulate Blues on winning Stanley Cup

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes sent congratulations to the St. Louis Blues, who defeated the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, to win the Stanley Cup.
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Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes sent congratulations to the St. Louis Blues, who defeated the Boston Bruins on Wednesday, June 12, 2019, to win the Stanley Cup.

The paradoxical part of becoming a sportswriter is that you are obliged to distance yourself from at least part of why you gravitated to this line of work: being a sports fan.

That doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate and feel the sheer wonder and surging adrenaline that come with certain moments, such as the way the 2014 and 2015 Royals captivated Kansas City.

Even so, you’re always thinking about the story and the work of telling it as best you can.

A little distance, though, can go a long way toward freeing you up to remember what brought you here in the first place.

Like I felt when the Philadelphia Eagles, my childhood team and former employer (if an unpaid internship counts), won the Super Bowl in 2018 … and felt again late Wednesday night when the St. Louis Blues at last won the Stanley Cup.

St. Louis Blues fans pack The Blue Line hockey bar in the River Market to watch and celebrate the team's first Stanley Cup championship

Here’s why it was on my mind all through Wednesday night:

Across The Wide Missouri: Between the throngs watching at The Blue Line hockey bar and Kansas City being the fifth-rated TV market watching, and highest without an NHL team, this obviously resonated across the state and identified a keen interest in the game here that we can only hope someday will result in the return of the NHL.

More tangibly, it clarified a stronger sense of connection between Kansas City and St. Louis than some might realize — doubtless stoked some by Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahomes attending one game wearing a Blues jersey.

On Thursday as the Chiefs concluded their offseason training, Mahomes gave a shoutout to Blues goaltender Jordan Binnington, following up on a simple tweet he posted Wednesday night (“Binnington!!”) that got 17,000 likes and nearly 2,000 retweets. He exchanged texts about the game with coach Andy Reid, who said he watched every game of the series and called it “phenomenal” for St. Louis.

Can the Hyperloop be far behind?

Rise of the Underdogs: Who loves sports, besides possibly some rival Chicago Blackhawks fans, and can’t appreciate the meaning of what the Blues achieved? It was their first championship since their inception in 1967, meaning they had been one of just six major sports franchises to be around for 50-plus years without having as much as one title. In the process, they became the first team in the traditional four major sports to pull out of last place overall past the first quarter of a season and then win it all.

Lack of Ram: St. Louis got kicked in the shins when the Rams returned to Los Angeles in 2016 and then kicked in the teeth for good measure by owner Stan Kroenke, who gratuitously insulted the city to justify the move. It needed this. Because I lived in St. Louis for 25 years, I’m thrilled for my friends there.

Laila: It’s impossible not to be moved by the story of sweet Laila Anderson, the 11-year-old Blues fan embraced by the team as she fights a rare immune disorder. The Blues took her to Boston for Game 7 and brought her down on the ice to celebrate after the game.

Regular Guys: When I was starting in this business at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and feeling disillusioned about pro athletes because of a largely sour group of Cardinals during some lean years, this happened the first time I visited the Blues locker room:

Hi, I don’t think we’ve met before; I’m Peter Zezel,” the Blues forward said, approaching me.

When I asked him about that gesture later, he said, “I like to keep my feet on the ground. I don’t like to think I’ve got a big, swelled head — who am I? Just because we’re in the public eye, just because we’re on TV, doesn’t mean we’re not human beings.”

I know all hockey players aren’t like that, but I’ve thought of them that way ever since.

Life lessons: I can still feel the bone-crushing, knee-buckling handshake of former Blues star and coach Brian Sutter and how he used to like to say the hokiest hockey thing ever: “Hard work is a talent, too.”

Nostalgia: Because the St. Louis Arena was one of my favorite buildings before its 70-year run came to an end with its demolition in 1999. One day, I’ll find somebody to build a platform for the two seats gathering dust in the basement.

Childhood memories: It made me think about my introduction to hockey with the Flyers’ Stanley Cup run in the 1973-74 season. I still get goosebumps when I think of announcer Gene Hart’s call of the clinching win.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the Flyers are going to win the Stanley Cup! The Flyers win the Stanley Cup! The Flyers win the Stanley Cup! The Flyers win the Stanley Cup! …”

And now, finally, the Blues have, too, a reminder of the infinite power of sports to move us all.

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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.