The Origin Of The Worst Chant In Rangers History
Nine-teeeeen Four-teeeeeee. Nine-teeeeeen Four-teeeeee.
Even though Mark Messier and Co.brought an end to the alleged curse and the not-so-alleged obnoxious chant 20-something years ago, hearing it still brings back bad memories. Call it PTSD. Call it paranoia. Call it what you want, but when I see the numbers 126.96.36.199. in any context, my forehead creases, my left eye twitches and my stomach churns. Growing up on Long Island in the 1980s surrounded by Islander fans, hearing that intolerable chant everywhere I went will do that to a fella.
As every Ranger fans knows, 1940 was the last time the Rangers had won the Stanley Cup before that collection of heroes in 1994 ended the 54 year drought.What some Ranger fans may not be aware of was how close the 1950 Ranger team was to receiving that silver chalice from then NHL President, Clarence Campbell. After winning their third cup in 1940, the Rangers went through the rest of the decade setting new records for futility. Thanks to World War II and poor management decisions, the Rangers roster was depleted of most of their top end talent They sank into a black-hole and they seemed destined to stay there. In fact, the 1943-44 Ranger squad was so putrid that they won just six times in 50 games, They even lost a game 15-0 to Detroit. You’d think the officials would have instituted the mercy rule at some point.
As the decade of the 40s was nearing its end, the Rangers started to acquire some better players. In to the New York locker room stepped the likes of Edgar Laprade, Buddy O’Connor, Pentti Lund and goalie Chuck Rayner. All of these Rangers won individual NHL awards. Rayner and O’Connor each won the Hart Trophy as league MVP. Laprade and Lund accepted the Calder Trophy as Rookies of the Year. The increase in talent certainly helped the Rangers climb in the standings and in the 1947-48 season, the Blueshirts qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1941-42. They lost in the first round to Detroit, but it definitely seemed like the tide was turning and the Rangers were poised to make a Stanley Cup run.
That sentiment came crashing back down to earth the following year as the Rangers failed to qualify for the post-season. They finished last in the six-team league. It was looking like their escape from the black-hole was only temporary and the franchise was on the precipice of entering yet another stretch of playoff-less, cellar-dwelling hockey. Then, 1950 happened…
Gone was the long-time Ranger coach and stalwart Ranger player, Frank Boucher. In came Lynn Patrick, son of the legendary, iconic Ranger patriarch Lester Patrick. The coaching change had its desired effect as the Rangers qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs in the spring of 1950. However, not much was expected as the boys from Broadway finished fourth in the six-team league winning just 28 of 70 games. The Rangers had the lowest goals-for total in the whole NHL scoring just 170 times. Their first round match up in the playoffs was Maurice “Rocket” Richard and the rest of the Montreal Canadians. I highly doubt any prognosticator gave this mediocre Blueshirt team a chance against the superstar-laden Montreal team.Well, as the saying goes, “That’s why you play the games.” The Rangers stunned the Habs and the hockey world winning the series in just five games. They were off to the Stanley Cup Finals. Their opponent would be another team inundated with superstars, the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit may have been without the injured Gordie Howe, but they certainly had a plethora of other stars to give the Rangers their monies worth.
Remember a few paragraphs prior, my reference to the Rangers hierarchy making poor management decisions? Well, one of their grossest, most egregious and unfair annual stipulations was kicking the Rangers out of the Garden in the spring time so the Ringling Bros. Circus could have the World’s Most Famous Arena all to themselves. The powers-that-be deemed elephants, tigers, clowns and magicians were more important than the Rangers having a home-ice advantage in the playoffs.
Pertaining to the 1950 Stanley Cup Finals, amazingly, incredulously, five of the seven games were slated to be played at Detroit’s Olympia Stadium with the two Rangers “home” games to be held at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The Rangers had no choice. They had to play with the cards they were dealt with and off they were to the Motor City.
The Rangers and Red Wings split the first four games of the series. In game five, New York would win an overtime thriller by a final score of 2-1 and the vagabond Rangers were just one win away from an improbable Stanley Cup Championship. Normally, when a team is up three games to two in a best-of-seven series, they have a chance to clinch at home. In this case, the Rangers had to stay in Detroit and try to win it all out there.
In game six, Detroit staved off elimination with a gutsy, come-from-behind victory, 5-4. The Rangers had leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-3 but the relentless Red Wings would not be denied. This set up those two words sports fans love to hear. The Rangers and Red Wings would meet in a game seven for the right to lift the Stanley Cup. In game seven, the Rangers would again build leads of 2-0 and 3-2 only to have Detroit roar back and tie the game and send the contest into overtime.
The admittedly tired Ranger team was out of gas, but they hung in their as best as they could until Pete Babando’s backhand effort squeaked by the valiant Ranger goalie Rayner sending Mo’Town into hysterics and sending the Rangers, finally, back to New York as runner’s up. The clock had abruptly struck midnight on this Cinderella team. They gave it their best shot but came up, literally, inches short.
I often wonder what would have happened if the Rangers had won the 1950 Stanley Cup.Sure, the drought would have been ten years fewer, of course. But, would that horrific, insufferable chant have had the meaning and staying power if the year was 1950 and not 1940 as I digress?
The 1950 New York Rangers were a team of resiliency and fortitude. They fought through adversity and many of the NHL’s best players to make it all the way to game seven of the Stanley Cup Finals. The 1950 Rangers should be celebrated. They should be put on a pedestal. They should be viewed as inspirational. They could have hung up their skates and went home for the summer on several different occasions. But, they fought and fought and fought and darn near captured Lord Stanley’s prize and for that, I tip my cap to Lynn Patrick and his players.