Thursday, December 3, 2009
In one of the most surprising, classy and memorable moments in Boston Bruins history, Ray Bourque shocked Phil Esposito and the Boston Garden on this date in 1987 during the ceremony to retire Phil Esposito's jersey #7 when he skated up to Phil to present him with a jersey customized with Phil's name and traditional #7, and after a brief pause, peeled off his own "Bourque #7" jersey, revealing his new Bourque #77 jersey and surrendered his #7 jersey to Esposito on the spot.
Esposito said in his book "Thunder and Lightning", "As for my scoring trophies, I have five or six of them, and I'm very proud of that, but you don't see them on my mantle. The one momento up on my wall that means a lot to me is my retired jersey from he Boston Bruins. That may have been the greatest thing ever to happen to me."
"When they held the ceremony Ray skated over to me wearing number 7, and he too his jersey off and handed it to me, and much to my surprise, underneath he was wearing 77. I had no clue he was going to do that. If you look at the tape of the ceremony, you can see Bourque come over and start to take off he sweater, and you can see me saying to him, "what are you doing?" When he took it off and I saw he was wearing 77 so that 7 would never be worn again in Boston, I was flabbergasted. I was close to tears. It was very emotional for me to see Wayne Cashman and Kenny Hodge pulling my number 7 uniform up to the top of the rafters of the Boston Garden along with those of Bobby Orr and the other guys there."
"I'll never forget what Bourque did for me. I don't know if I would have been as generous if I had been in his shoes. Maybe I would have. I don't know."
After viewing the video, notice a couple of points. Bourque is introduced as "the captain of the Bruins", but skates up to Esposito with an assistant captain's "A" prominently sewn on his sweater. The reason for this is because Bourque was sharing the Bruin's captaincy with Rick Middleton that season, and it was Middleton who as captain for the home games, while Bourque wore the "C" on the road.
Notice 36 seconds into the video, Esposito attempts to hand Bourque's original #7 jersey back to him, and Bourque declines. Esposito is later seen handing the jersey to someone at the 1:07 mark, never to be seen again. We wonder what the eventual fate of the surrendered Bourque #7 was, and must say that if Phil doesn't want it, we'd be happy to give it a good home!
Clearly, Esposito was caught off guard by the gesture and genuinely moved by the act of sacrifice, as he expected that Bourque would continue to be "grandfathered in" and wear #7 for the remainder of his career.
Bourque was originally assigned #29 during his first training camp with the Bruins, but when he made the team and arrived in the dressing room for his first regular season game, the club had changed his number to 7, the first time since the departure of Esposito that anyone had worn #7 for the Bruins.
"I just put it on," Boruque said. "Bobby Schmautz came up to right before the start of the game started and told me not to worry if I heard any hecklers. At that moment, I realized number 7 might be a tough number to wear. But the fans were great, and I never heard anything about it from anyone other than the press. I always said that it wasn't a number I asked for, and if the Bruins ever wanted to retire Phil's sweater, I'd have no objections."
The original plan was that Bourque would be allowed to wear the number for the remainder of his career, but at 1:30 in the afternoon on the day of the ceremony Bruins coach Terry O' Reilly suggested he change to #77 and Bourque liked the idea. Prior to the ceremony, only O'Reill, Bourque and the Bruin's trainer who had stitched up Bourque's new #77 jersey knew the surprise in store for Esposito.
"I was pleased to help make Phil Esposito Night even sweeter for him. What Phil accomplished for the Bruins deserved to be fully acknowledged by having number seven elevated, not still worn on the ice. It was the right thing to do."
"I knew I was going to surprise him and surprise a lot of people," Ray stated. "his reaction was very emotional. He said he'd never forget what I did. I'm sure he was shocked and surprised. It was probably the first time Phil was lost for words." Bourque would go on to score during the game that followed, his first goal in 24 games. "I wore number 7 for eight years," Ray said. "I like that number. I've had a lot of success with it. Now I've doubled it. Maybe I'll be able to have even more success with the double 7."
Bourque would have little trouble making #77 famous on it's own, and eventually win a Stanley Cup in 2001 with the Colorado Avalanche to conclude his Hall of Fame career, and his #77 is now retired in not only Colorado, but now hangs alongside Esposito's #7 in Boston as well.
Today's featured jersey is a 1987-88 Boston Bruins Ray Bourque jersey that carries the #7 and assistant captain's "A" that Bourque would wear for home games that season. This is the jersey that Bourque famously peeled off and surrendered to Phil Esposito during Esposito's jersey number 7 retirement ceremony on this date in 1987.
The Bruins wore this jersey style for the first time in 1974-75, adding shoulder patches in 1976 and names on the back a year later. The jerseys then remained unchanged all the way through the 1994-95 season, and frankly never should have been replaced, as they would now be on the same plane as the unchanging sweaters of the Red Wings, Blackhawks, Rangers and Canadiens.