Fran Rosa was a joy, ever-smiling and gracious, qualities not always abundant in the newsrooms and hockey rinks where he spent his career. Rosa, who for decades chronicled the Bruins and the NHL for the Globe, died Wednesday at 91, leaving behind millions of printed words about the games and people he so obviously loved, as well as his legacy of unwavering gentlemanly kindness.
My friend Franny was a man with a keen sense of how to take his work seriously, write with accuracy, clarity, and style, and all the while not display the slightest bit of ego or self-importance. Which is also to say he headed to retirement some 21 years ago at precisely the right time, not because his talent for words and storytelling had diminished, but because the business of sports media and the sports industry at large have since become about as “unRosa’’ as one could imagine.
Let’s just say dignity, grace, genuine warmth, and a substantial splash of self-deprecation - some of Rosa’s defining qualities - are not the four cornerstones of sports or sports media in 2012.
I was first around Rosa when I came to the Globe as a copy boy in 1973. Later, I competed against him for 4-5 years in the late 1970s and early ’80s when he was the Globe’s beat man on the Bruins and I was the same for the Herald American. We later partnered in all things Bruins and NHL when I came back to the Globe as a staff writer in ’85, up until he retired in August 1991.
In retrospect, what strikes me now is that, over those 18 years, he was never any different, whether I was the wide-eyed kid looking for a career break, a competitor trying to scratch out a better story angle, or a Globe partner divvying up a day-long workload of game story, notebook, sidebar, or column.
Not one heated moment. Not one surly or ungracious comment. Franny was forever Franny, dutiful and professional, freshly shaved, dressed in tie and jacket, shoes shined, unflappable, and always ready with a good word. Right from the start, right to the end.
Jacket off, tie loosened, shirt sleeves rolled up, and typically with a cigarette going. That was Rosa in the press room after the game, and after he had made the rounds in the dressing rooms, talking to players and coaches. And whether the game was on Causeway Street or on the road, the night wasn’t complete until one - and only one- postgame scotch was consumed at a favorite nearby tavern or the hotel lounge.
The job in those days had a defined pace, with rituals and rhythm, with the defined boundaries of rigid deadlines, by and large because of the hardware and technology (or lack thereof) involved in printing and delivering a daily newspaper.
Soon after Rosa retired, all that changed, the Internet shattering the concept of working today on the story that will end up neatly printed and sitting on doorsteps tomorrow. Rosa and everyone in the industry wrote for the next day. Now we write for the next Twitter or blog, perhaps even sound bite.
Rosa wrote in an era when reporters had time to work sources, talk a lot and listen more, and that’s what he did best. He cultivated relationships, with pen and pad in hand, and with respect and dignity and trust embedded in the process.
He could engage subjects, put them at ease, the way a fine doctor gains an anxious patient’s trust and faith. He was what it meant to be “the gentleman from the Globe,’’ something that today sounds corny, antiquated, because it is now a business that is anything but genteel, mannered, groomed, or grounded in tried-and-true practices. The business didn’t pass by the likes of Rosa but rather pulled away from him.
“We shall not see his ilk again in our lifetime,’’ a senior NHL team executive wrote to me on Friday, saddened by Rosa’s passing. “A shame. Fran was a gentleman, a sportswriter who had a conscience and could write well.’’
He could also laugh with the best of them, and at times perk up with unexpected vigor and feistiness. At the old Garden, when the press sat in the front row of the balcony, Rosa sometimes would pipe up, “Go for a skate!’’ when a Bruins puck-handler, maybe Rick Middleton, would pick up steam behind his own blue line.
Amid a particularly nasty fight, with one player badly bloodied, Franny might kiddingly shade his eyes with one hand and act as if it were all too gruesome to watch. He then would deliver a perfect blow-by-blow account of the divine mayhem in the next day’s Globe.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, he embraced rather than railed against the transition to new technology, among the first in the early ’80s to heave his typewriter aside and “go electronic.’’
He thought the new machines, with no need for carbon paper, were splendid, even if from time to time they made finished stories vanish (blip!). It was a scene from a Rockwell drawing to see the silver-haired Rosa tapping away on a fancy new word processor the size of a large bread box, while twenty- and thirtysomethings in the press box leaned in to watch the magic unfold, keystroke by keystroke, his story lighting up on a tiny screen.
“Watch this, kid,’’ he said one night to the new Bruins beat man from the Herald, eager to show the rookie how the new computer made life so simple. “You’re going to love this!’’
And with the push of a button or two, another of his stories - “By Francis Rosa, Globe Staff’’ - was instantly transported from press row to Globe headquarters on Morrissey Boulevard. He neatly pulled the phone’s headset from the top of the computer and returned it to its cradle to complete the process.
“Done!’’ he said, adding one of his trademark impish giggles. “Does it get any better than that?’’
It certainly got better, from a technology standpoint, because the machines quickly grew smaller and more dynamic, even magical.
As for the kind and gentle man from the Globe who handled that keyboard, whose chosen words conveyed the stories and the lives he encountered and touched for decades, it assuredly did not get any better.
Can there be a ‘good fight’?
Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was back turning heads last week when, upon waiving Colton Orr to the minors, he lamented the diminishing role of fighters in today’s NHL.
If the game has no room for bona fide tough guys, said Burke, a bona fide tough guy, then he is worried.
“I wonder where we’re going with it,’’ said the Harvard-schooled attorney and ex-AHL scrapper. “That’s the only lament I have with this - the fear that if we don’t have guys looking after each other that the rats will take this game over.’’
Let us not forget here that Orr, who will be 30 in March, has 921 penalty minutes to go with his 378 NHL games. Originally a Bruins farmhand, his career really began to unravel midway through last season, in large part because of a debilitating concussion he suffered last January. He suffered that KO in a fight.
So while the old-school Burke, 56, is entitled to his read of the field - specifically, his love of fisticuffs as a means to keep the game policed - it’s fighting that in large part now has Orr perhaps destined to live out his pro hockey days as a member of the AHL’s Marlies.
The whole fight/concussion/discipline issue grows ever more entangled, complex, and perplexing. Frankly, Orr’s concussion is precisely why I surrendered my love-of-fisticuffs ways last June, making my lengthy case here for why I believe it’s time for the NHL to ban fighting.
Orr was concussed when Anaheim super-heavy George Parros caught him with a big right hand that sent Orr crashing face-first onto the Air Canada Centre ice. It was ugly. So much for the tired cliche that no one ever gets hurt in a hockey fight. Yes, they do, and a skilled pugilist such as Orr is Exhibit A as evidence. Orr did not play for the remainder of the season.
The NHL has become, by far, the most violent of our professional sports. Speed, dirty hits, rock-hard equipment, and overall disrespect among players are just some of the factors that feed that violence more than fighting. However, fighting is the most obvious, the easiest to identify and fix, and therefore it would be my point of attack in trying to dial down the mayhem.
I think what we have here now is a league in awkward transition, trying to figure out, amid a frightening escalation in the number of concussions, whether it should keep fighting in the game as sort of a throwback legacy piece. A piece, by the way, that many fans find very entertaining and brings big money to the game’s bottom line.
While the NHL hems and haws over which way to go, the players and coaches, along with the GMs who hire them, also don’t know whether to embrace the fight game or distance themselves from it.
Meanwhile, the league’s director of discipline, Brendan Shanahan, continues to ferret out “the rats’’ and sting them with stiff, costly suspensions.
Last week, he came down hard on Chicago’s Dan Carcillo and Calgary’s Rene Bourque for their dastardly deeds. Carcillo is a rat from way back, while Bourque makes his bacon with his better-than-average scoring skills. However, they were both sent off for menacing hits, with Shanahan continuing to do a superb job as the game’s most invested, committed cleanup man. Let’s just call it quits right now and make him the game’s Executive of the Year.
I think I know where this is going, and I hope I’m right. The fighting is finally going to end. When it does, GMs won’t hire fighters and coaches won’t have them as roster candidates. For those who continue to fight, they’ll be run off immediately by the two referees in charge of each game. For cases out of the ordinary, Shanahan & Co. can swing the gavel of supplemental discipline.
And as for the rats, for players such as Carcillo and the now-reformed Matt Cooke, they’ll be in the hands of the same refs and the same suits in league headquarters. It will have taken decades to rid the game of its fighters. With the disciplinary infrastructure in place, the rats should succumb quite quickly to the same sweet poison.
A costly win for Tortorella
Last Monday’s Winter Classic turned into a costly day for Rangers coach John Tortorella, despite his club’s 3-2 alfresco win over the Flyers in Philadelphia. The oft-acerbic Torts labeled the game’s officiating “disgusting,’’ then hinted that the league and broadcast partner NBC were in cahoots possibly to fashion a contrived ending. “I’m not sure if NBC got together with the refs,’’ mused Tortorella, displeased with a number of calls by referees Dennis LaRue and Ian Walsh, “and wanted to turn this into an overtime game.’’ Displeased at the suggestion of impropriety, the league the next day tagged Tortorella with a hefty $30,000 fine, for “commentary challenging the integrity of the league’’ in the words of vice president Colin Campbell. Contrite of heart and lighter of wallet, Tortorella apologized on Wednesday, noting, “I tainted the Classic with my mouth.’’ One can only imagine whom Torts would have torched had the Rangers lost.
Advisers on visors
Paul Kelly, executive director of Newton-based College Hockey Inc., noted that the NCAA has begun to explore whether to scale back face and head protection to half-visors, at the option of individual players. Among those making presentations at a recent meeting on the issue were Boston University’s Jack Parker, Michigan’s Red Berenson, Notre Dame’s Jeff Jackson, and Kelly. “The main thrust of the argument by the proponents,’’ said Kelly, “is that the game will be safer once the full cage is removed. Players will play with less recklessness and with improved visibility to help see and avoid hits.’’ The downside is that the risk of eye injury with a full cage is zero, and half-visors, though effective, are not risk-free.
Rumblings out of Anaheim concerning a trade, but not Bobby Ryan as previously conjectured. Now it’s elite center Ryan Getzlaf rumored to go. Hard to believe the Ducks would break up Getzlaf and close pal Corey Perry, but anything is possible when a franchise is in freefall. Getzlaf is that big stud (6 feet 4 inches) everyone wants in the middle, which is a reason not to deal him. In need of structure, the Ducks fired Cup-winning coach Randy Carlyle and brought in free-wheeler Bruce Boudreau. The move made little sense, and now they’re looking to deal the franchise center? . . . The Jets (Tuesday) and Canadiens (Thursday) visit Causeway Street this week. Raise your hand high if you figured in January that the Jets would be at the edge of playoff contention and Team CH would resemble, well, the Atlanta Thrashers. Boston fan favorite P.K. Subban dropped gloves in Monday’s practice with fellow Hab Tomas Plekanec. “Nothing personal,’’ said Plekanec. “Those things happen.’’ Yes, they do, and typically on very frustrated teams. If the Habs don’t right themselves, it’s likely that Pierre Gauthier will be relieved of GM duties, be it before or after the end of the season . . . The NHL hasn’t named a site for the next Winter Classic - Jan. 1, 2013 - but betting around the league has the Leafs and Red Wings facing off at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor. Michigan and Michigan State dropped a rink there Dec. 11, 2010 and drew a world-record hockey crowd of 113,411.Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at email@example.com; material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.