In the decades since the Big, Bad Bruins first took over this town, some of the tales have become as worn as a leather pair of Tacks. Derek Sanderson was asked to share something from that time that we haven’t heard.
“That’s going to be tough,” he replied. “Fifty years, I think we’ve pretty well covered it all.”
True to form, he had a good one ready. Before Game 4 of the 1970 Stanley Cup Final, the shaggy-haired center swaggered into the old Boston Garden in a tuxedo, surely in the flowery mod style he brought to the buttoned-down NHL of the day. If there was a party that night, and he was certain there would be, he wanted to be properly attired.
When Sanderson arrived, he recalled, “The guy said, ‘Aww, what are you doing?’
“Teddy Green said to me, ‘What are you going to do if we lose this?’ I said, ‘I never thought of that. I’ll wear a sweat shirt home.’”
Hockey fans all over know the rest of the story.
How later that Mother’s Day, the Bruins’ dressing room was doused in champagne after Sanderson fed Bobby Orr. The next morning, they all paraded through the frenzied streets of Boston, and Johnny “Pie” McKenzie doused Mayor Kevin White with a pitcher of beer at City Hall. Orr and Sanderson never made it to the rally. They were hidden in the mayor’s office, after outracing a throng of adoring young fans to safety.
How Sanderson, whose off-ice exploits earned as much ink as his fierce penalty killing, spun out of control in a haze of booze and drugs and was out of hockey at age 32. How he attained sobriety and resurrected his life, became a sharp-tongued color commentator and financial adviser, and began to tell his cautionary tale. How he remains as beloved as any Bruin who didn’t wear No. 4.
Sanderson, who turns 74 next month, spoke to local reporters on a video call Tuesday, in advance of Sunday’s 50th anniversary of the ‘70 Cup win. On that Black and Gold musketeer squad — all for one, one for all — he was the swashbuckling center who made The Pass to set up The Goal. He still tsk-tsks St. Louis defenseman Jean-Guy Talbot, who was at the side of the goal, for reaching too far toward him as Orr swooped in behind.
“You make a play, and you hope it works,” he said. “It was a lot of fun. Exciting moment and a great time. We just didn’t realize how popular we were.”
He is a long way from those days, when he ran with Joe Namath, and Bachelors III and Daisy Buchanan’s were the hot spots. He has enjoyed sobriety since the mid-’80s, around the time he teamed with Fred Cusick on NESN and TV-38. He and his wife of 33 years, Nancy, have homes in Needham and Sandwich. They have two sons, Michael, 29, and Ryan, 27.
“I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her,” said Sanderson, not quite tech-savvy, on the Zoom call. “I wouldn’t get on. I wouldn’t know what to do.”
He is getting through the time of coronavirus at home, “by the grace of God,” he said, “one day at a time.”
▪ On the closeness of the 1970 team: “There were 27 guys, and everybody liked everybody. Everybody knew if you were in a mood, you had an attitude, they’d just shake you off. We had a rule: nobody would be in a fight alone.”
They’ve lived it since. Sanderson has credited his teammates, with Orr leading the pack, for helping him get clean. In 1988, at a roast of Sanderson to benefit the March of Dimes, Orr deflected.
“The real victory he has experienced over alcohol and drugs is many times greater than any victory we experienced on the ice,” Orr said. “And yes, that includes two Stanley Cup teams. Family, friends and teammates can love you, can root for you, can encourage you, but his victory he ultimately reached, he did it himself.”
⋅ Asked to name a favorite story from that time, he went with a classic: when the 1973 team wheeled Phil Esposito, still in his hospital bed after knee surgery, out of Massachusetts General Hospital and across the street to the Branding Iron for the season-ending party.
⋅ Most hated team: “I hated Montreal … It was the most difficult place to play in the first 10, 12 minutes. Wow. I didn’t think a team could come out that hard every time.” He also noted how fans at Madison Square Garden burned Sanderson in effigy during the 1972 Final.
“They made a straw dummy, with a Bruins sweater and Bruins pants. Then somebody lit fire to it, and they didn’t realize all the people down below were going to get burned … People’d try to hit you. You’d have coffee thrown on you. That smarts.”
⋅ When he left for the WHA’s Philadelphia Blazers in 1972, he said he made $300,000 from his facial expression. A rep for the team offered him $2.3 million. “I was stunned,” Sanderson said. “Speechless. And the guy thought I was disinterested. He says, ‘I’m authorized to go as high as $2.6.’ Beautiful!” The Bruins, owned by Weston W. Adams, wouldn’t go “a penny” above $80,000.
⋅ Underappreciated Bruins: “[The late] Ace Bailey. Garnet, he was fast. Donny Marcotte should have gotten a lot more attention than he did. You could trust him ... Eddie Westfall. We got a lot of kudos for being penalty killers.”
⋅ The toughest players he fought? “You didn’t fool around with guys like John Ferguson and Orland Kurtenbach … Ferguson could punch with both hands. I used to like to rough people up, a bit like [Brad] Marchand.”
⋅ It may not be a surprise that Marchand is Sanderson’s favorite Bruin of today.
“I think it was his first training camp, an exhibition game,” Sanderson recalled. “They lost the puck behind the goal line, and I don’t know how he did this, but he cut back out and roofed it over the goalie’s shoulder, and hit the crossbar. A fabulous move. I said, ‘This kid’s got talent.’ He’s never ceased to amaze me since.
“He’s gritty, he’s in your face, he’s got a great pair of hands. [Patrice] Bergeron is as good as anybody in the game two ways, up and down. Surprisingly, the no-name guys are playing really well. I like that. They get in and involved.”