It was Labor Day and The Fours, the Boston institution once named the best sports bar in America by Sports Illustrated, was closed, locked up tight.
After a 44-year run, the memorabilia-filled bar and restaurant was dark and eerie, another victim of the coronavirus.
Then Peter Colton, 65, the longtime owner, and part-owner and bartender Gino MacGregor, began reminiscing about great comebacks in Boston sports history:
▪ The Patriots making the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, defeating the Falcons in LI after trailing, 28-3.
▪ The 1981 Celtics down to the Sixers, three games to one, in the Eastern Conference finals and coming back to win.
▪ The 2013 Bruins, trailing the Maple Leafs, 4-1, in the third period of Game 7 and winning in overtime.
▪ Game 4 of the 2004 ALCS, when Dave Roberts swiped second, Bill Mueller knocked him home with a single off the great Mariano Rivera, and the Red Sox eventually came all the way back from a three-games-to-none deficit to beat the hated Yankees.
And The Fours?
Colton confided that some local investors recently contacted his brother Tim, the original owner.
“They want to come in and save the place,” Colton said. “So I told Timmy this sounds like a Doug Flutie Hail Mary pass to us.
“This is a win-win situation. They love The Fours as it is. They don’t want anything to change. It’s very early, but we’re trying our best to make this happen.
"We’re optimistic that The Fours will reopen, as is, hopefully before the end of the year. We’re working on it. Like Yogi said, ‘It ain’t over till it’s over.’ “
While giving a tour of The Fours, Colton said, “We put blood and guts into this place for a long time, seven days a week. We only closed twice a year.”
The hundreds of items on the wall are treasures.
Colton said his favorites artifacts are the Larry Bird, Robert Parish, and Kevin McHale signed jerseys. Parish’s had to be replaced when a gunman smashed a brick through a window and stole the 00 jersey and Ray Bourque’s old No. 7.
“That was about 25 years ago,” said Colton, who proceeded to increase security. He had a signed Bobby Orr game-used jersey from 1971 but took it down (the restaurant was named after Number Four).
“It was too valuable,” Colton said.
He continued the tour. There was Roger Clemens striking out 20 at Fenway Park. Bill Russell and Red Auerbach celebrating with the Celtics. Ted Williams hitting a home run at Holy Cross as a 22-year-old Red Sox rookie. Phil Esposito being chased by Johnny Bucyk before he became a Bruin. Muhammad Ali’s boxing shorts and Joe Frazier’s satin robe.
Treasures from another time.
“It kind of reminds me of growing up,” Colton said with a shrug.
Eighty percent of The Fours’s business depended on TD Garden events. When that shut down, The Fours simply ran out of money.
Colton and MacGregor poured two bottles of beer and clinked their glasses to toast the Boston landmark. The beer was room temperature — the refrigerators had already been shut off — so they didn’t drink it.
“There’s fancier places,” said MacGregor. “But when you walk in, you pretty much relax here right away.”
Stars such as Bird and Bourque used to come to The Fours regularly, and the staff made sure fans played it cool. That ended with the onslaught of social media.
“Before iPhones, they could relax,” MacGregor said. “Now news would be out in two minutes.”
Even opponents were treated fairly. Colton said he took considerable grief for hanging up the jersey of Montreal Canadiens Hall of Famer Yvan Cournoyer. “But he was a great hockey player,” Colton said.
Colton also made adjustments for seating when necessary.
“Manute Bol was 7-5 [actually, 7-7], and he didn’t fit at the table, so we had to put a barstool at the end of the booth for him," Colton said. “You could see his head sticking up all across the restaurant.”
In the late ’70s, the Big Bad Bruins would come in as a team.
“They’d get a little fired up," MacGregor said. “They’d come over here, have a few gin and tonics, and then head over to Logan. They all flew commercial in those days.”
Last call at The Fours was Aug. 30, but it wasn’t publicized, angering some fans who wanted closure.
“We didn’t want to be mobbed,” said Colton, who followed pandemic social guidelines to the very end. “That’s a headache I didn’t need."
Still, there was pain and sorrow and disbelief, and that included the staff.
“There were a lot of tears," Colton said. “It was emotional for everybody.”
Since then, the calls, texts, and e-mails have only reinforced how much The Fours was a part of the fabric of the city. Even a walk on Canal Street was sad.
Former Bruin Craig Janney called, wondering about the fate of his Boston College jersey, one of hundreds of items that were displayed.
"I offered to give it back and he said, ‘Oh no, I’m honored to have it up there and as long as it’s staying up there, that’s all I need to know,’ ” Colton said.
“People were coming up and they were in tears. They’d say, ‘No, you can’t do this. This place needs to be here.’ And that’s true. It should be here. And that’s what we’re working towards now, keeping it here.”
Colton motioned toward the Gerard Phelan jersey that Phelan gave him after BC’s miracle finish in Miami in 1984.
He feels like Flutie scrambling and making a desperation heave to the end zone.
“The ball’s up in the air right now,” he said. “We’ll see who runs under it.”
Stan Grossfeld can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.