For these Bruins fans, a love that defies time
Seventy-two years ago, a Boston School of Embalming graduate from Dorchester and a secretary from Beverly were fixed up for a blind date to the Bruins. There was chemistry above the ice, and marriage — and season tickets — soon followed.
Paul and Elizabeth Murphy wound up going to games together for three decades, between raising children and running a funeral home, until he died of a heart attack at 52. Two weeks after they buried him, tickets for the ’69-’70 season arrived in the mail, prepaid, and the boys, Jim and Paul Jr., scooped them up.
“Of course the first year we go, we get to see a Stanley Cup, with Bobby Orr flying through the air. We’re in that famous picture, if you look close,’’ said Jim, now 68, whose seats are just above the glass on the blue line. “We’ve been going ever since.’’
In a city steeped in tradition, in a town in love with the Bruins again, the Murphys are among the most faithful of the faithful, families who have kept their seats since the days of the Original Six, from $1 tickets to $8 drafts, through bursts of glory, bouts of heartbreak, and stretches of mediocrity.
Some of these multigenerational fans have celebrated four, even all five Stanley Cups, going back to 1929. But, of course, they have also endured long droughts in between, first 29 years and now 39, a spell the Bruins hope to snap as the finals begin in Vancouver tonight.
The diehards need not be ticketholders, but they are easily identifiable: the ones who did not just revel along with the masses over the Big Bad Bruins of the ’70s, but who pined for Ray Bourque to win a Cup, as much for himself as for them, and who survived two lockouts and a decade in which the Red Sox, Patriots, and Celtics won six championships while the Bruins won just two playoff series.
“A lot of people abandoned ship,’’ said Jim Murphy, who followed his father as director of Dorchester’s James A. Murphy & Son Funeral Home.
Not the Murphys. Their sister, Pat, acquired tickets of her own and walked down the matrimonial aisle to the “Nutcracker’’-inspired Bruins theme in 1988, a Saturday wedding sandwiched between Friday and Sunday playoff games against the Canadiens.
And Jim’s son, Brendan, 28, who has designs on the tickets his dad and uncle inherited, stopped waiting and bought his own three years ago, ordering balcony seats from afar during his second deployment in Iraq.
Paul Jr., 62 and a Boston College High School administrator, said they never considered letting their tickets lapse. “Someone had to sit there,’’ he quipped.
Each Christmas, the brothers send cards to hundreds showing them in costume at the Halloween game (Laurel and Hardy, Norton and Kramden, Gilligan and Skipper), sometimes amid a full house, sometimes not.
“A couple of years we almost bailed out, too,’’ Jim admitted. “But we stuck it out one more year, and here we are.’’
Here is four victories from a championship, amid a run that began with a pair of home losses to the Canadiens but has since captured imaginations, series after gritty and thrilling series.
“Everything is fine and dandy here today,’’ said Roger Naples, a 90-year-old from Revere who went to his first game in 1936 and has been a mainstay since ’38. At 18, Naples drank champagne from the Stanley Cup after a left winger named Ray Getliffe whisked him into a celebration at the Hotel Manger.
Naples was and still is a leader of the Gallery Gods, the rooting organization that dominated the upper reaches of the Garden for half a century and was known throughout the league for leather-lunged intensity, before the second-tier balcony was torn out in the 1970s for Boston’s first corporate boxes. The Gallery Gods have been without a home since, and Naples, witness to nearly 3,000 games, says he no longer hangs on the outcome.
“Win or lose, it doesn’t bother me,’’ said Naples, who now shares tickets with his niece and nephew and makes about half the games. Still, when Nathan Horton scored — and when Naples’s radio sputtered out a moment later — he shed 50 years in an instant, leaping into the air.
“The batteries ran out! So I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off, because there’s seven minutes left,’’ he said. He searched frantically for replacements before calling the TD Garden switchboard. “I said, ‘Is the game over?’ They said, ‘Yeah, we’re going into the next round, baby!’ ’’
While Naples may be the longest-standing individual ticket holder, Ursula Keleher and her family go all the way back to Game 1, at Boston (now Matthews) Arena in 1924, four years before the Garden opened.
Keleher’s grandfather, Ralph Burkard, became part-owner and treasurer of the Bruins after his boss, grocery magnate Charles F. Adams, acquired the first US franchise in Canada’s National Hockey League for $15,000.
Keleher’s earliest memories from her 1950s childhood are of Sunday dinners with her grandparents in Arlington, sometimes with the players, and of sitting on the aisle at the Garden and having the Bruins rub her head for luck. Her grandfather had 10 tickets; his two daughters eventually bequeathed the rights to a first-row pair apiece to their daughters, Keleher and her cousin, Adrienne O’Brien.
Keleher, who works in marketing, and O’Brien, a Boston Medical Center operating room nurse, try to make as many games as possible.
Keleher and O’Brien got their tickets when they were $18, and now they are approaching $180 a seat. The price rises through the playoffs to $550 for the finals, an outlay that seemed too steep. They might have made it back by selling some for much more on the street, but if they got caught trying to profit on the tickets, they could have lost their seats. So for the first time in 66 postseasons, no Burkard or descendant will be up against the boards.
“Maybe that’s why they’re winning,’’ sighed Keleher, who will watch from home in Charlestown. “It’s been a great ride.’’
Eric Moskowitz can be reached at email@example.com.