The date Saturday, May 24, 1980, has always held significance in my life.
Like many Long Islanders, I spent most of the day and evening celebrating the Islanders winning the Stanley Cup for the first time. However, it was also an important day in my budding relationship with my future wife. I found myself babbling incoherently into a gas station pay phone on Hempstead Turnpike during the impromptu celebration that evening, trying to cancel our date.
We had only been dating for a few months, and anytime you cancel a date on short notice and under those circumstances is sketchy at best. But there I was, yelling into a pay phone about the Islanders winning the Stanley Cup and how I wasn’t going to make it for our date. The fact that she didn’t hang up in my face made me realize, this just might be the woman for me.
Long Island hockey fans were bracing for what they hoped would be the Islanders winning the Stanley Cup on that Saturday afternoon. After years of getting close, they led the series three games to two over the hated Philadelphia Flyers and were preparing to play Game Six right in our own backyard, at the Nassau Coliseum.
I was watching the game with my friend Pete Oehler in my mother’s basement. With the game tied at 4-4, Bobby Nystrom scored in overtime, winning the Stanley Cup and sending Islanders fans into bedlam. After all those years of frustration, I ran into my backyard and just began screaming like a lunatic. My neighbor Joannie Angerman, another long-suffering Islanders fan, joined me in the celebratory screaming.
Not sure what to do next, Peter suggested we drive to Eisenhower Park and find his brother and our friend Greg, who were both playing softball somewhere in the giant park. We drove all over the softball fields (literally) while trying to find them. That’s when we noticed what was happening on Hempstead Turnpike.
Route 24, which runs directly in front of the Coliseum, was already choked with fans dancing and celebrating. The unlucky cars stuck on the road had nowhere to go. Fans were walking through the lines of vehicles, giving high-fives to the occupants, and almost everyone was beeping their horn to the Islanders chant: BEEP, BEEP, BEEP-BEEP-BEEP! It was utter chaos, a completely unscripted and uncoordinated celebration of love, appreciation and relief. Finally, Long Island had a champion they could call their own!
In the middle of this massive celebration, I suddenly remembered my date.
To be honest, I can’t recall her response when told of my current situation. She already knew how important sports were in my life, but to let something this ridiculous slide very early in the relationship meant more to me than anything. This year, we celebrated our 37th Anniversary (May 21). Love conquers all, even the Islanders.
In 2001, I met Bob Nystrom at an event where he was signing autographs. I took my souvenir replica of the Islander’s 1979-80 Stanley Cup Banner and was hoping I could get him to sign it. When it was my turn, I presented him with the banner to sign and told him something he confirmed many other fans had also told him.
I told him that although most people cite their wedding or the birth of their children as the greatest moment of their life, mine was him scoring that overtime goal to win the Stanley Cup. When I shook his hand, he told me, “It was mine, too!”
In retrospect, the Islanders winning the Stanley Cup on May 24, 1980, was just a footnote. It was a moment frozen in time that had no impact on the rest of my life, other than bringing a tear to my eye when I see clips of that winning goal.
If you asked me that same question today, my answer would be vastly different. May 24, 1980 was most certainly an important day in my life. It just so happened to coincide with the day the Islanders won the Stanley Cup.
Happy Anniversary, my love!
Paul DiSclafani, a Massapequa resident, is a 2018 Press Club of Long Island award-winning columnist and an Anton Media Group contributor since 2016.