Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sportsology: Requiem for a friend and mentor

Posted by Rick Morris

Most of the time we relish cross-posting great columns from our friends at Sportsology – not so this time because of the sad circumstances.

This past week, one of the co-authors of 100 RANGER GREATS, John Halligan, passed away. When Russ Cohen called to inform me about this, I asked if this was entirely unexpected, as I knew nothing of John’s health but knew he was of retirement age. I was told that it was, which makes this a much greater shock for his family and his many friends and admirers. Yet again, I felt something that FDH Senior Editor Jason Jones has spoken of so well – a sense of loss about somebody you did not get to meet, somebody whose path might well have crossed with yours in time and somebody who you really would have relished knowing on a personal and professional level.

The New York Times had an excellent tribute to John; here it is.

Longtime Rangers broadcaster Sam Rosen, who contributed to the Rangers book, delivered a stirring tribute that can be seen here.

And of course you had to know that Russ would find the right words for the circumstances. His column is a reprint from when John received one of his greatest professional awards in 2007 – with a short postscript – and it helps to capture him as I am sure he would love to be remembered, as a man who got to live his dream. RIP John.

Lester Patrick Would Be Proud
By Russ Cohen

The 40th Lester Patrick Award ceremony had four winners this year, former NHL star Brian Leetch, hockey broadcast legend Stan Fischler, hockey historian John Halligan and Team USA standout Cammi Granato; they were all being honored for their outstanding service to hockey in the United States.

John Halligan has worn many hats in his illustrious career. He worked for the New York Rangers and the National Hockey League for over 40 years. His story is truly unique because he has literally spent every moment of his life around the hockey rink. So when did he get his calling?

“I would say about 13 or 14, because I remember I was a student at Fordham Prep and I knew the subway system inside and out and I loved going down to the Garden on Wednesdays right after school and on Sundays from my home in New Jersey,” Halligan said. “I knew that I had fallen in love with the game at that point and those were the Rangers of the ‘50s, good teams but not great teams. Andy Bathgate, Dean Prentice, Camille Henry, Harry Howell, Gump Worsley, of course, and those were the teams that made me fall in love with hockey, so I’ve known that for 45 years.”

John wasn’t a season ticket holder and he bought the best seats that he could afford.

“The ones I bought were for $2.50 and they were in the mezzanine,” he said.

Were they the best seats in the house?

“No”, he laughed. “You couldn’t afford the best; they would have been another five bucks. But when we were really flushed with money it was $3.50 and we would sit in the end arena. Closer to the ice, but the mezzanine was the best seat in the house, really.”
When asked how many games he would take in every season, he quickly snapped back with, “Every one of them. Oh sure, there were 35 home games and a 70-game schedule. I was a nut. I was confirmed and that was it. I tried to go to every game.”

The reason he wasn’t a season ticket holder was the fact that he could buy all of tickets the day of the game except against Montreal. When the Habs were in town, he had to go down to the box office a little bit earlier.

“Chicago was the easiest,” said Halligan. “You could go in the third period and get a ticket.”

In his early days with the Rangers, he had the arduous task of trying to get the fans interested in a club that wasn’t drawing many fans.

“I graduated from Fordham in 1963 and in August of that year, two months after my graduation, I got a job at the Rangers as the assistant publicity director. It was a seasonal job, until I became publicity director which morphed into public relations director, in time.”

One of his hardest tasks was trying to put a positive PR spin when the Rangers made the playoffs, but had to forego a few of their home games because of a longstanding contract that MSG had with Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.

“That was one of the toughest things you had to spin because there was no way around it; the circus was a two-month booking at that time, but the real spin over the regular season was put fannies in the seats,” he recalled fondly. “Sell tickets, because they were not selling out with the exception of the Canadiens games. The other five teams came in – this was the Original Six – simply were not selling out. You had to concentrate your efforts on getting into the paper and getting as much hard publicity. The job hadn’t morphed into public relations, and being nice to people at that point, but it was quickly coming to that point.”

If you are wondering where hockey ranked among the other major sports in New York City, his answer might surprise you.

“I have to be honest and say in those days hockey among the four major sports was fifth,” he smirked. “It was baseball, football, basketball, zero, then hockey.”

Since he has retired from the NHL, he has been working diligently on multiple book projects. He is always around the game, he is always watching the game, it’s in his blood.

During his speech he talked about how William Jennings got he and Emile Francis together and in about ten minutes they had come up with the idea for the award. The rest is history.


John was a friend, a mentor, a writing partner, and the nicest person I ever met. I feel very fortunate that I had a chance to work with him and be able to call him a friend.

John is survived by his wife Janet.

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