Blog: John Williams spent Game 4 texting with Tony Esposito
Just before last night’s Hawks/Lightning game, I got a text from a friend in Florida, inviting me to watch and chat with him and Tony Esposito.
Imagine watching game 4 of the 2015 Stanley Cup finals with an old college pal and #35, sipping a beer in your living room, texting like old friends. Except one of the three of you isn’t an old friend, but the greatest goalie who ever lived.
Imagine watching game 4, with that remarkable goalie finish by Corey Crawford (10 saves in the last 90 seconds? Did I hear that? Or was it 100 saves?) with Blackhawks’ Hall-of-Famer Tony O’, who comfortably resides on the Hockey News’ 100 Greatest Hockey Players list.
Yeah, I could do that.
After a legendary career in Chicago, Esposito’s Wikipedia entry says: “In 1991, when his brother helped found the Tampa Bay Lightning, Phil hired Tony as chief scout. Legend has it that they came up with the team name during a thunderstorm. Both Espositos were fired in 1998.”
So this would be cool. I had no idea how my friend arranged this, but Tony has that connection to Florida and my friend, John, has been working for TV stations there for 30+ years. Maybe they golf.
After brief introductions, Tony fell quiet in our text queue. Midway through the second period he said the Hawk’s looked “lethargic.”
John said we were being “outworked, not first to the puck.”
I’m not really good at hockey talk, but showed some knowledge with my, “Tony, how about a 20 year-old goalie?” When he didn’t respond to my observation about the Lightning’s Andrei Vasilevskiy, I silently cursed myself, “Showoff.”
My college pal, John, kept the conversation moving: “Hopefully, the Hawks will begin to click,” he said, during the second intermission. I came back with the careful-but-hopefully hall-of-fame worthy, “We need our stars to make a star play.” (The TV screen had just displayed how badly our stars were playing. I was hoping they didn’t see that down in Florida, or, that Tony was up getting a beverage when that graphic aired.)
But he remained silent.
I then texted to my son, Grant, “I’m watching the Hawks and texting w tony Esposito.” While Esposito hadn’t texted BACK to me, I WAS texting to him.
Grant: Haha what? Why are you texting him?
Me: He’s a friend of a college pal. Three of us watching w our phones
Grant: Please appreciate how cool that is right now.
Me: I cannot
Grant: Your texting billy Williams
I resisted the temptation to correct his grammar, hoping that his not inexpensive college education included something about contractions. More to the point, my son knew I could better relate to what was happening here with a baseball example.
I wrote back: I was just trying to think of the equivalent
Grant: I think that’s appropriate.
Back to the game, my Tony/John group was quiet, so John typed, “Espo! You there?”
He replied, “In and out.”
John wrote, “Say Hello to John Williams!”
With an exclamation point, he said that. And, finally, my screen displayed: “Hello, John.”
I was sure that by now Mr. Esposito was on his other line looking for another internet provider. But for now, I had, “Hello, John.” From Tony Esposito. I think he liked me. So I dove back in with the we’re-just-a-bunch-of-swells-talking-hockey-here, “Hi Tony. You like these announcers? Some think they are too pro Tampa.”
What a perfect comeback. He said, “Hello, John,” and I came back with a “Hi Tony,” sans exclamation point. And then a question about his two old teams that must have made him think, “Who IS this John Williams!? I have to get me some more of that.”
He replied, “Doc is the best since Lloyd petite.” He didn’t capitalize petite, or even spell the great announcer’s name correctly. He didn’t have to. He was the player Pettit used to describe.
Not wanting to get edged out, my friend, John, barged back in with, “I second that…you can hear him on YouTube” I felt this looked a little desperate. Clearly Tony O and I (Johnny W, he would type, any minute now) were bonding. I mean, who CARES about Youtube. This was embarrassing.
So I fixed things with, “Agreed. Wideman is good on the radio now. Btw, the first two hockey words I learned, as a teen coming to know the game, were…”
HIT SEND. MAKE HIM WAIT FOR IT.
This is almost true. I went to games in the 70’s, courtesy of our neighbor, Arnie Streimling, who had season tickets. And he once said, “You know, John, Jesus saves, but Esposito scores on the rebound.” So technically, that was about Tony’s Hall-of-Fame brother, Phil. But we did shout out as kids, “Esposito saves!” and I knew he would love to know that.
My friend immediately texted back in with, “Jesus saves! And Hull scores on the rebound!” I made a mental note to tactfully talk to him, after the game, about how to deal with celebrities.
Tony went silent.
Then with 13:38 left in the game, Brandon Saad’s backhander scored the game winning goal. The Hawks won 2-1.
And just about then, as this odd, memorable, winning night was ending, Tony wrote, “I’m not that Tony-o, I’m the saluki…” The saluki. Back in Carbondale, at Southern Illinois University, John was friends with a Tony. Tony…Esposito. Skinny guy. Directed the student newscasts. I hadn’t thought about him in 20 years. Good guy.
BUT HE NEVER PLAYED GOALIE FOR THE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS, a voice only I could hear screamed.
I couldn’t help myself. I typed back, “No. You’re the one that played for the hawks.” I didn’t capitalize the h. If it were the real Tony O, I would have. I think they knew that.