We Did Everything But Win is a brilliant debut work by George Grimm; an oral history of the New York Rangers during the Emile Francis era (1964 to 1976) as told by the players, coaches, Rangers staff members, radio and TV broadcasters, and print journalists who took part in the rebuilding and resurrection of one of the oldest American franchises in the NHL.
Before the arrival of Emile Francis, the Rangers had spent 22 miserable seasons in the NHL’s abyss with only two winning seasons, six playoff appearances, and one Stanley Cup final to their credit; a team lacking in size and strength; and no farm system to speak of. George Grimm with Jean Ratelle-like subtlety, grace, and smoothness chronicles how Francis slowly but surely guided the Rangers out of that abyss; making the Rangers a power in the NHL once more but, sadly, never winning the Stanley Cup—reaching the finals only once in 1971/72. With a few exceptions Grimm was able to locate and interview many of the key Rangers players from that era; asking the right questions Grimm lets the players regale the reader with their memories; told with love and affection and precious little bitterness.
Hard-core Ranger fans will enjoy the re-telling of familiar Ranger tales of yore: Emile Francis’ 1965 brawl with fans sitting next to the goal judge; the Old Smoothies; Vic Hadfield scoring 50 goals in 1971/72; and the emotional return of Eddie Giacomin to Madison Square Garden after being claimed off waivers by the Detroit Red Wings. There are tales that make the reader smile and laugh: Emile Francis talking about how the driver of the Rangers team bus left the team stranded in Queens; how several players car-pooled to Madison Square Garden during an awful blizzard because the NHL refused to reschedule the game; and there are also tales of sadness: when Emile Francis had to identify Terry Sawchuk’s remains on the floor of the New York City morgue.
The major aspect of the book’s greatness comes from the fact that George Grimm got significant cooperation from Emile Francis himself. Based on hours of interviews with the Cat the reader is given the enormous treat of seeing one of hockey’s greatest coaches and general managers discuss and reveal the full panoply of his coaching and managerial genius. Throughout the book Emile Francis offers up incisive, humorous, earthy, gritty, and sometimes bitter insights about the Rangers rebuilding process. You get first-hand memories about the signing of Eddie Giacomin; the formation of the G-A-G line of Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, and Vic Hadfield; the discovery of Brad Park and Steve Vickers; the trading of Jean Ratelle and Brad Park to Boston for Phil Esposito and Carol Vadnais.
Emile bluntly discusses the issues of dealing with the formation of the present day NHL Players Association; the bidding wars with the World Hockey Association; and the personnel issues brought on by league expansion. The Cat also shows a cool honesty about himself: mournfully discussing his mistake in trading away Moose DuPont. Readers will even raise their eyebrows about trades and coaching hires that were not made—which could have altered Rangers (and hockey) history in unfathomable ways. After reading this book you will understand why Emile Francis richly deserved his 1982 induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame as a builder.
The end result is an enormous blessing for hockey historians. We Did Everything But Win should be required reading for future hockey historians wishing to do future research on the New York Rangers franchise and/or any future biography of Emile Francis. All in all a brilliant coup for George Grimm! The type of coup sports writers dream about but seldom ever achieve.
And yet We Did Everything But Win is not solely about what happened on the ice or in the locker room it also offers up charming environmental theater. Much like Pete Golenbock’s oral history of the Brooklyn Dodgers Bums, George Grimm takes the reader on a virtual journey to the old Madison Square Garden (located at 8th Avenue and 50th Street) and the present day Madison Square Garden. Readers will feel like they’re sitting alongside the author while contemplating the sights and sounds of both Gardens; its ambience and vibes; the common-place and outlandish characters who were long suffering Rangers fans like the author himself. Indeed a sub-theme of We Did Everything But Win are those moments when George Grimm steps from behind the curtain and offers little personal vignettes about the young, bespectacled lad who grew up loving the Rangers; enjoying the ecstasies of seeing his beloved team finally become winners and playoff contenders; and the agonies of always seeing them fall short of raising the Stanley Cup.
Although meant for Rangers fans one doesn’t have to be a Rangers fan to enjoy this book. We Did Everything But Win is great reading for all true hockey fans and those who love reading great sports history.
We Did Everything But Win does everything a great sports book is supposed to do and…it wins! Big Time!