By Rob Rains
Across St. Louis, as fans prepared for game six of the Stanley Cup Final on Sunday night, similar stories to that of 87-year-old Ed Schiller were being repeated all across town. For information on the pre-game festivities, click here.
Schiller, whose family has been part of a season-ticket group since the second year of the Blues’ franchise in 1968, doesn’t get to many games anymore. But when his sons Tom and Bill had their group’s drawing for the game six tickets, they knew their dad was going to the game.
“I was pretty much told I was going to do this,” Schiller said. “My grandson called me on Facetime last night and I said take a good look at me because if the Blues win there is going to be such bedlam that I am probably not going to get out of it alive.”
One of Schiller’s first thoughts after he was told he would be going to the game was of his own father, Roland, and how he had taken him to the final game of the 1964 baseball season, when the Cardinals clinched the National League pennant. The photo, right, was taken of Ed, his wifeMarie and their children that same year.
“I did what was a sacrifice in those days; I got up about 6:30 in the morning and went and stood in line to get tickets,” Schiller said. “Bill and Tom had this made up that this was going to happen.”
“Sunday is going to be a great day, getting to go with my dad” said Bill Schiller.
Having a chance to win the Stanley Cup for the first time in the franchise’s 52-year history has energized fans across the St. Louis area, some of whom are just now falling in love with the sport.
The Schiller family’s roots in the sport go all the way back to the old St. Louis Flyers, long before the Blues were born.
“I’ve been a hockey fan forever,” Ed Schiller said. “Hockey night, I knew if the aunts and uncles went to the game we were going to get doughnuts afterwards. I go way back.
“The sport is just exciting. There are no dull moments.”
Ed and Marie Schiller, who raised four boys and two girls in their south St. Louis home, taught their entire family to become hockey fans. They went to a few games at the old St. Louis Arena the first season to watch players like Barclay and Bob Plager, Noel Picard, Gary Sabourin, Glenn Hall and the rest.
They made the investment for season tickets the second season.
“I believe one Schiller or another has been part of a season ticket package since that time,” said Bill Schiller.
“My brothers (Tim, Tom and Chris) and I used brooms and mops for sticks in our basement until we were given actual sticks,” said Bill, an educator in St. Louis. “We would end up playing hockey in my grandma and grandpa Koenig’s basement with their croquet set every Easter as the playoffs were either looming or already started.”
As the years went by the brothers graduated to playing in the Our Lady of Sorrows schoolyard games.
“We ruled,” said Bill Schiller. “Well, maybe not ruled, but we certainly were the crew that made hockey a popular after school sport. We started on foot, moved to clamp on skates, then rubber wheel skates and my brothers moved on to ice hockey. Our family loves hockey and we love the Blues; and it’s all because of our dad.”
And it wasn’t just the Schiller boys who learned to love the sport.
“My first boyfriend took me to hockey games at the arena all the time,” said Debbie Schiller Marklin. “This was in 1972 and our seats were always standing room only, but I loved rooting on my favorite players the Plager brothers and Noel Picard.”
Marklin has moved away from St. Louis and now lives in Richmond, Va., but she and her husband John raised their children to also became fans of the Blues.
“We are loving this in Richmond and following it intensely,” she said.
(The photo, left shows the family, from left to right, Chris, Patty, Tom, Marie and Ed, Tim, Bill, and Debbie.)
The Schiller hockey memories officially started in Section 222 at the Arena.
“When they put up ‘kids boxes’ in the corners of the top floor, Dad bought us some seats there,” remembered Bill Schiller. “I’m sure fire code would not have let those kid boxes in now. You had to lay on the floor to see the game and hope others wouldn’t stand up in their seats.”
Bill Schiller remembers how the fans used to sing after the Blues scored a goal.
Those of a certain age will remember Norm Kramer, the Blues first organist, who played W.C. Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” and led the crowd in “When the Blues Go Marching In.”
The music helped spike enthusiasm that made the fans love the game. Former Blues coach Scotty Bowman later said he believed Kramer was as vital to the team’s early success as the players, telling NHL.com, “He is the first one that brought music to the NHL.”
Music is still a big part of the Blues experience—although it’s a different type of music being pumped throughout Enterprise Center, and it’s interesting that the big spirit raiser has become a song: Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.”
When that song started to take hold this season was about the same time that Ed Schiller began to believe in this team, following a long winning streak, climbing out of last place in January to make their run to the Cup.
“In baseball if the team isn’t doing anything in August forget about it, but before that I don’t get too excited,” Schiller said. “I feel the same way about hockey until February. That’s when a real season starts. They just fell right into my thing.
“I thought we might have something happening, but I never dreamed about the Stanley Cup. … This city could use a little excitement.”