[Ed. Note: Tonight is the annual Academy Awards presentation. In celebration of this, Doug Keklak approached me about authoring a piece detailing two movies near and dear to him, one of which is an absolute classic and referenced here all the time (“Slap Shot”), starring the recently-departed Paul Newman, while the other marked one of the earliest appearances ever of one-time stud and now scientologist and freak-show Tom Cruise (“All The Right Moves”), both of which were filmed in his hometown. Doug takes an in depth at the various uni-goodness found in both movies below. Enjoy. –Phil]
By Doug Keklak
In honor of Oscar Night, I thought I would share some uni-related memories of two movies filmed in my hometown of Johnstown, Pennsylvania: Slap Shot and All the Right Moves. Although these movies are very different in their tone and choice of sport, they share notable similarities as well. Both are set in dying steel towns. Both have central characters that are plotting their way out of said dying steel towns. Both include bona fide movie stars in Paul Newman and Tom Cruise (two men that would team up some years later to do The Color of Money). However, Cruise’s career was in its infancy when he set foot in the Flood City while Newman was a Hollywood leading man by the time Slap Shot was being filmed, having starred in such blockbusters as Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and The Sting.
Although many of you know me as a Pittsburgh guy, I’ve only lived there for ten years. I was born and raised in Johnstown, which is an hour and a half east of the Steel City. To many of us natives of Johnstown, these two movies are a sense of civic pride. For instance, there’s me with my mini-shrine to Slap Shot in a corner of basement with a chair from the arena I got when they upgraded as well as my MacFarlanes. While it’s most likely no big deal for natives of New York, Los Angeles and other large cities to see their cityscape on the big screen, for those of us from small towns there is something extra special about watching a hockey movie with scenes shot in the same arena they had their high school graduation. The same goes for a football movie with scenes shot in the same stadium that you played your high school ball at. So, while I’ve attempted to stay away from getting too sentimental in my post, focusing on uniform and equipment elements, it’s hard for some of those moments not to slip in so I apologize in advance.
Before I get into the meat of the post, I’d like to take a moment to explain the meaning of the title of the post. “Flood City?”, you may ask, similar to the way the Hanson Brothers did in a pregame locker room interview, “what are you talking about?” After the steel industry, when most people think of the City of Johnstown they think of floods and that is because we have suffered through three major floods. The worst of these was the Great Flood of 1889 but there were also notable floods in 1936 and 1977. The high water marks of these three floods are noted on the town’s City Hall. OK, that’s enough of a history lesson other than recommending David McCullogh’s Johnstown Flood and the Charles Goggenheim documentary The Johnstown Flood (which incidentally won the academy award 20 years ago for Best Documentary, Short Subject).
Without further adieu, as T.O. would say, “get your popcorn ready” and let’s take a stroll down memory lane:
ALL THE RIGHT MOVES: Generally thought of as the lesser of the two J-town movies, ATRM is by no means a wasted hour and a half, it’s just that it’s never been thought of as a classic and never really had the same cult following as Slap Shot has. Sure, some of it is cliché but if you haven’t seen this movie, you won’t be disappointed but you probably won’t be blown away either.
The movie is set in fictional Ampipe, Pennsylvania which derived it’s name from the American Pipe and Steel Company (also fictional and where the great majority of the townfolk are employed). Ampipe High’s football team was one of these varsity jackets being worn in town. I’m not sure if extras were able to obtain them or what, but they were a great conversation piece. As to my own memorabilia from the movie, I have an Ampipe practice jersey and a Knights pennant (although I didn’t get a good screencap of that, they were very similar to the Ampipe ones.)
Here’s Stefan Djordjevic (portrayed by Mr. Cruise) strolling across a bridge on his way to school early in the movie. My first sentimental item as those onion domes belong to my church!
Oh no! He gets to school meets up with his girlfriend Lisa (portrayed by Lea Thompson) and look them: both wearing Nikes!
A little bit later we are introduced to Coach Nickerson (portrayed by Craig T. Nelson) and although his character in ATRM was more hard ass than the role he would play on Coach as Hayden Fox, I’m convinced this role typecast him into roles as coaches (he was also a coach in Blades of Glory) and central figures of authority high on ego (The District). Anyway, you’ve got to love that foam front, mesh back coach’s cap. That’s total 80’s right there!
Although most, if not all the movie is shot either in the City of Johnstown or Greater Johnstown School District facilities, Ampipe was given the black and gold colors to most likely parallel the Steelers and other Pittsburgh teams. The ironic twist there is that although many extras in the movie were Johnstown High students, the uniforms worn by Ampipe those of Ferndale High School, a small school in a bordering borough. While Johnstown’s colors are blue and black, Ferndale had the black and gold in football, cheerleader and band uniforms that the movie producers were no doubt looking for.
I was unable to find any Ampipe player wearing anything other than a Bike helmet. You know, the props department could have done such a better job on those award stickers no? As an aside, seeing that gray mask really makes me wish the Steelers would have opted for it instead of the black on their throwback helmets.
Random 80’s goodness: Check out the forearm and elbow pads, you just don’t see those anymore, especially since interior offensive lineman can use their hands now … The power of the neck roll! … Old school down and distance marker … Ricko, you got a goofy looking wristband like that in your bag-o-bands?!? … Also, you might dig that Dave Parker tape job on the Ampipe’s kicker’s shoe! … Today’s high school coaches have all kinds of high tech gadgetry at their disposal — This shot shows an old peg board with tags for the depth chart — This was a mainstay in my locker room which extended through the mid-90s … This character was supposed to be a coach on a recruiting trip from Boston College. Is that a sweater that someone representing BC would have worn? I’m asking because I’ve never seen anything related to the school with just a “B” and I’m wondering if this is a Hollywood-type continuity error or legit gear … Although it’s no big deal in high school ball, where refs still wear stirrups regularly, it’s refreshing to see it in action, either in real or fiction football! … Two things here: peep the sleeve length and full stripes! Also, and I swear I NEVER noticed this pre-UW days, but some early logo creep from Russell Athletic (that logo is huge, even for me, a self-describe anti-logo creep!)
Ampipe’s rival: Walnut Heights: The game sequence in ATRM was between Ampipe and their archrivals Walnut Heights. These two schools were very different demographically. While Ampipe had the blue collar, ethnically diverse background, Walnut Heights were the yuppie, suburb WASPs with the great facilities and white collar families with more money.
Walnut Heights was the fictional name derived because an actual school in the area, Westmont Hilltop, shared the WH initials and their red and gray colors were used in the movie for uniforms. The Ampipe/Walnut Heights dynamic is not unlike the real-life perception Johnstown (the city school) has with the suburb schools (Richland and Westmont Hilltop) and the Catholic school (Bishop McCort).
That’s Walnut Heights’ coach Don Yannessa (playing himself). Although Yannessa only had the one speaking line, he was instrumental to the film as a consultant, especially to the game sequences. In real life, Yannessa just retired from a distinguished career as a high school football coach. A teammate of Mike Ditka at Aliquippa, he became the Quips head coach at age 31 in 1972 and coached there until 1988. He left Aliquippa for Baldwin in 1989 and stayed there until 2002. In 2003 he entered his last job as he coached Ambridge until his retirement last fall. Ironically, Ambridge was named due to the American Bridge Company. Ampipe was loosely based on Ambridge as well.
It’s a crappy shot, but the Walnut Heights award sticker is much better than Ampipe’s. If you decrease the size of the photo, you can make out the detail of the knight on the horse.
I won’t bore UW with the continuity errors that only locals would get, but I will show two uni-related items I have issue with: First, I was in attendance one of the nights the game sequence was shot and as you might guess, that rain was fake. Most of the night was spent watching players slide and get dirty in the baseball infield of the stadium. So, did these extras portraying Walnut Heights’ players spend all that time getting dirty and then hose off their white converse cleats?! How ridiculous does that look? The other questionable item is that although many pro teams and some college teams like to wear white at home, in Western PA it is extremely rare if not non-existent (I’m sure there have been some exceptions to that rule in the past 30 years or so). However, this was a home contest for Walnut Heights, yet they came out in their white jerseys. While I understand that Ampipe was in yellow and not a traditional road white, the home color for Westmont Hilltop’s jerseys (which as we mentioned are the inspiration of the entire Walnut Heights theme, not only from a uni-perspective but overall) were red. It would have been more realistic for the movie folks to go with the red and have a color-on-color matchup because that is much more common in the region than home teams wearing white.
That’s about it on ATRM, other than to say there are enough shots of the cuteness that was early 80’s Lea Thompson to fill an entire blog post (as well as one VERY NSFW picture in the gallery of photos that weren’t used for this post!) But, since that’s not the kind of blog this I’ll leave it at that. As a quality movie, I don’t think Leonard Maltin’s 2 1/2 stars is that far off.
All my screencaps from ATRM can be viewed here.
SLAP SHOT: Moving on to Slap Shot, I say this without any bias, this is my absolute favorite movie of all time. Not my favorite hockey movie. Not my favorite sports movie. My favorite movie, period. I am of the opinion that the late Paul Newman was the greatest American actor of our time and his portrayal of aging player-coach Reg Dunlop was absolutely brilliant (not to mention he did all his own skating). I’m only stating this because I want to get out of the way my feeling for the movie itself. Not that I don’t have the emotional attachment of it being filmed in my hometown, but I’m speaking only in terms of the quality of the movie. Some people watch Star Wars movies or Monty Python movies and know all the words, well, this is my version of that. I’ve seen this movie so many times I’ve lost track. I won’t watch it with someone that hasn’t seen it before because my reciting the movie word-for-word would probably be pretty damned annoying.
Leonard Maltin gives the movie 3 stars but another critic, the late Gene Siskel gave the film a mediocre review at first but upon further review said that was his greatest regret and that the Slap Shot was one of the greatest American comedies of all time. Of course I couldn’t agree more!
The movie is set in fictional Charlestown, home of the Chiefs, the toughest team in the Federal League. Other Federal League teams included the Hyannisport Presidents, the Peterboro Patriots, the Syracuse Bulldogs, the Broom County Blades, the Long Island Ducks and the Lancaster Gears.
Since Slap Shot has much more game action, this part of the post will break down each team in the movie, then the briefly the refs and finally a miscellaneous category as a “catch all”.
CHIEFS: Being that fictional Charlestown was really Johnstown, it made sense that the Chiefs cribbed the style of the actual minor league team that was in town at the time, the Jets.
Although the first Chiefs jersey we see on screen is the road blue, the first game action we see it at home in front of a less-than-capacity crowd at the War Memorial. I always wondered why Reg didn’t wear the “C” as he was a player-coach. Wouldn’t that make him the unquestioned on-ice leader? However, the honor of the “C” went to Johnny Upton (Allen Nicholls), who was also the only main character to wear a helmet on the Chiefs. Speaking of that helmet, what was up with it? What is that, a piece of foam or rubber on the back of it? Was that a popular, early-style helmet back in the day? I’m also not familiar with the brand name “LANGE“.
That’s Morris “Moe” Wanchuk (Brad Sullivan), the sex-crazed one of the bunch and although it’s a fictional character, that’s a good “athlete smoking” shot.
Aside from the Hanson Brothers (don’t worry I’m getting there), one of the more eccentric characters was Yvon Barrette’s portrayal of Denis Lemieux (no relation to the Magnificent One). Check out how his mask changed from the tame to the wild as the Chiefs’ personality as went from boring to old-time hockey. Also, who else forgot that Louisville Slugger made sticks?
Meet the Hansons: that’s Steve, Jack and Jeff from left to right, so masterfully “portrayed” by Steve Carlson, Dave Hanson and Jeff Carlson respectively. I put portrayed in quotes because I’m not sure how much of an act they were doing! As many of the other actors in this movie, these guys actually played hockey. In fact, the reason Hanson was called on to play the third Hanson was because the third Carlson Brother, Jack, was called up by the Edmonton Oilers to play in the WHA playoffs while the movie was being filmed (here’s a shot of him from his days as a New England Whaler). The real-life exploits of the Carlson Brothers were no doubt the inspiration for the fictional Hansons and to this day, the line between fiction and reality with these guys is blurred to a point of no return.
The Hansons were picked up by penny-pinching GM Joe McGrath (Strother Martin) from the fictional Iron League. In fact, the boys are all sporting jackets with the league’s logo on them. Although the Iron League doesn’t exist, it’s inspiration may have come from the first professional squad the Carlsons played for: the Marquette Iron Rangers.
BULLDOGS: Without a doubt the biggest rival of the Chiefs in the movie, led by their coach and “chief punk” Tim “Dr. Hook” McCracken (Paul D’Amato), who also wears the “C”. Overall, Syracuse’s jersey is pretty bland seeing that their mascot is a Bulldog but whatever. Also, orange and black reminds me of the Flyers so of course I’m going to hate it! I will say this though, their goalie had a pretty cool mask.
GEARS: Lancaster was the first road trip for the boys but the game sequence isn’t that detailed, in fact, this is the only quality shot of the Gears’ jersey I could get. Looks inspired by the Detroit Red Wings and sort of reminds me of the logo the Johnstown Wings used later in the 70’s.
BLADES: This sported a multi-colored deep green, white, yellow and red ensemble (that’s “lard ass” Barclay Donaldson as portrayed by Ross Smith). Donaldson went sans helmet, but this player opted for a very nice dark green Cooper model. Speaking of helmets, check out this shot of their bench and mix-and-match approach taken by the players, some with no helmet, some with white and some with green. Here’s a shot of their goalie.
PATRIOTS: This was the most underwhelming jersey of the film, especially since the logo on the Federal League page that I posted earlier has such great potential for a hockey jersey. This is a shame too, because it’s this team that gives us one of the more famous scenes in the movie, the pregame fight with no refs on the ice.
DUCKS: The Long Island Ducks were actually the name of a team that played in the Eastern Hockey League in the late 60’s and early 70s. When the EHL disbanded, two leagues formed, the NAHL and the Southern Hockey League, with teams from the defunct league moving to where they fit geographically in one of those two leagues. The Slap Shot version of the Ducks wore a very distinct looking black, gold and white jersey with some wavy stripes at the top and a unique shoulder and neckline pattern. Yes, that’s Hanrahan, the goalie that Reg drives off the deep end by making some less than polite remarks about his wife! Here’s a slight consistency issue: although all the lettering and numbering on the Ducks’ jersey are either black or black trimmed in white, the Captain’s “C” is just white for some reason.
PRESIDENTS: Aside from the Chiefs, the Presidents are the only team we get to see in both their home and road unis. These unis are probably my favorite in the movie, aside from the Chiefs. I especially like the green road unis with the white shoulders (dig that old goalie equipment and mask and Northland stick). This was the first hockey uniform I can recall, real or fictional, with the front number on the top corner of the jersey. I viewed the sequence with their road jerseys several times to find a “C” or “A” but couldn’t find one. However, you can make out the “A” on the white home jersey I linked above. (Continuity error: that’s the same character, Brophy, in both shots, yet he’s wearing the “A” in one shot but not the other.)
REFEREES: Pardon the poor image quality on this shot, but for the movie you can see that while the linesmen wore traditional black and white zebra stripes, the referee sported red and white. Another nice touch were the names AND numbers on the backs of the jerseys. (A couple of other good looks here and here).
MISCELLANEOUS: I’m not sure what the deal is with both Lily and Ned Braden sporting this ratty looking St. Louis Cardinals hat. Neither Lindsay Crouse or Michael Ontkean hail from the midwest … Although the blue and black of my alma mater was snubbed in ATRM, it figures prominently in Slap Shot as the band plays at both the championship game and the celebratory parade … There was some talk in the comments not too long ago about whether the patch on the Chiefs’ jersey was a Federal League patch or a patch for the All-American City. This shot shows it was the latter … Grammar fail from the Charlestown fans! … Who’s that foxy lady with the 70’s flair? None other than Newman’s daughter Suzanne.
All my screencaps of Slap Shot can be viewed here.
Phil asked me to explain “what’s the story with that dog?” Reg Dunlop’s “that’s the dog that saved Charlestown from the 1938 flood” is a line that has confused local folklore for years! For the REAL story, check out these links.
Art imitates life: in Slap Shot, fictional Charlestown was going through tough times as the mills were closing and the Chiefs were going to fold. In real life, the Jets were forced to fold in due to the 1977 flood. They would have had to sit out the year anyway because the NAHL folded. Hockey came back for a two-year span that gave Johnstown fans the lowly Wings and Red Wings for the 1978-79 and 1979-80 seasons. Poor attendance and decreasing economic woes caused the sport of hockey to leave Johnstown until 1988.
It was that season that Johnstown was awarded a franchise in the now defunct All-American Hockey League. You want to talk about old-time hockey? That first season had games with all-out brawls on a regular basis (including goalies). The next season the ECHL was formed as the East Coast Hockey League and although the squad has struggled to average 2,000 fans a game in attendance, they are currently the sole charter member of the league that has survived.
When it came time to name the squad, the new owners wanted to name them the Jets but the previous owners would not relinquish the rights to that name. So what was their second choice? Obviously, the Chiefs!
The Hanson Brothers make regular appearances at the War Memorial and from time to time the Chiefs sport throwbacks of either the movie Chiefs or the Jets. People from all over the world make pilgrimages to the Cambria County War Memorial to say they were in the arena where Slap Shot was made.
Well, that’s all folks, I hope you enjoyed your double-feature of Flood City cinema. I’ll leave with the immortal words of Charlestown Sportswriter Dickie Dunn (M. Emmett Walsh): “I tried to capture the spirit of the thing.”
Thanks Douggie! I think it’s time to fire up Slap Shot on the ol’ DVD real soon. Lets try to keep the Slap Shot quotes to a minimum ;).
This and That: Got this note late last night from UW reader Jeff Shirley: “Phil, Here’s a closeup of the patch the Jazz wore tonight in honor of Larry Miller’s passing. I thought the patch looked great. I also thought you might enjoy the tribute, complete with the old school note. (too bad they didn’t wear the high striped socks too).” Nice touch. The Jazz basketball team owner Larry H. Miller died of complications from Type 2 diabetes Friday, Feb. 20, 2009. He was 64. … Talk about your color on color matchup … can someone who follows soccer please explain What the hell is on Pumas’ kit? … Dude (or is that a chick?) — You’re wearing the wrong color sweater … good to see there’s no logo creep in boxing … nice closeup here of Roberto Luongo‘s facemask — complete with vector wordmark … Interesting take on the “rent-a-player” joke … and despite shutting out the Dev’s 4-0, I still HATE the Isles socks they wear in their third uni.
Enjoy the Oscars. — Phil