Monday, June 24, 2024

Francesco's Is a Part My NY Rangers' History

 One of my almost weekly rituals during the first decade and a half of the 21st century was going to Francesco’s Restaurant in White Plains after Wednesday night indoor tennis season with three of my friends. A local institution  for about half a century, Francesco’s was the type of neighborhood bar and restaurant inhabited by locals in fictional and nonfictional settings. The Italian food and pizza was not fancy. It was just good. Really good. 

Francesco’s will close at the end of the month. Its namesake owner and cook is 80. His children who worked in the establishment will not keep it open. 

I wouldn’t say I was a Francesco’s regular. After I stopped playing tennis about eight years ago I probably ate there no more than half a dozen times. 

But Francesco’s always will retain a special place in my  heart and memory. Not for the food or the camaraderie with friends.  

Rather, it was for an unplanned event during the summer of 1994 as I was driving home past Francesco’s on Mamaroneck Avenue. Back then Francesco’s enjoyed a clientele that included several players and staff of the New York Rangers. 

Spring 1994 was a magical time for the Rangers. A drought of 40 years since the team’s last Stanley Cup championship ended with a nail-biting seventh game 3-2 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. 

Captain Mark Messier hoisted the cup above his head as he skated around Madison Square Garden, the first of many Rangers to share that honor. 

But the hockey tradition of sharing the cup does not end on the ice. It is customary that each player and key organization member has the privilege of caring for the silver cup for a day, a privilege that permits them to take the symbol of excellence wherever and to whomever they choose. 

On that sunny spring afternoon, an assistant trainer for the Rangers brought the cup to his regular watering hole—Francesco’s.  

I was not inside Francesco’s that afternoon. But as I was about to drive by I spotted a young man trying to stuff a 37-pound, three-foot round piece of silver into the back seat of his sedan. I immediately recognized what I was witnessing. I slammed on the brakes, double parked and raced over to touch the cup. 

I was not alone. From next door to Francesco’s women wearing protective smocks with curlers in their hair scurried out of a beauty parlor to get their hands on the trophy. 

It was an exhilarating moment. 

A few years later I had a more sedate encounter with Lord Stanley’s memento. The National Hockey League sponsored a public viewing of the cup in Grand Central Terminal’s Vanderbilt Hall. 

I was awed by its stature but nowhere near as thrilled as I had been that magical moment 30 years ago.  

Tonight, the Stanley Cup will be raised overhead once more. The deciding seventh game between the Florida Panthers and the Edmonton Oilers will be played in Sunrise, Fla. The Oilers last won the Stanley Cup in 1990. The Panthers have never won the league title since the team joined the NHL in the 1993-94 season. 

Memories of a lifetime will be made tonight.