What a story from Colorado to South Carolina…
A story that will likely go down as one of the most famous sports stories in the nation.
The story of the Colorado Avalanche and its first-round playoff game against the South Carolina Stingrays was written in November, 1982.
In it, former Avalanche captain Mike Vernon said he was told by a Stingrays player that the Colorado coach would be “the first man to take off his mask” if the Stingrays won the game.
Vernon, who played in the 1980s and was the team’s captain for three years, says he was stunned when he heard the comment.
“I never imagined it would be used in this way,” Vernon said.
“It was an absolutely bizarre and completely unbelievable thing to say, and I didn’t expect it to come from a coach.
I had a very, very bad feeling that this might happen.
It just didn’t sit right.”
The story is still being written and the Avalanche, a team that had finished fourth in the league that season, went on to defeat the Stingray in seven games.
“If you’re a Colorado fan and you were at a sports bar and someone said this was an unbelievable statement that they would take off their mask,” Vernon says, “you would just laugh.
That was the worst thing you could imagine.”
The team’s new head coach, Scott Gordon, said in a statement after the game that he was “stunned” by the comment, but he added that Vernon did not make it up.
Vernon was hired by the Avalanche in 1983 and helped lead them to a Stanley Cup in the season’s final game before the playoffs began.
Gordon and Vernon had a tumultuous relationship that included Vernon making fun of Gordon’s hair and joking about him being gay.
Gordon had to go on leave from the Avalanche and Vernon returned to coaching the Stingreys after a few seasons.
He had a long and productive coaching career, winning two Stanley Cups with the San Jose Sharks in 1991 and the Nashville Predators in 1998.
“Mike’s words have become part of my life and his memory, which I cherish with all of my heart,” Gordon said in the statement.
“The words he uttered during that fateful day at the Avs practice facility in Denver in 1982 will forever be a part of our lives.”