Posted by: Mike Cornelius | June 10, 2021

Open Dates At TD Garden

For almost a century, from the age of steam to the era of electric rails, thousands of travelers and millions of daily commuters have made their way through North Station, one of Boston’s two railroad hubs.  Through all those years, rail passengers have walked, or for the tardy among them, run, beneath the hulking mass of the city’s primary indoor sports and entertainment venue.  The arena locals now call the “old Garden” opened in 1928, having been built as part of the Boston & Maine Railroad’s construction of North Station.  Originally styled Boston Madison Square Garden, the facility was designed by Tex Rickard, now a largely forgotten figure but famous in the early part of the last century as an entrepreneur and leading boxing promoter.  Rickard was the force behind the third New York arena to bear the name Madison Square Garden, the one that was the immediate predecessor of the current World’s Most Famous Arena.  A big dreamer from his youth chasing gold in Alaska, Rickard had announced plans to parlay the success of the Gotham facility into a string of MSG’s in cities across the country.  Those plans died with Rickard, just a year after the Boston building became the second – and last – on his wish list. 

Because of his connection to the sweet science, Rickard’s design kept fans close to the heart of the arena’s floor so they could, in his words, “see the sweat on the boxers’ brows.”  But that also meant spectators were right on top of the action when the floor was expanded for basketball or hockey.  The Celtics and Bruins enjoyed the resulting home advantage, with the hardcourt team once compiling home records of 40-1 and 39-2 over consecutive seasons in the mid-‘80s.  The ice rink in turn, was smaller than others in the NHL, giving Bruins players an edge thanks to their local knowledge of the slightly different angles pucks would carom off the boards. 

By the time the Celtics were posting those imposing won-loss records, the Boston Garden was a dilapidated dump, with the impressive size of its resident rats adding a less desirable entry to its list of unique features.  The building’s lack of air conditioning made for an unpleasant fan experience and a borderline dangerous time for players when either of the local squads put together a deep run in the NBA or NHL playoffs.  Shortly after the Jacobs family, founders of the hospitality giant Delaware North, bought the arena and its hockey team in 1975, serious efforts to replace the old Garden began.   

At various times, the Bruins were believed headed to the nearby suburbs, or all the way up I-93 to Salem, New Hampshire; while the Celtics floated plans for a new home in Revere, on the other side of Boston Harbor.  In the end, after the kind of fight about financing that is common in the development of urban sports venues, agreement was reached on a new arena that would house both franchises, to be constructed just north of the existing building.  That turned out to be quite literally the case, for when the new Garden went up there was a mere nine inches of airspace between the two structures.  Even as construction neared completion, Shawmut Bank, the original naming sponsor, announced a merger with Fleet Financial Group, forcing a change in the interior color scheme and the replacement of every seat in the new arena, since they had all been stamped with Shawmut’s logo.

The new Garden, as it is still called a quarter century later by a gradually shrinking generation of gray-haired fans, opened in 1995 as the FleetCenter.  One decade and a few bank mergers later, it became the TD Banknorth Garden, shortened three years after to simply TD Garden.  During a brief nameless interregnum after Fleet paid to get out of its sponsorship, the Jacobs’ raised a little local goodwill and about $150,000 for charity by auctioning off one day’s naming rights thirty separate times.  Only two of the winning bidders had their first choice of a name rejected.  Oddly enough, “Derek Jeter Center” was one of the two names deemed inappropriate.

Yet as imposing as the structure is, and its massive bulk looming over the major artery through Boston is enough to distract many drivers from the elegant beauty of the cable-stayed Zakim Bridge that either just has or is just about to carry them over the Charles River, the facility has rarely been the scene of playoff joy for local fans.  The lone Stanley Cup won by the Bruins since TD Garden opened was captured on the road in 2011, a continent away in Vancouver.  And while the basketball franchise at least clinched its sole Larry O’Brien Trophy in the same time period at home in 2007, one title in twenty-five years hardly befits a team that won sixteen champions in the place that used to stand next door.

Back when the NBA and NHL campaigns were getting underway fans of both squads thought this season would be different.  While neither the Celtics nor Bruins were the first choice of most pundits, both were acknowledged to be contenders.  But now the Celtics have been rudely dispatched by the superstar laden Brooklyn Nets in five mostly lopsided first-round contests.  For their part, the Bruins briefly appeared in control of the second-round series against the New York Islanders before collapsing, ending a short postseason with three straight losses.

As has usually been the case in the years since TD Garden opened, the NBA and NHL playoffs continue their march through the warming days of late spring while local fans are left to ponder what might have been.  This year the pain is more acute since both franchises head into an early offseason in some degree of disarray, from the Celtics’ changes at the top to the uncertain future of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask.  Meanwhile the massive electronic billboard on the north side of TD Garden, impossible to miss by southbound drivers on either I-93 or the lengthy off-ramp that runs right below it, advertises the arena’s coming attractions.  From Canadian crooner Michael Buble to former boy-band heartthrob Harry Styles to the latest tours by the Eagles and assorted other aging rockers, the flashing sign makes it clear that in the weeks ahead, a ticket to TD Garden will be Boston’s most prized ducat.  Just not for sports.


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