By: Mark Harriman
BOSTON- If you’ve ever been to an event at the old Boston Garden or its younger brother in the past 53 years, chances are Dan McMorrow helped you find your seat at some point.
He’s the diminutive Irishman with the life-long crew cut, a charming smile and a quick step. And don’t forget the unmistakable accent straight from Dorchester Avenue.
Like all of the other rookies in the old place, McMorrow started his career up in the second balcony where roof leaks seemed to outnumber tickets sold in the joint and sawdust was thrown on the floor to soak it all up.
“No one wanted to do the concerts or the wrestling matches, so I took ‘em,” McMorrow says proudly of his first years at The Garden.
Former Boston Bruins left winger John Carter knew Dan from his playing days in the 1980’s and sees him quite frequently up on the ninth floor where McMorrow reigns today as the usher with the most seniority in the house.
“He’s treated every guest I’ve brought up here incredibly well,” Carter praises his friend from his seat in the Bruins’ Alumni Box during a recent game. “He loves this place like he’s guarding Fort Knox.”
Back in 1957 McMorrow’s future father-in-law was head of the usher’s association –now a union affiliated with the IBEW- and needed some help filling the roster for some matinee shows. Dan was a traffic checker for the MBTA and he took the job for some extra money.
Working an event netted the ushers seven bucks in those days and the cash came in a nightly envelope. But while the pay was good, work was spotty for his first five years as he made his way up the ladder. McMorrow took whatever shifts came his way.
One of the greatest satisfactions of his Garden career, he says, has been getting kids he knows on the ice or in the circus rings during the shows. And yes, a little bit of second generational nepotism has been thrown in for good measure. Dan proudly crows that his daughter was once Queen of Ringling Brothers circus.
Entering his seventh decade on Causeway Street, he is a bit older now –approaching his mid-70’s- somewhat slower and long since retired from The T as a Deputy Superintendant.
Back in the day at Cathedral High School, though, he starred in basketball and track. And he was known as Crazy Legs for good reason.
“I could run,” he says while pointing yet another patron in the right direction. He recollected that he won more than his fair share of track races in his career.
But these days the plural of Crazy Legs has been shortened to the singular, as circulation problems took his left leg back in January 2003. He was on the disabled list for 11 months and the layoff was tough, not only on him, but also on Helen, his wife of 50 years.
“She didn’t like me retired,” he confides in a loud whisper, looking over his shoulder as if she suddenly appeared around a corner. “She says she married me for better or worse, but not for lunch.”
So he came back to work as soon as a laborious rehab allowed him to recapture the well-timed moves he learned after years in the aisles.
Think of Havlicek in 1976, Bobby Orr at the end of his Bruins career or Larry Bird in the early 1990’s. He worked just as hard as those guys to come back to a career that has put a stamp on his life.
Golf, his favorite pastime, really isn’t in the cards anymore, though he gets out on the course a few times a year just to keep his sons honest.
But don’t feel bad for Dan, because he doesn’t feel bad for himself. He has no plans to retire any time soon from what he considers to be the best job in Boston. “I’ll go until I can’t do it anymore,” he yells over his shoulder as he scurries after yet another wayward ticketholder.
After all, seniority has it privileges. Just ask George Flynn, who ranks second on the depth chart with his own forty two years tucked under his standard issue golden vest.
Flynn shares the top floor duties with his friend McMorrow and they’ve been together so long, they anticipate each other’s moves when an usher’s duty calls.
A jazz lover and retired postal inspector, he says that he and McMorrow have mellowed over the years.
“We used to live and die with each win or loss,” says the former marathoner who still occasionally laces up his sneakers and dons his ipod.
But decades later things have changed. “They win. They lose. We go home,” he now concedes.
“And one game is enough,” McMorrow chimes in, making his only concession to age these days. “Can’t do double-headers anymore.” Not only is it tough on the new leg, but Helen worries when he’s gone too long.
The Beanpot Tournament is a different story, though. An exception is always made to McMorrow’s twin bill rule when it comes to rooting for Harvard and his love for (former) coach Bill Cleary’s infectious enthusiasm. He delights in remembering his favorite team’s eight Beanpot titles on the Garden ice. “It’s a late night, but it’s good,” he offers, trying to downplay his Crimson loyalty.
And all those Harvard wins rank up there in his cranial trophy case with some of the other Garden moments he’s witnessed.
Bob Cousy’s retirement, with the classic scream ‘We love you, Cous!’ Ray Bourque handing over number 7 to Phil Esposito. Celtics and Bruins numbers hoisted to the rafters by the banner-load .
But few topped Bobby Orr’s 1979 farewell.
The Bruins were playing the Soviet Union in an exhibition game, a year before there was to be the Miracle On Ice at Lake Placid. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the building,” McMorrow remembers vividly, replaying that thunderous thirty minute standing ovation in his mind.
“Orr and Bird. No one compared,” Flynn offers, introducing another Boston legend to the conversation.
Which, of course, launches McMorrow into another one of his classic stories from his redoubtable career.
It was Game 7 of the 1987 NBA Eastern Conference Finals against Detroit. Boston was down by one. Bird stole the inbounds pass from Isiah Thomas and dumped the ball to Dennis Johnson before falling out of bounds. Johnson laid in a right-handed layup from underneath the left side of the basket.
Boston had a one point lead and ultimately preserved a 108-107 win. “I thought we lost it that night,” he vividly recalls in a classic understatement.
What he didn’t say was that most of the ushers took their lives in their own hands during most nights during that incredible Celtics’ run in the Bird era.
Crowd control was almost an after thought those days and the ushers sat on the hoop stanchions while the game wound down. The Garden brass always tried to stop the crowd from storming the court, but reality was always something different.
Back in 1987 Johnson scores and radio announcer Johnny Most sums it up perfectly in his staccato voice: “Oh, my! This place is going crazy!”
“There was no way you could you could stop ‘em” McMorrow says as he flexes his right shoulder almost as a reminder of punishment caused by the crush of humanity that swamped the court that afternoon. “You either gave up your body or you got out of the way.”
You can’t have a conversation with McMorrow without asking about one of the major people-watching opportunities associated with the old Garden -its annual string of Grateful Dead concerts. The stories have now become the stuff of legend and you just have to ask.
Back in those days, McMorrow worked the outer doors of the Garden. “One day this woman stood in front of the door and kept spinning around. She was getting me dizzy. I’m not sure what she was on.” And they all had the best counterfeit tickets he’s ever seen. That pretty much sums up those strange nights from a Garden employee’s perspective.
While the Dead Heads were always interesting, the music wasn’t really his style. He’s an avowed Elton John and Paul McCartney kind of guy, as caught up on the pop-culture music scene as any usher half his age.
So if you’re up on the ninth floor, head over and say hello to Dan. He’ll be glad to help you find your seat and offer a story or two if you ask. But if you don’t have a ticket, don’t even think of slipping past him. He’s still Crazy after all these years.