It’s pretty safe to say that journalist Greg Prato is a sports geek. He wrote Sack Exchange: The Definitive Oral History of the 1980s New York Jets and just can’t get enough of the New York Mets. Here he talks a bit about his passion for sports and why he wanted to write a book on the New York Islanders.
Interviewer Steven Rosen: Most sports-related books are about baseball, basketball or football. What drew you to writing about the New York Islanders?
Greg Prato: My favorite three sports teams are the New York Mets, New York Jets, and New York Islanders. Of the three, arguably my most favorite team was the Islanders circa the early '80s. Out of all the years of watching sports, I have rarely experienced a team that you were positive was going to win and ultimately take home the prize at the end of the year. The Islanders from 1980-1983 were that team. I've always wanted to read a book about this era of the team, and the books out there about the Islanders seem to have been written before the team's amazing run ended in 1984, or are about other eras of the team. So...I decided to take the plunge!
What was it about that period in the Islanders' history—1972-1984—that so intrigued you?
Except for the New York Yankees circa the late '90s/early '00s and the Chicago Bulls during the '90s, there are few pro sports teams that come to mind that could dominate other teams on a nightly basis, and that you were certain were going to go the distance at the end of the season. The early '80s New York Islanders definitely belong in that elite group, as they're the only pro sports team to ever win 19 consecutive playoff series...and I predict no other team will ever accomplish that again.
Was this a totally different experience than writing about the New York Jets?
The interview process was similar for both, and both books contain similar year-by-year/season-by-season chapters. But the obvious difference is that the Islanders did win Stanley Cups in the '80s, whereas the Jets of the '80s sadly never made it to the Super Bowl. But both books were ultimately very fun and rewarding to write.
What surprises did you uncover in writing this book?
Several topics that I got the interviewees to discuss was what it was like playing against Wayne Gretzky (aka "The Great One"), as well as the Islanders' intense rivalry vs. the New York Rangers (which hockey historian/journalist/book author Stan Fischler said was the greatest rivalry he's ever witnessed in pro sports). Also, readers will learn how longtime Howard Stern Show producer, Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate became a major Islanders fan, and even interned for them (prior to joining the Stern Show) in 1981. It was also great to interview Claire Arbour, the wife of Islanders' Hall of Fame head coach, Al Arbour, who I believe has never been interviewed for an Islanders book before. It was very interesting to hear what it was like to be an NHL coach's wife during this time, and also her memories of attending some of the greatest Islanders games of all-time (including when the then-upstart Islanders beat the favored Rangers in the 1975 playoffs—at Madison Square Garden).
What was it like talking with Gary "Baba Booey" Dell'Abate?
It was great—Mr. Dell'Abate is always a very nice gentleman. It was interesting to hear his memories of rooting for the Islanders since the early '70s, and what it was like to be a fan witnessing the team's numerous close-calls in the '70s, before finally getting over the hurdle in 1980.
Was there anybody you wanted to talk to who wasn't available?
Yes—any major Islander player from the era who is not included in the book declined to be interviewed. But that said, I was able to interview many or the major contributors to the team's success—Al Arbour, Bill Torrey, Jimmy Devellano, Bryan Trottier, Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Chico Resch, Eddie Westfall, etc. I really feel like I was able to nail down the Islanders' story from this era!
Would you now consider yourself the ultimate historian on all things Islanders?
No, I wouldn't go that far, as I've gone in and out of following the team closely after 1984. They haven't put together winning consecutive seasons with playoff appearances in what seems like a dog's age, so it's kind of hard to watch consistently. But...the Islanders of the early '80s will always have a special place in my heart, and I hope one day the team will return back to greatness. It would be great to experience another Stanley Cup victory by the Islanders.
Contributor Steven Rosen interviewed
author Greg Prato in conjunction with his
review of Dynasty: The Oral History of the New York Islanders, 1972-1984 (see accompanying review) for curledup.com. Steven Rosen/2012.