|Passion in the Stands|
When Bob Blackburn ’67, ’68 AM first enrolled at Brown in fall 1963, he had no idea the University had a men’s hockey team. “I didn’t know there was college hockey,” Blackburn says. “I came to Brown from Claremont, California. One day, when I was a freshman, I saw in the BDH that Brown was playing Harvard in hockey.” Curious, Blackburn decided to stroll over to Meehan Auditorium and take in the game. The experience changed his life. “It was the fourth or fifth home game,” he recalls. “The place was packed. The band was blaring. It was so exciting. Brown got a couple of late goals and won in overtime. It was the most exciting sporting event I could ever remember seeing.”
Since then, Blackburn has attended just about every Brown home hockey game of the past forty years, a feat matched only by Bill Corrigan ’58, who was already a hockey fan when he arrived on campus in 1954. As a Brown sophomore, he served as a manager of the freshman hockey team, moving up the next year to what in those days was the much coveted job of varsity manager. During his junior and senior years, he began what would become a lifelong friendship with coach Jim Fullerton.
After college, Corrigan and Blackburn eventually settled in Rhode Island, beginning their streaks of perfect attendance at both regular-season and playoff home games—nearly 480 straight games. Corrigan’s began on March 18, 1965, ten minutes into Brown’s NCAA championship semifinal game against Michigan Tech. (His train from New York City, where he then worked, ran late.) After he and his family moved back to Rhode Island in August, Corrigan easily picked up the streak again the next season. “It’s not a big deal,” says Corrigan, a 1961 charter member of the Brown Hockey Association and the BHA’s executive director and treasurer. “You read in the papers all the time about Patriots fans who haven’t missed a game since they first started playing at Fenway Park, or you read about fans who never missed a Brown football game. A lot of people have streaks like this.”
“No, they don’t,” says a chuckling Blackburn. Since the first game he saw as a freshman—a scintillating 3–2 Brown overtime win over Harvard on December 14, 1963, Blackburn has missed only ten home games, and all of those came before 1968. Since early January 1968, Blackburn, who has worked as a philosophy professor at nearby Roger Williams University for thirty-seven years, has not missed a single home game.
Fittingly, the biggest threat to their streaks has occurred when their own children were playing in high school hockey games, which are held on Friday and Saturday nights, the same nights as most of Brown’s ECAC games. Corrigan and Blackburn recall hustling many weekend nights from a high school rink to Meehan just in time to catch the third period of a Brown game, or hurrying out of Meehan to catch a late-starting high school game. Otherwise, nothing—family crises, flu outbreaks, snowstorms, or young children—has held them back. Corrigan’s wife of forty-five years, Anita, has willingly aided and abetted his addiction, even attending most of the games along with him. Even when their three children were small, she says, Bill and Anita were still able to get away. “We were lucky,” Anita says. “We had some wonderful babysitters. And, of course, Bill always made sure to give them a schedule at the start of the year.”
That kind of thoroughness also marks Corrigan’s behind-the-scenes work on behalf of the hockey program over the years. “It’s impossible to credit Bill sufficiently for all the things he does,” says Blackburn, the BHA’s secretary. To recognize Corrigan’s long-standing support of the program, as well as his roles as hockey historian and archivist, last February the University named the trophy case in the Meehan lobby after him.
But don’t think that the home-game streak by Corrigan and Blackburn means they’ve neglected away games. They’ve also driven up and down the East Coast and flown across the country whenever possible to root on the Bears. And their perfect home record for almost four decades is almost matched by a near-perfect one for all playoff games, both home and away. Of the sixty-two ECAC and NCAA postseason games Brown has played since the 1962–63 season, Corrigan has missed only the four ECAC playoff games in March 1965. As for Blackburn, the only two playoff games he has missed since his freshman year were the Bears’ semifinal-round and consolation-round games at the NCAA championships in Denver in 1976.
Although proud of their attendance streak, Blackburn and Corrigan say it’s not what keeps them going to games. “Over time you establish a rapport with coaches and you meet the kids and their families and you get to know them, especially on the road,” says Blackburn. “You feel a part of their families. More than just rooting for a sweater, you want them to win for who they are and what they do.”
Corrigan realizes that spending all those winter nights in chilly rinks may seem like a curious way to spend one’s time. “Someone could read this article and say, ‘Come on, get a life,’ and that’s a fair assessment,” he says with a smile. “Hey, everybody’s got a hobby,” he adds. “Maybe you wouldn’t categorize this as a hobby, but it’s something that’s part of your life and something you enjoy.”