There were no guarantees, no promissory notes. Everyone desperately wanted hockey to make it in Macon, to keep its head above the frozen water on the Coliseum floor. One sportswriter compared the hard sell to trying to unload surfboards on Eskimos.
The original Macon Whoopees, with one of the most beloved sports nicknames of all time, seemed to come and go without ever arriving. They played 62 games and won 22 of them before going belly-up on the ice.
Born from the title of a song, Makin Whoopee, made popular by Eddie Cantor and Doris Day, they never arrived at the last verse. They left town owing a lot of people a lot of money.
Yet the mere mention of their name -- they were once referred as the Slippery Rock of Hockey -- still brings revelry to those who remember. They even inspired a book.
Some recall their dramatic death march to the end, folding nine days before the season ended. It happened on a Feb. 14, a day later remembered as another St. Valentines Day Massacre.
Still others, like Dan Jaskula, can turn back the pages to the very beginning. The first game was played 40 years ago Saturday, on Oct. 12, 1973, against the Suncoast Suns. There were 3,000 people at the Macon Coliseum. Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter slipped his way out to center ice to drop the inaugural puck. The Southern Hockey League sent a giant wreath in the shape of a horseshoe -- for good luck.
Dan had season tickets in Section 8, Row K, Seats 13 and 14, but he doesnt remember ever sitting down. He was a radio broadcaster from Warner Robins who grew up around the sports in Chicago, and he was too excited to sit still.
He didnt miss many things about living in Chicago when he moved to Warner Robins in 1972 to work at WRBN radio, where he broadcast Warner Robins and Northside high school football games. He didnt have to shovel snow in the South, and he would rub it in to his friends back home, whenever the wind chill was below zero whipping off Lake Michigan.
He did miss hockey, though. It wasnt easy going from the Blackhawks to cold turkey.
When the news broke about Macon getting a hockey team in the summer of 1973, Dan couldnt wait to call his old boss, Wally Phillips of WGN in Chicago, who immediately put him on the air in front of thousands of listeners.
How about that? said Phillips. Have they got a name for the team yet?
Yup, said Dan. The Macon Whoopees.
There was dead air in the Windy City.
No, really, Phillips shot back. What is the teams name?
Dan later contacted the Whoopees front office and talked to Bill Buckley, the teams young, assistant general manager.
I told him I might be the only guy south of the gnat line who knew what a puck was, Dan said. I volunteered to talk to civic clubs and schools to help educate people about hockey. I also met with the football players at Warner Robins and Northside.
For most Southerners, a hockey game was like watching a foreign movie with no subtitles. And ice was something they put in their tea.
So Dan came up with a program he called This is Hockey. He made a chart. He went through the basics. ... This is a puck. This is the net. ... He explained the difference between a red line and a blue line.
I asked members of a civic club in Warner Robins if they understood, he said. When I looked out, everyone was shaking their heads no.
Dan met the teams colorful coach, KeKe Mortson, of North Bay, Ontario, the minute Mortson stepped off the plane at the airport. They attended a Meet the Whoopees reception at the old Macon Hilton Hotel the week before the opening game.
He does not need a box score to recollect the first game. A fight broke out in the first minute. The ice was covered with sticks, pads, gloves and blood. The Whoopees spent 90 minutes in the penalty box, but won a thriller, 5-4, in overtime.
Not everyone was there to see it, though. Some fans were unaware hockey consists of three periods, and not a first half and second half. They got up and left at the end of the second period.
So much for all those Hockey 101 seminars.
Hockey was reincarnated in Macon in the mid-1990s for a few seasons, then faded away again, perhaps for forever.
But the Whoopees still live on because of folks like Dan Jaskula, who wont let the sun set on those joyful memories. Every now and then, he pulls out his old game programs, yellowed newspaper clippings and tickets to the last three games that were never played.
I was glad to be a part of it, he said.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.