BOSTON – Denis Potvin laughs about the chant now. It wasn't always this way.
Anyone who has ever been to a New York Rangers game in the past 30 years has heard the chant that starts in the rafters, a chant started with a sing-song whistle.
The whistle ends: Duh, duh, duh: Pot-vin Sucks!
Denis Potvin, the Panthers television analyst since the team's inception in 1993, was vilified by Rangers fans on this day in 1979 after he put a nasty hit on Rangers' center Ulf Nillsen.
The swift Swede broke his ankle on the play, the result – as he said – of bad ice at the Garden. His foot got caught in the boards and when Potvin hit him, his ankle took the brunt of the brute force. Both players say it was a hard, but clean hit.
''It was,'' Potvin says, ''an accident.''
No matter. The Rangers, who despise the Islanders to this day, began hurling insults at the Islanders captain. It started as Potvin Sucks (which some still feel is as vulgar a word as any of the Big Seven, and a word I had to argue to get into this morning's Miami Herald) and morphed into something much worse.
Fans would hurl all sorts of abuse at Potvin whenever the Islanders came across to the Garden, with Potvin telling me last night at one game someone threw a 9 volt battery at him.
''It whizzed right by my ear,'' he said. The players weren't wearing their helmets at the time because of the anthem, and at the time, the Garden would completely darken the arena with only the anthem singer illuminated. No one knew who threw the battery thanks to the cloak of darkness.
''It was very difficult in the beginning. It almost felt life-threatening. Those were pretty nasty times,'' Potvin told me last night outside the FSN booth. ''They haven't completely darkened the lights in the Garden for the anthems since.''
I approached Denis about this story yesterday after hearing he wasn't talking to anyone about it. He feels the whole thing is a 'no-win' situation for him, although I talked him out of that thinking. My take: Denis is part of the history and lore of not one but two New York hockey teams.
He'll forever be an Islander, captaining them to four Stanley Cup titles. But he'll probably be part of the Rangers forever as well. You can't go to a Rangers game without hearing that chant. ANY Rangers game. They were chanting it in Europe during those games there earlier this season. They chant it in Florida, Los Angeles, Montreal. If the Rangers are playing, you'll hear the chant. Fans even started it during the Adam Graves retirement ceremony a few weeks back.
''Brian Leetch made a comment about it when his jersey was retired,'' Potvin says. ''You saw Adam Graves chuckle when he heard it. Listen, I don't belong in that. Those guys are being honored. But in many ways, that sort of confirmed the fact that the fans think it's just a chant that motivates the Rangers. It's their chant. It's not about me or the Islanders.''
But it's not a violent chant anymore. Time has erased most of the bitterness and many fans have forgotten or don't even know the genesis of the chant. They've been chanting it so long it's part of their fabric. Heck, you even hear it at baseball and football games.
''I was at Yankee Stadium when the Marlins played in the World Series and heard that chant,'' Potvin said with a grin. ''I crunched down into my seat. I couldn't believe it. It happens everywhere in New York. It's a rallying cry of sorts.''
Some Ranger fans absolutely hate the tradition. I was in the upper deck at a Rangers-Canucks game earlier this season with Goldie and Bill Lindsay. Whenever someone started the whistle, about a dozen fans would start booing and telling the guy to shut up. But when the whistle was over, the overwhelming majority of fans in the stands did the chant.
A few minutes later when things were a little quiet, someone else did it. It went on all night. Goldie snickered a few times. You know Goldie's been guilty of chanting that many a time in his younger years at the Garden. Today the two are close friends and working partners.
''Now it's like a generational thing, like passing down Giants tickets. It's become pretty interesting and I can't believe it's gotten to this point,'' said Potvin, who will undoubtedly hear the chant a few times Thursday when the Panthers visit New York.
''I don't think it has anything to do with me anymore.''
But it's all you Denis. Enjoy hearing thousands chant your name tomorrow night.
-- Here is my original story from today's Miami Herald. For some reason it was late getting up online.
-- Here is a female fan dancing to the ditty outside MSG after a tossing back a few apparently.