Montreal sports’ golden age

Looking back on the fabled 1970s

The Olympic Stadium stands as a reminder of the glory years of pro sport in Montreal. File Photo Alex Perez

When you think of Montreal professional sports, the first thing that comes to mind would be the Montreal Canadiens and their 24 Stanley Cups. If you were to look at the numbers, you would think that Montreal is a city of winners. While that could still be true, it has been a while since a Montreal-based team or athletes dominated their sports. The 1970s were very much the golden years for Montreal.  

If we only focus on hockey, the Montreal Canadiens have won just two Stanley Cups since the end of the 1970s and have not won one since 1993. The Canadiens have had some good teams since then, but it has all ended in disappointment. In the 1970s alone, the Canadiens won six Stanley Cups. That is more Stanley Cups won than Montreal has made appearances since the 1970s ended. Those Montreal teams that won six Stanley Cups in 10 years were stacked with Hall of Famer players—the likes of Guy Lafleur, Jacques Lemaire, Steve Shutt, Larry Robinson, Yvan Cournoyer, Guy Lapointe, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, and Ken Dryden. Not to mention their coach for five out of six Stanley Cups was Verdun-native Scotty Bowman, widely regarded as the greatest coach in NHL history.  No one could come close to them. They lost a total of eight games in those six finals. Canadiens fans of today could only wish for their teams to dominate like they used to. 

The 1970s were not only great for the Canadiens but Montreal sports as a whole. The Alouettes, Montreal's Canadian Football League Team, won three Grey Cups during that decade. While they have not had the same kind of drought as the Canadiens have had, last winning the Grey Cups in 2010, it did feel as though in the 1970s, you were celebrating at least one championship. In the 1970s, Montreal had a baseball team called the Expos, something many baseball fans wish they could have back. The majority of that decade was not great for the Expos. They were a new team, only making their debut in 1969. However, by the end of the decade in the 1979 season, the Expos finished second in the NL East division, the best finish in their team's history up to that point. The team was led by Gary Carter, Andre Dawson, and Tony Pérez, all of whom became Hall of Fame players. The team was coached by Hall of Fame manager Dick Williams.

The 1970s was not only great for team sports. In 1976, Montreal hosted the Summer Olympics. It was the first time Montreal has ever hosted the summer games. Some may want to forget the Olympic Stadium, but that is a story for another day. While Canada as a nation did not have an incredible showing at the games, it is still an honour and a special moment to host the Olympics. Montrealers had the opportunity to watch the world's greatest athletes compete and have the chance to see Canada win medals on home soil. The Montreal Olympics had an impact on other sports as well. Once the Olympics ended, the Olympic Stadium became the new home of the Montreal Expos, where they played until the team was relocated to Washington in 2004. 

Montreal sports today are not all that bad. When George St-Pierre was fighting in the UFC, even though he was born in a small town just outside of the city, he chose to represent Montreal. St-Pierre dominated the UFC, becoming a two-time champion in the welterweight division, for which he ruled for seven years. He then left the sport for four years to come back and win the UFC's middleweight title, one weight division higher than what he competed in his whole career. Montreal also had Eugenie Bouchard to watch in 2014. She became the first Canadian to reach a Grand Slam title final, in which she fell just short of capturing the title. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif won the NFL Super Bowl, playing for the Kansas City Chiefs, which helped propel him to being named co-winners of the Lou Marsh Award, alongside Alphonso Davies. The award is given out annually to the top Canadian athlete of the year. However, even with all this, Montreal sports are still not comparable to what they were in the 1970s.