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COMMENTARY : Ultimate Symbol: Banner in Storage

October 02, 1994|MIKE LUPICA | NEWSDAY

The banner came back to the offices of AAA American Flag Decorating on 40 W. 37th St from Nashville last Friday. The president of the company, Ian Flamm, removed the layers of wax paper in which it had been shipped to see if there were scratches on either the vinyl surface, or the enamel lettering. A powder had been applied in Nashville, as a way of preventing the enamel paint from sticking to the wax paper. Flamm gently brushed away the powder in his office on the fifth floor and saw that the whole thing was perfect, the blue vinyl and the red-white-and-blue Rangers logo at the top and then underneath the logo the white numbers and letters that read "1993-94 Stanley Cup Champions."

There were already three other banners -- proclaiming the Rangers as champions of the Atlantic Division, the NHL's regular season and the Eastern Conference -- in storage at the Garden. Now Flamm, whose company has been making the banners and retired jerseys that hang in the Garden since 1968, picked up the telephone and called Garden executive Bobby Goldwater.

"It's here," Flamm said.

"How does it look?" Goldwater said.

"Like we worked on it for 54 years," Flamm said.

Flamm worked on it a little more during the weekend and then his crew brought it to the Garden Monday morning. It is supposed to go to the top of the building next Monday night, when the Rangers are scheduled to begin their home season against the Penguins. Now it looks as if there is no schedule and the season may be delayed indefinitely because the people who run hockey, starting with a very smart commissioner named Gary Bettman, are acting like bigger idiots than Clueless Bud Selig and the baseball owners. Baseball had emptied out so many October nights and handed them over to the National Hockey League. It turns out the NHL does not want these October nights, or this kind of once-in-a-lifetime stage to start a season.

The people who run all sports do not just take the games now, they take our ceremonies as well. They take the end of baseball and the beginning of hockey. They think they own everything, including next Monday night. Ian Flamm's banner stays locked in a room at the Garden, guarded by Building Operations. Rangers fans may have to wait to see it go to the top of the Garden. But then they know more about waiting than anyone.

"There was some talk that they might put up all new banners, even for the old Stanley Cup champs," Flamm was saying yesterday. "I sketched one that would have had the Stanley Cup as a backdrop. But they finally decided that this one should just look like the others, so that's what we went with."

AAA American Flag does not get much sports work anymore. The Yankees were with them once, but then the Yankees went to another company, not that they have given that company any work lately. AAA does a lot of work now with banks; their flags fly from flagpoles in front of Citibank and Chemical Bank and Bankers Trust. But they have stayed with the Garden and the Garden has stayed with them. AAA American Flag waited a long time to do the work that signifies the end of the waiting for the New York Rangers.

"There's a whole collection of my banners they never used," Flamm said. When the Rangers made the Stanley Cup final in 1979, he was ready with both old and new designs, especially after the Rangers won the first game of the finals against the Canadiens.

A few days before Game 7 against the Canucks, he sent over his drawings to Rangers president Neil Smith and Barry Watkins, who came out of the old blue seats to be the Rangers p.r. man. They both decided to go with tradition. The banner for '93-94 would look the same as the other ones, from '39-40 and '32-33 and '27-28. When the time came, Flamm sent his sketches and his purchase orders to a painter in Nashville that he has used for years. The painter then purchased 50 yards of 16-ounce reinforced enamel-receptive vinyl and cans of One-Shot enamel paint in red and white and blue. The vinyl was cut into a piece that is six feet across and 10 feet high, and the painter went to work on the Rangers' Stanley Cup banner.

A long way from hockey and from New York City, the Tennessee painter drew the logo and then wrote "Stanley Cup Champions" under that logo at last.

"I give this guy a lot of work," Flamm said, "but I told him this work was a little more special than the rest."

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