Bud Kennedy

Fort Worth and Dallas used to duke it out on ice. One year, Fort Worth won

Fort Worth got the best of Dallas one night 40 years ago, and some of us have never forgotten.

Late one Friday night, barely ahead of last call in the honky-tonks and bars, the cities' brawling rivalry came to a head in a sports championship game that seemed like much more.

The beer was still flowing and a cloud of cigarette smoke hung over Will Rogers Coliseum May 5, 1978, when the pro hockey Fort Worth Texans scored a sudden-death, Game 7 overtime victory over their bitter arch-rivals, the Dallas Blackhawks.

When a rookie from Saskatchewan named Kelly Greenbank scored to deliver Fort Worth from 30 years of pro sports frustration (since the city's last Fort Worth Cats baseball title), the crowd sat for a moment staring in silence.

For some, it was from disbelief. For others, it was the Coors.

“The red [goal] light went on, and everything went quiet,” said Lee Gwozdz of Corpus Christi, then the arena organist poised to trill out an amped-up version of the team song, “The Eyes of Texas.”

“The Dallas fans were not even moving, and then ours just started going crazy.”

For 27 seasons before the arrival of the big-league Dallas Stars, the century-old frontier feud between Fort Worth and Dallas was fought out on ice by young Canadians playing their way to the National Hockey League.

Earlier in that 1978 season, the Texans' local owner, Clif Overcash Jr. of Fort Worth, staged a blunt promotion: “Hate the Hawks Night.”

Today, a Star-Telegram photo of the winning goal is his computer screensaver.

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The Fort Worth Texans' Kelly Greenbank beats Dallas Blackhawks goalie Dave Elenbaas for the game-winning overtime goal in Game 7 of the 1978 Central Hockey League playoffs. Al Panzera Fort Worth Star-Telegram archives

“It put us on the map — especially beating Dallas.”

Stars historians devoted three full pages to the game in a new book, “Texas On Ice: Pro Strides to the Stars” (Brown Books, 145 pages, $24.99.)

Eric Nadel, the 40-year Texas Rangers baseball announcer, was still the Blackhawks' voice then.

“It was the first time I felt the whole city was paying attention,” he told the Stars' historians.

He's called Rangers games in the World Series. But he said the hockey final was “the greatest sports atmosphere I've ever been part of.”

Jim Marshall was among the fans. He's now retired and got together with other fans Friday to relive the moment.

When the Texans won, “it was just bedlam,” he said.

“I remember jumping over the boards and running onto the ice to hug everybody. We all ran out onto the ice.”

Texans player Doug Rombough skated the championship cup around the rink as Gwozdz played “Good Night Ladies” and fans sang “Good night, Dallas.”

The Texans were led by player-coach Billy MacMillan, an NHL veteran and a sheep farmer from Prince Edward Island coaching players loaned by both the New York Islanders and Minnesota North Stars, today's Dallas Stars.

They won not only the championship but also the Turnpike Trophy, given to the winner of the Fort Worth-Dallas season series.

Today, the Texans are in hockey history mainly for beating the 1980 U.S. Olympic “Miracle on Ice” squad twice, both in exhibition games.

They never won another championship.

For four years, a blue-and-orange championship banner dangled from the roof of the coliseum.

The year after the Texans folded in 1982, I was browsing in the old Cattle Barn Flea Market one Sunday and saw blue and orange peeking from under a display table.

I bought the championship banner for $75.

A few years ago, Overcash and I struck up a hockey conversation.

"I wonder whatever happened to that championship banner,” he said.

I told him I knew.

For 20 years, the prize for that long season of blood and sweat had been rolled up in the bottom of my closet.

Now, the Stars promise it'll go in a future museum.

Just to remind Dallas.

Bud Kennedy, 817-390-7538; @BudKennedy

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