According to its founder, ‘Krazy George’ the normally summertime tradition of The Wave debuted in an unlikely and sparsely attended place – at the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver Nov. 15, 1979.
By Joshua Kloke George Henderson didn’t think it would happen where it did. He’d been a professional cheerleader for years, but the co-ordinated momentum that built through the McNichols Sports Arena in Denver Nov. 15, 1979, was entirely different. “The Wave” has become a staple of large, primarily summertime sporting events and many point to an Oct. 15, 1981 playoff game in Oakland between the Athletics and the New York Yankees as its debut. Henderson, better known as ‘Krazy George’ and the inventor of the wave, remembers its origins differently. “It actually started at a Colorado Rockies hockey game,” he said. “I had been doing it there for two years, but there was always such a small crowd that I never had it documented.”
While it may seem strange for a northern Californian to have started the wave with a small-time NHL team, Henderson had long been a hockey fanatic.
“The very first team I ever loved was the Oakland Seals, not as a cheerleader but as a fan,” he said. “Munson Campbell was the general manager with the Seals and then he went to Colorado. He hired me for four years. I moved to Colorado, and it was a great relationship. I had the time there to invent something like the wave.”
Given the usually smaller numbers at NHL arenas compared to NFL and MLB stadiums, the wave isn’t commonplace within hockey games as fans more often follow the play. But Krazy George thinks hockey and the wave go hand in hand. “It’s amazing what you can do with the confinement of the fans in a hockey arena,” he said. “They’re right on top of the action. The secret is the curve around the rink: it lends itself to great momentum because you can see the wave coming and there’s anticipation.” For many fans of the NHL in non-traditional markets in the late ’70’s and early ’80’s hockey was a novelty. Henderson’s use of the wave allowed a sense of engagement with a sport they might not have been totally familiar with. It was when Henderson used the wave in NHL arenas after that debut in 1981 that he got a sense of its possibilities. He received continued support from fans who appreciated his audacious approach. But some players were less entertained. He relishes in how he taunted Dave ‘The Hammer’ Schultz to the point that Schultz threatened Henderson’s life while the Rockies crowd threw garbage on the legendary enforcer. Krazy George would encounter Schultz a month later, and for a moment he was concerned he was about to receive payback. But it is, after all, only a cheer. Schultz quickly extended his hand. “‘What we did last time was great,’ Schultz told me,” Henderson recalled. “‘Tonight,’ he said, ‘I’m going to do it again…And sure enough, later that night he smashed his stick against the glass and threatens to kill me if he ever sees me off the ice. He skates around the whole arena cussing and comes back and winks.”
This is feature appears in the March 9 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.