Skip to Main Content

Watson: The NHL's own "March King"

by Evan Weiner

Bryan Watson was one of the few Capitals players to enjoy Tommy McVie's usage of marching music as a motivational tool.
This is a big week for celebrations in both Canada and the United States. July 1 is Canada Day, featuring parades, carnivals, festivals, barbecues, air and maritime shows, fireworks, and free musical concerts. Three days later, it’s the United States' turn to celebrate. The Fourth of July is a big day for parades, barbecues and fireworks. The marching bands will be playing songs that have become synonymous with the American composer John Phillip Sousa, who wrote 136 marches in the 19th and 20th centuries, including "The Stars and Stripes Forever." Sousa became known as the "March King."
Former NHL defenseman Bryan Watson won't have to go very far from his sports bar and restaurant in Alexandria, Va., to hear Sousa's music — the big celebration in Washington isn't far away. Watson is well-acquainted with Sousa's music; during his playing days with the Caps, he developed an ear for marching band music almost by accident.
Tommy McVie was coaching the Caps at the time Watson arrived in a trade with Detroit in 1976, the year of the U.S. Bicentennial, and one of McVie's motivational tools to get his players going was playing Sousa's music. Most of the Caps players couldn't stand it, but Watson developed a liking for the March King's music.
"For me, the first night I was traded here from Detroit and I was not very excited because they had a terrible team here," he said. "Probably the thing that did save my sanity was Tommy and the music because we used to go into games like Philadelphia, really tough teams then and he'd play the music 10 minutes before the game or whatever and I actually really enjoyed listening to it.
"I didn't have to listen to all the rhetoric in the room from guys who said they were going to kick the ... out of the other players when I knew I was going to be the only one in trouble," said Watson, who according to teammates Gord Lane and Bernie Wolfe, would put a bandana around his head and would start marching back and forth throughout the locker room. "So actually it was a part of it, it was fun. It was very interesting. The first time I heard it, I thought Tommy was stark raving mad — and then about a month later, I was singing all the songs.
"So it shows you how it changes."
Watson found out that he really liked the March King's songs. He became a big Sousa fan.
"Actually, my thoughts on the whole thing — it didn't make you play any better, but it made you feel good. (McVie) had a tape and what happened — it was a very interesting story he told me one day. He was running by a school and he used to time himself all the time and there was a band practicing and playing all Sousa music. All of a sudden, he had this fabulous time so he was thinking about the music and he went back the next day and he was right his time was much better with the music. I think by playing the music for us, it made us feel better. I think what he needed was more talent and the music to play better."
Watson joined the Caps in the team's third season. The Caps won just eight games in 1974-75 and only 11 in 1975-76. McVie got them to play better, but the team was still awful in 1976-77, even though the Caps won more games (24) than they did in their first two seasons combined.
"I came here from Detroit, it was probably the third or fourth year and Tommy was the reason we did as well as we did because we were in such great (physical) shape," Watson said. "I actually enjoyed it because I played some of my best hockey on a team that wasn't so good. We didn't have very many good hockey players, but we did a lot better than what people give us credit for and I am very happy that I was traded here now because it was so great to retire in this area, to have my business here now and to be as happy in my second career as my first"
Watson, known as "Bugsy" for being a pest, an agitator, a policeman and a tough guy on the ice, played in 878 NHL games and had 2,212 penalty minutes. He started his NHL career in the six-team league with Montreal in 1963-64 and finished up in the WHA with the Cincinnati Stingers in 1979.
Watson played most of his career in Detroit and Pittsburgh, but he was also a Montreal Canadiens player under coach Toe Blake. While Canada Day and the Fourth of July are annual excuses for national parties, there will be a year-long party starting soon in Montreal to celebrate 100 years of Canadiens hockey in 2008-09. Watson has fond memories of his time in Montreal.
The Forum was very, very special and any player who was fortunate enough to play in Montreal, it was a great experience something you always lived with. - Bryan Watson
"I though the Montreal Forum had that mystique," he said. "You realize as soon as you walked in, it was pretty special ground, and it was just wonderful to play in and the tradition. I think every player should have had the opportunity to play in Montreal for the tradition and the self-discipline that we all learned from that. The Forum was very, very special and any player who was fortunate enough to play in Montreal, it was a great experience something you always lived with."
In Washington, Watson learned he liked marching music, in Montreal, he learned that the players' bench was in the stands and that fans and players could converse during games. This led to some interesting dialogue.
"It was the only place in hockey where, in fact, it was called the promenade where the fans sat on either side of the bench," he said. "In those days it was more togetherness between the fans and players."
But Blake wasn't one who really got involved in that dialogue, even though he was in the stands coaching.
"Toe was really quiet. You probably looking at the greatest coach ... he and Scotty Bowman will go down as the greatest two coaches," Watson said. "Look at the Stanley Cups he won. I remember he was a great technician, Scotty has learned that a lot. In those days you had a lie against a line, he was the first guy to do it, not just throw five guys out there."
Watson may have learned a lot about hockey from Blake, but because of Tommy McVie, Watson found out that he enjoyed march music — something he never gave any thought to before he walked into the Caps dressing room back in 1976.

View More

The NHL has updated its Privacy Policy effective January 16, 2020. We encourage you to review it carefully.

The NHL uses cookies, web beacons, and other similar technologies. By using NHL websites or other online services, you consent to the practices described in our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service, including our Cookie Policy.