Espo's Stare-down With Brezhnev
Phil Esposito became an unlikely legend in Russia much like Vladislav Tretiak became a legend in Canada. Much of that had to do with his great play and his charismatic emotions which were totally foreign to Russian hockey followers.
One of the funny moments of the series came during the introductions of the first game in Moscow. Prior to the intros, the Canadian players were given flowers in the pre-game ceremonies. Somehow Esposito's flower had broke and the stem fell on the ice. When public address announcer Karil Yugorov announced Esposito's name, big Phil took a step forward and ended up stepping directly on the stem. Espo embarrassingly fell right on his butt!
Espo was able to turn that otherwise humiliating moment into a great one for the fans. As the stadium filled with laughter, Esposito, to the great delight of the fans, got up, bowed and blew a kiss towards the crowd.
As it turns out, Esposito was blowing a kiss to a specific person, and no it wasn't his wife or Miss Russia 1972 - it was Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.
In Brian McFarlane's book Team Canada 1972: Where Are They Now? Esposito recalled the incident.
"The whole world was watching when they introduced me. I stepped on the stem and fell flat on my ass. I'll tell you, that broke some of the tension. But the ironic thing was, (Leonid) Brezhnev was president then and when I looked up, I made eye contact with him. There was the Soviet president staring right back at me. everybody in the arena was laughing at my pratfall - everybody but him. His look was as cold as the ice I was sitting on. So I put my hand to my lips and SMACK I blew him a kiss. And he still didn't laugh. But the guy beside him did and Brezhnev turned and gave him a look that almost paralysed the poor guy. I said to myself, 'Holy Christ, we may not get out of here alive!' "