Boston’s favorite ‘Spider’ turns 84 Saturday.
Rudolph “Spider” Edwards helped the Boston Garden run for 33 years during his time working with the building’s manual labor team, the acclaimed “Bull Gang.” Though he won’t be celebrating his birthday at the Garden, he will be wearing a fedora, a trademark of his ever since 1941.
“We were visiting my grandmother in St. Petersburg, Fla., for my 11th birthday,” recalled Edwards. “My grandmother gave one to me, and I’ve been wearing one ever since. She said a man wasn’t dressed unless his shoes were shined and he was in a suit, tie and a hat.”
Spider is remembered fondly for his time cleaning the Garden parquet with style, grace and even a touch of flair during home games for the Celtics. Mop in hand, striding across the parquet, he always commanded more of the spotlight than one might expect from his 5-foot-5 frame. His enthusiasm resonated with those around him. The bounce in his step and his shamrock-covered Celtics jacket were fixtures of any game at the Garden from the day he started in 1964 all the way to end in 1997. Throughout his three decades at the Garden, Edwards took a great deal of pride in doing his job.
“Oh, absolutely,” said Edwards. “Otherwise, there was no point in doing it. I enjoyed it, and I enjoyed the people who were around me.”
And the people enjoyed him, too.
“He’s one of our great treasures,” said NBA Hall of Famer and Celtics all-time leading scorer John Havlicek. “He seemed to be enjoying his job at the Garden and the familiarity with many of the basketball and hockey players.”
“Spider always greeted you with a smile,” recalled Havlicek. “He’s one of the people that contributed behind the scenes to make things run smoothly.”
Originally from South Philly, Edwards now has lived in Boston for almost 70 years.
“I had an uncle here who lived in the South End,” said Edwards. “I was 15 when I came here, and that uncle connected me to the Garden.”
Edwards never had any aspirations of working with basketball or hockey games, as boxing stole his heart and filled his dreams as a child.
“I wanted to be the next welterweight champ of the world,” said Edwards. “I never liked basketball then.”
The Celtics were so beloved by the city of Boston that Edwards became well-known by players, coaches and fans at the Garden.
“It’s the people like him,” said Celtics legend Dave Cowens, confirming that he, too, is a Spider fan. “It’s the fact that people like him have been around for such a long time working so hard in the Garden.”
Edwards still attends games to visit old friends.
“I go to see some of the old-timers,” he explained. “I went to the Houston game because of Kevin McHale, but I normally go when some of the ex-Celtics come in and talk with Tommy [Heinsohn] about the old-timers.”
He’s the first to admit the old Garden had its faults, but its mystique will never be matched by the current TD Garden on 100 Legends Way.
“I worked in the new building for three years,” he said. “But it isn’t the same. There was a lot of things going on in that building.
“The lights went out during a hockey series, and they had to finish that series up in Canada,” he said, referring to Game 4 of the 1988 Stanley Cup Finals between the Bruins and the Edmonton Oilers. The game began in Boston but was postponed in the second period due to a power outage and was resumed in Edmonton.
Edwards was also working the night of November 28, 1990, when condensation caused the Celtics and Atlanta Hawks to postpone their game in the middle of the second quarter. NBA official Dick Bavetta reached out to Edwards before sending everyone home.
“The Garden was very special,” he said. “I miss the old place.”
After spending 33 years on Causeway Street, Edwards still struggles to name a favorite player.
“Oh goodness,” he said with a laugh, “I could name you almost 100 of them. Bobby Orr. Satch Sanders. We had one, Gene Conley, I’ll always remember. Gene was a 20-game winner with the Red Sox and he played with the Boston Celtics. We’ve had some beautiful athletes here, ones who were simply outstanding. Havlicek was drafted as a wide receiver by the Cleveland Browns. Red [Auerbach] and I were buddies.
“They were regular guys to us. To the fans, they might have been something special, but to us, they were regular guys who we saw every day.”
Even if Edwards can’t decide on a favorite player or team from the Garden, he knows exactly what he misses the most.
“The people,” he answered. “All the people from the Garden, the fans, and the games.”
The people in the stands and the ones in uniform, he explained, gave the building more meaning than any other in the world.
“Oh yes, it was indeed special,” said Edwards. “There was the closeness of it, and the players were a lot more friendly.”
Fortunately for Celtics fans, there are some more recent Celtics that Edwards adored.
“Some of the young guys today are standoffish, but [Paul] Pierce, [Kevin] Garnett and Doc [Rivers] were throwbacks. They were very friendly.”
For those wondering about the key to Edwards’ longevity, he has the answer for any inquiring minds.
“Stay around young people,” advised Edwards, which is easy for him. He has 15 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-granddaughter.
“Oh my goodness, please,” laughed Edwards. “It’s incredible, yes indeed.”