By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Jan. 3) – The Golden Jet is now a diamond.
For those – like yours truly – that remember Bobby Hull high-tailing past defenders and unleashing hockey’s most feared slapshot, it is somewhat difficult to believe he is 75 years old. But, there it is… on every bio of the once electrifying star in the National Hockey League and World Hockey Association: “Born Jan. 3, 1939 in Point Anne, Ont.”
Yes, indeed, happy birthday Golden Jet.
I suppose we should get used to our one-time heroes attaining age milestones. Later this year – God willing – Gordie Howe (Mar. 31st) and Johnny Bower (Nov. 8th) will turn 90. Chatting with ex-Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jim McKenny at the alumni event in Detroit earlier this week, I mentioned to him – jocularly – that he once played in front of an 89-year-old goalie (with Leafs in the late-60’s). Glancing at Bower in a hallway at Comerica Park, McKenny, now 67, smiled and said “that’s how old I feel some days. But, Johnny’s amazing, isn’t he? Never misses an event and is always making others feel special. What a guy.”
Special is a word to describe Bobby Hull and there may not be an appropriate term in the dictionary to characterize the accomplishments of Bobby and his prolific son, Brett. They combined to score 1,351 goals in the NHL – Brett, 741 and Bobby, 610. Add Bobby’s 303 goals for Winnipeg of the WHA and the family total rises to 1,654. The only father-son(s) combination close, of course, is the Howes. Gordie, Mark and Marty combined for 1,449 professional tallies – exactly 1,000 in the NHL and 449 in the WHA. Only Marty Howe, among the aforementioned, is not in the Hockey Hall of Fame; his two NHL goals (one with Hartford, the other with Boston) preventing a family sweep.
SPECIAL EDITION PLATE AUTOGRAPHED BY BOBBY AND BRETT HULL.
Among numerous memories of Bobby Hull, two are personal. The first, I have recounted on several occasions, for it occurred on his 31st birthday – 44 years ago tonight – at Maple Leaf Gardens.
I last wrote about it in a blog here on Jan. 12, 2012:
Among the most vivid hockey memories of my childhood was attending a Leafs-Blackhawks game at the Gardens on Jan. 3, 1970 with my uncle, Ralph Blatt, who occasionally received a pair of rails from a dentistry patient. Rails were seats in the front row of the Gardens, right at the glass, and these were located next to the visitors’ penalty box on the west side. My uncle got us there in time for the warm-ups and it just happened to be Hull’s 31st birthday. We were at the Chicago end of the ice and when Hull skated past me at one point, I leaned over the glass (which was low enough back then) and squeaked out “happy birthday, Bobby” in my 10-year-old voice. Hull looked back over his left shoulder as he meandered toward the corner of the rink and I thought nothing more of it – returning to my seat.
Not 30 seconds later, I was immersed in the program my uncle had bought when he tapped me on the shoulder, pointing at the glass in front of me. I looked up and was staring directly at the Indian-head logo on Chicago’s white road jersey. The man wearing the jersey was Hull, who stopped by on his next lap around the ice to thank me for the birthday wish and sign an autograph in the program.
It is still the closest I’ve ever come to fainting.
What a moment that was.
The other occurred during a flight from Quebec City to Toronto after covering the 1993 NHL draft for The FAN-590. I’d been gabbing with Bobby in the boarding lounge at Quebec Airport and he agreed to do a live hit on the radio station. We then got on the plane together; Hull took a seat in Executive Class and I continued on to Economy. At some point during the 75-minute trip, a flight attendant pulled open the curtain that separated the classes of service. I peered into the Executive cabin and saw two of the greatest hockey players that ever lived seated next to one another, chatting quietly. The vision of Bobby Hull and Gordie Howe on that Air Canada jet really struck me, given all they had been through as opponents in the NHL and WHA, and – very briefly – as NHL teammates with the 1979-80 Hartford Whalers. There was more hockey history in that four feet of airplane than most will see in a lifetime.
So here’s to many happy returns, Golden Jet.
And, thanks for the memories.
FOR THOSE IN THE LONDON, ONT. REGION, I RECEIVED THIS NOTE FROM EX-LONDON FREE PRESS SPORTS EDITOR DAVE LANGFORD: “It’s going to be a ‘Hull’ of a night. Bobby and Dennis Hull will highlight the Rogers Sports Celebrity Dinner and Auction at the London Convention Centre Monday, Feb. 3. Monies raised go to the Thames Valley Children’s Centre. Tickets are $150. Emcee is Rob Faulds this year. We are also honouring Dale and Mark Hunter as London sports persons of the year since they are hosting and participating in the Memorial Cup this year. Ticket information is at londonsportdinner.ca.
“Same format as the Conn Smythe dinner.”
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