One of the crappy parts about getting older is that the people you knew, watched, and played with, all start dying on you and suddenly it feels like a waterfall of death in your life. Yesterday we lost another larger than life personality in Chicago with the passing of Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull. The Golden Jet was 84 years old.
Born in St. Anne, Ontario, he played for the Hawks for fifteen years before leaping to the upstart WHA for the unheard of bonus money of one million dollars. He singlehandedly kept the WHA alive until a few teams eventually were rolled into the NHL. He still holds the Hawks all-time goal record with 604. He is credited with 610 NHL goals but if you include the goals scored while in the WHA he had 913 in total.
Growing up I didn't really have any hero's per se. I loved and looked up to my Dad. I loved and enjoyed being around my uncles. My Aunt Dawn taught me most of what I know about sports and I had my favorite players on the Cubs and Bears to be sure. Bobby Hull was different. I so wanted to be like him when I started playing hockey that I even shot the puck lefty and I was right handed. I still shoot the puck lefty and I became a pretty good hockey player
My two favorite memories of Hull are watching him pick up the puck from behind his own net and race down the left boards, through the opposing defense, and as he just would cross the blue line he would wind up and fire a blistering slap shot on net. If he missed the fans would groan collectively but if he scored the old barn, The Chicago Stadium, would erupt with a roar that was so loud it hurt your ears.
My other favorite memory is a story he often told after he retired about his strategy for games with a new goalie in the opposing teams nets. He said he would always make sure that his first shot on goal against a rookie goalie would be neck high and it would whistle past his ear and smash loudly into the glass behind him. He knew the sound and speed of the puck would scare the living daylights out of the goalie and it would help him on his future shots.
I can't remember the goalie, I want to say Terry Sawchuk or Jacques Plante, was in goal when Bobby Hull wound up to take a slap shot and suddenly the net was empty. Hull was so startled he missed the empty net. The goalie was standing in the corner watching. After the game when asked why he left the net he replied, "That could have hit me."
During warm-ups for another game in his career, Hull looked down to the other teams side of the ice and saw a rookie goalie in net taking warm ups. The goalie noticed him and all Hull did was smile a big toothless smile his way. Intimidation from one of the best goal scorers of all time.
Robert Marvin "Bobby" Hull was one of the best hockey players of his time, arguably on the final three list with Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr. What is undeniable is that he was the most outgoing of the three and loved the media attention he received. He was the face and the force of the NHL back then as most players were quiet and reserved. He never met a camera or a reporter he didn't love to talk to.
There is no doubt he had some personal issues off the ice and they have been widely documented over the years. It is a shame not all of our hero's can be perfect, and he certainly was not. On the ice he was perfect. He was fast, tough, and a pure scoring machine. His death is more than another reminder about how old I/we are getting. It is a reminder of how much someone you never met can influence you growing up.
This one hurts more than others.