The one time I got to meet and interview perennial funnyman Mel Brooks, he told me the story of when, back in the 1940’s, he had peppily charged onstage, opening his neophyte stint as a stand-up comedian at a Catskills resort with the traditional,
“Good evening, Ladies and Gentlemen…”
At which point, a woman at a ringside table lamented,
Each year, I purchase for my friend Paul and I, both of us expatriate Canadians and both inveterate hockey fans, a “Hockey Heroes” calendar merchandised by the NHL Hockey Hall of Fame.
Each month of the calendar features the picture of a different Hall of Famer, going back to the 1930’s, every decade distinguishable not just by the era-appropriate player but by the designated equipment of the day.
And every time we flip the calendar page to the following month and behold its accompanying picture, we experience to same dread as the audience member from the Catskill, only instead of “Oy! English!”, it’s
Though it could equally easily be,
Here’s what that means, for those who, through lack of interest or enthusiasm, may not identify with our disappointment. Our personal “Hockey Heroes” – Frank Mahovlich, Gordie Howe, Johnny Bower, played in an era before helmets and, more often than not, without teeth. (And, in the case, of goaltender Johnny Bower, without any manner of protective mask.)
So when we encounter helmeted “Heroes” on that month’s calendar picture – and a full set of choppers, as today’s helmets come equipped with Plexiglas visors – you may detect a sense of underlying disgust flying off of the screen – we are inconsolably chagrined.
These more recent practitioners may be “Heroes.” But they are not our heroes. And comparatively at least, they are wimps.
I get what I am rooting for here. I am rooting for nostalgia. But inextricably concomitantly, it now occurs to me, I am indefensibly rooting against safety.
It’s like a diehard racing fan car complaining,
(Assuming the racing cars of yore came without brakes and any racing car fan ever said, “Oy!”)
I realize something is wrong with being against safety. How can root injury and disfigurement? (And by “you”, I mean me.)
Which, of course, I don’t. I just no root against the protective headgear that prevents injury and disfigurement. (And also against change.)
I don’t know how far I can go favoring the wrong side of an argument. (Though it does not feel entirely uncomfortable.) It’s just that, even acknowledging the right of the players to retire unmarred by faces stitched up like a baseball and still retaining the ability to smile without oral prosthetics, here’s what I dearly and sentimentally miss.
Hockey before “safety” was natural. It was “human scale.” It was black-and-white photography. And most of importantly, before “safety”,
You could see the faces.
(And the hair. As memorable as his cannonading slap shot was Bobby Hull’s long, golden locks, flying skyward as he streaked unstoppably up the ice.)
Lobbying for injury and “What happened to your nose”?
If I like those guys, I have to be for their protection, don’t I? Not against it. Even though – this may be a self-serving argument, or it may actually be true, or, most likely, a combination of them both – insulation from physical endangerment via protective equipment may arguably lead to feelings of invulnerability, which could lead to even greater physical endangerment, wherein the protective devices are wielded as weapons. See: Football. Subsection: Helmets.
See Also: Semi-Persuasive Rationalizations.
I can’t help it. I miss what I miss. Still, how many players of the past were seriously lacerated for my enjoyment? Even if…
Semi-Persuasive Rationalization Number Two: They never complained about it. They were hockey players; they expected to retire ugly, their Frankenstinian scarring and lifelong limps worn as proud “Wouldn’t have missed it for the world” badges of distinction.
It’s complicated. The players (for the most part) fought against it. The fans hated it. The game was irreparably altered. The only arguments in favor:
Reason, compassion and preeminent common sense.
As Fagin once sang in Oliver’s “Reviewing The Situation”,
I think I better think it out again.
But in the meantime, “Hockey Heroes” calendar manufacturers…
Less players I never heard of.