Monday, October 20, 2008

"Remembering 'Teeder'"

On a trip to Toronto during hockey season, I remember with excitement and affection the Maple Leaf hockey great, Ted “Teeder ” Kennedy. Who wouldn’t?

Okay, you hate hockey. You have no interest in a guy who played half a century ago. Anything Canadian makes you yawn. Get over it! This is a wonderful story!

Come on! You read “Why Canadian Football Is Better Than American Football” (August 15, 2008.) This is better! I promise!

It doesn’t matter about his ability – though the Hockey News ranked him number 57 in the list of the Hundred Greatest Hockey Players – or how many Stanley Cups his teams won – five. “Teeder” Kennedy was far greater than his record.

“Teeder” Kennedy was a national treasure. (If you leave out Quebec.)

I know what I’m about to tell you, and I’m starting to get goose bumps. Hold on, I’m getting a sweater.


Unlike players today, “Teeder” Kennedy played for the same team his entire career – fourteen seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. I’m not familiar with his earlier career, it was before my time. But as soon as I started following hockey, I knew “Teeder” Kennedy as the captain of the Leafs. And I knew he was special.

He wasn’t the fastest skater. He wasn’t a bruiser. He was a reliable goal scorer, but far from the greatest of his day. (That would be Maurice “The Rocket” Richard.) But Kennedy competed every second he was on the ice. He never loafed. He never let up. The most respected captains lead by example. “Teeder” Kennedy did that better than any player I had ever seen.

Kennedy not only inspired his teammates, he inspired the crowd as well. And one crowd member in particular.

A little background. The cheapest seats in Maple Leaf Gardens were the “Grays.” (The seats were painted gray.) The “Grays” were the worst seats in the house, the highest up, the furthest from the ice. In football, it’s the end-zone. In baseball, the bleachers. In theater, it’s “the gods.” Same idea. “The Grays.”

Now, Maple Leaf fans, being Canadians, are not generally a raucous bunch. They have their moments – when there’s some real action on the ice – but there are times during a game when it’s so quiet in the Gardens, you can carry on a conversation – without shouting – with a person sitting on the opposite side of the rink.

Because of the demands on the players’ stamina, a hockey game is made up of a series of “shifts.” A “line” of players comes off the bench, plays full out for maybe a minute, even less, then they “switch off”, fresh legs replacing exhausted ones.

Okay. This is where this has been going.

Throughout his career, the moment “Teeder” Kennedy, the Leafs’ intensely competitive captain, came out for his shift – and I mean every single time – a lone, sandpapery voice would come rumbling down from the “Grays”, rise above the murmur of the crowd, and call:

“Come onnnnnnnnnnn, Teeder!”

I just shed a tear. Sorry.

The Leafs could be miles ahead, clinging to a lead, need one goal to tie it up, or be down by five – the situation made no difference whatsoever. It was always the same. “Teeder” Kennedy’s skates hit the ice --

“Come onnnnnnnnnnn, Teeder!”

This was before television. We’re talking the imagination-firing intimacy of radio. And I’m telling you, not only did that powerful, anonymous voice crack the silence of the Gardens, and my bedroom, where I secretly listened long after my scheduled bedtime, not only did it rip through Toronto, and Ontario (the province Toronto’s located in). That energizing call to arms shot clear across Canada, neutralizing the whistling, winter winds, and bringing a lonely and disparate nation together with a single call:

“Come onnnnnnnnnnn, Teeder!”

And how often “Teeder” came through.


Rusty James said...

Morning Earl,

If you recall I'm from Schumacher (home of Big M) and another Leaf (born in South Porcupine - ha! Northern Ontario. What a place? Hi Shania!) I wonder if you're familiar with: Father Les Costello...

... who founded the 'Flying Fathers' hockey squad?

I used to play tennis with Father Les - it was actually two of us piss & vinegar 12 year old's against 60 + yr.old Father Les...

and as you'll read in Wiki, he had severals toes amputated from frosbite and would have to stuff socks in his skates...

He didn't pay much attention to me - even back then I knew he was only there for the other boy, who was fatherless. What a man...


wcdixon said...

I remember the 'Grays'...sat up there often...really pleased if I got a pair of 'Greens' or (gasp) 'Reds'