The Rocket, The Pocket Rocket, and Me

Here’s the thing. This isn’t a Habs blog or a hockey blog or a sports blog, which you know well if you’ve been here before.

But I love the Habs. The Habs are an entity akin to a family member to me. Habs fans know. I’m not a crazy person. I’ve loved them since I can remember. The Habs make me happy and sad, make me laugh and cry, and sometimes (but not as often as to other people) they make me mad. But, like family, I would never turn my back on them. It’s family.

If you know anything about the Habs – in fact if you know anything about hockey, you’ve heard of Maurice Richard, the first NHL hero. He set all the records, he was all the kids’ hero. All well before my birth, just FYI. I’m not as old as you think.

I grew up in Montreal. If you read the previous link you’ll know what a magical time it was. As an adult, the first story I read to my son was The Sweater – best story ever. Illustrates the feeling of Habs fans, Rocket fans, the feeling of children towards their hero. To be a Habs fan is to love The Rocket. Plain and simple.

Here’s an example. In 1996, the Montreal Forum closed. It was the building that at the time held the most major league sports championship banners – the 24 Stanley Cup wins of the mighty Habs. They played the Dallas Stars that night. Before the game, they held a ceremony commemorating the surviving greats of the Montreal Canadiens. I watched the game, and ceremony, live, and recorded the whole evening on a little device that some of you will remember as a VCR. The Rocket, of course, was there. He came out to uproarious, tearful ovation. He was so humble, and wanted everyone to stop it, but no one did….at least not for better than 10 minutes. Tears were streaming down my face in my living room in Vancouver, realizing what a huge moment in Habs hockey history this was. I still can’t watch it without tearing up. Every. Time.

P.S. I watched the VCR tape over and over for weeks. I left it for a while. I came home one day a few months later and popped it in. My then-boyfriend, who hung out at my place a lot had TAPED OVER IT. WITH GOLF. Topic for another post. I’ve since acquired a DVD set of the greatest Habs games and this ceremony is on it. So it only took me about 12 years to get over it. Wait, I’m still not over it. I’m still as pissed as ever that it was taped over. But moving on.

I also got a chair from the Forum after it closed down, at a considerable expense, but expense was of no concern at this pre-mortgage, pre-motherhood time. As if I wasn’t going to get one. Of course I still have it. It’s where I watch the playoffs from. It ain’t comfortable, and my butt usually falls asleep and I have to fidget around to not lose all feeling in my extremities. I love it.

In 1997, my younger brother and I heard about some Old-Timers game that was going to be played here in Vancouver at the Coliseum. At least that’s what I think the old building the Canucks used to play in is called. Who cares.

The point is: THE ROCKET WAS GOING TO BE THERE. The Rocket. The Rocket!!! He wasn’t going to be playing, but…he was going to be on-hand for autographs. Henri was also going to be there. Are you kidding? I grabbed my little brother, and we went.

We waited in line for over an hour (it’s Vancouver – in Montreal or a town with more of a hockey history it would have been longer) to meet them, but it felt like forever. I was looking around, and cursing that I hadn’t brought the back of my Forum chair (as a few geniuses had) to be signed, but, I really wasn’t a veteran of how these autograph sessions worked. I did have the presence of mind to bring along my Habs jersey though, but not a camera – in the days before digital cameras, iPhones and the like. Or much cash. Rookie. It’s one of the few mornings of my life I’d love to have back – I’d be prepared, dammit.

It came to our turn. I’d ponied up a big $10 (or whatever it was) for an autograph. I was trembling with anticipation and wanted to burst into tears. I approached this magnificent man, silver-haired, smiling and warm. At his side was the Pocket Rocket his own beautiful self. I don’t remember what I said, but I was on the verge of tears. I’m sure I told him I love him. He laughed at me. Hugged me. Tight! Kissed me on the cheek. Not having a photograph of that moment is one of my life’s biggest regrets. But I have the snapshot in my brain, embedded. He took my jersey, and autographed the top part of the C. He then automatically handed the jersey over to his little brother, who uncapped the Sharpie, and, rule-follower that I am, though I was mortified, I blurted out, “I only paid for one autograph!” The Pocket Rocket, little glint in his eye, winked at me and said, “who’s gonna check?” and proceeded to sign the bottom of the C. He got a kiss and hug from me.

I didn’t get a photo of this, one of the bigger moments of my life. But here is the proof. The jersey I never wore again.

I will never forget that day. In April 2000, we got word that The Rocket was very ill. It was serious. Cancer – and I, and thousands of others, feared this was it. So very sadly, it was. I was pregnant at the time, and had lost 2 other very important men in my life very recently. I wonder how crazy it seems that I was certain I would have a boy at that very moment…I proposed the name Maurice to my then-husband. He wasn’t big on it. But that’s what was going through my heart at the time.

The Rocket passed, and we all mourned. This man, this hero who had touched so many, throughout so many decades, whom so many of us loved so much, many of us falling in love with him long after he played his last game – it’s hard to express it in words. Those who know, know.

I finally got my picture with The Rocket this last March. How I wish I had a photo of when we met – but this will have to do me.

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Comments

  1. As a newly converted Habs fan (former Sens fan), this post brought tears to my eyes. I could totally feel what you experienced and the pics did the story justice. I only wish I had the opportunity to meet Maurice Richard and your encounter with him and Henri is simply priceless.
    Well done.

  2. Great Post, really good story, I have never met The Rocket, but I wish I had. I’m extremely jealous of your chair!

    @robertptome

  3. Thank you for yet another gem-of-a-blog.

    Great topic, great subjects, great photo…

    AND you are smiling. Told you so.

    I love the picture.

  4. Great story. Those two brothers were not only hockey legends they were a real class act. Love your beautiful CHair!

  5. Hélène LeGendre Drake says:

    Great reading! Loved it! And I can completely relate to your feelings about our ‘family’ and the great Maurice Richard! You’re very lucky you got to meet him, I would have waited hours for that opportunity! Love the pics, especially the one of your forum seat, is it lucky to sit in it during playoffs?? If so, get yourself a little cushion for it, you will need it in the spring! 🙂

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