The Last Autograph
There are three general assumptions about Canadians.
- Canadians have an international reputation of being “Nice”.
- Canadians are passionate hockey fans.
- If every Toronto Maple Leaf fan immediately converted to Catholicism, the Vatican would be more successful than Apple.
Nice is an interesting description that serves our national identity when we struggle to compare ourselves to other countries. Nice is not a good description when you are trying to set up your brother for a blind date with a work colleague.
A few days ago there was a celebration of life at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to recognize a goalie from the Toronto Maple Leafs. Every speaker, well wisher and fan said the same thing about Johnny Bower… He was a really nice guy. I have conversed with many of my family and friends, and each of them confirmed this description of the man. Some added the word “kind” just to show their extended vocabulary when using adjectives. The interesting background to these comments was that Johnny Bower was everywhere after he retired from hockey. Everyone seems to have a personal story of how nice Johnny Bower was during his 93 years living in Canada.
My wife spent a whole day with him at a golf tournament, where he gave her golf lessons between his interactions on a par three hole. She said he was such a nice guy. Friends of mine who had similar interactions with him over the years confirmed this behavior through endless unique personal stories that they shared with fondness and healthy competitiveness as each story teller tried to outnice the previous fan.
The last time the Maple Leafs won the Stanley cup was 1967. Canada was busy celebrating their centennial year and this accomplishment was not noteworthy until time passed. They beat the Montreal Canadians, and my parents sent my brothers and me to bed after the second period. The hockey season ended on May 2nd that year, and my parents felt that Tuesday nights were not nights young children should be up late. In our bedroom for three on a Cresent in Oakville, we did have a transistor radio in our bedroom and I remember vidivdly cheering when the third period ended. Three brothers in one bedroom can make a lot of noise when their heroes do great things.
That leaf team’s average age was 31 and Bower was 42 years old that year. To put this in perspective for today’s fans were youth is supreme in every major sport, it would be like your father’s Tuesday night pick up hockey team winning the Stanley Cup.
Friday this week I was at Sheridan College preparing for my class and, as always I wandered into the office where the dean resides to kiss up and try to demonstrate my unparalleled commitment to education, students well being and remind the dean of his flawless leadership capabilities. A lovely lady known to her friends as “CK” was showing all her leaf jersey and telling her Christmas present story. It was an amazing tale.
She said I received a Johnny Bower jersey about a year ago. CK just happens to live on the same street as Mr. Bower and thought one day she might get him to autograph my Leaf sweater. During the summer she noticed the legendary goalie was using a walker to get around and he seemed in ill health. CK chose not to bother him and as winter arrived decided she would go to his place next spring to get the coveted autograph on this uniform. Canadians are nice. Christmas arrived and her son presented the sweater with Johnny Bower’s autograph as a special tribute to his mother. Canadians are nice. CK’s son explained that on December 20th he walked over to the Bower’s house with a black sharpie pen to see if Johnny was up to signing this shirt. Johnny Bower said to the son, “Hey let’s use the proper colour pen. He invited this fan into his house and sat him down at the dining room table. He pulled out his very own, more appropriate blue sharpie pen and signed the jersey with his name and HOF76 because Johnny entered the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1976”. Canadians are nice.
That present was presented to the surprised mother on December 25, 2018. While we were all searching for deals on Boxing day at our local malls, Johnny Bower peacefully passed away on December 26, 2018.
To give this tribute a little balance I did discover Johnny Bower was not as nice as every single Canadian has been fooled into believing. Johnny Bower was a big fat liar. When he was just 15 years old, he blatantly lied about his age so that he could enlist in the Canadian Army, where he was stationed in England as a gunner with the 2nd Canadian division during WWII. This discovery has understandably shattered my illusion of a Canadian hockey hero. Women are permitted to lie about their age, but not men.
To badly paraphrase a moment in Dave Keon’s eulogy to his friend.
- Johnny Bower always had time for every person he met.
- Johnny Bower loved and was loved by his family and friends
- Johnny Bower was a nice guy.
That is a hat trick every human being should attempt to achieve.
Cue the blong… Be nice to old people…