Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Mighty Quinn

One can imagine how intimidating it can be for a kid when he comes face to face with an athlete who seems larger than life. A player so huge and physical that one can't help but be intimidated when in his presence.

Many of you will recall the Coke commercial which featured Pittsburgh Steeler defensive tackle "Mean" Joe Greene. On the football field, Greene was a force to be reckoned with, as he tossed the opposition around like they were rag dolls. When the television camera came in on a tight shot of Greene, the viewer could see the raw emotion on his face.

In the ad, Greene is shown coming off the field following an afternoon of dishing out hits and slamming bodies to the ground. In the storyline, Greene appears to be injured. While heading to the locker room with his jersey slung over his shoulder, Greene crosses paths with a young boy. As the two meet, The Kid, sensing that Greene needs a lift, gives him his bottle of coke. In a flash, Greene drowns the soft drink. As his new friend walks away, Greene shouts, "Hey Kid, Catch." At that moment, Greene pitches his jersey to the boy. "Wow, thanks Mean Joe," The Kid says back to Greene.

This commercial was so good, it won Clio Award for best ad.

On December 20, 1969, I had my own "Mean" Joe Greene moment.

This wasn't any ordinary Saturday in our household. All week long, I could hardly wait for a new day to begin. The countdown started on Monday evening when my Dad returned home from work. After dinner, he announced he had tickets to the Leaf game on Saturday night.

To my delight, the New York Rangers would be in town to face the Leafs. The fact the visitors were an Original Six club made the game even more appealing to me. Even in grade school, I had an appreciation for the five clubs my team battled before expansion.

Looking back, the game itself was a disaster for Toronto Maple Leaf fans. The Rangers, after building-up a 5-0 lead, when on to defeat Toronto 5-2. The Leaf goals came late in the third period with Ron Ellis netting both of them.

Aware of my disappointment of the outcome, my Dad made a suggestion that immediately put a smile back on my face. Picking up our pace, Dad and I made our way to the Toronto Maple Leafs dressing room. Of course, we didn't get to go inside, but we knew our chances of seeing some players was good.

While standing against a wall, I noticed one individual slowly proceeding in our direction. I had never been so close to hockey player that seemed to be as big as a giant. A tap on my shoulder and a whisper from Dad filled me in on his identity. "That's Pat Quinn," Dad leaned in and told me. He didn't play that night due to an injury.

At first, I was reluctant to approach Pat for an autograph, as he seemed to be so imposing. I noticed his hands were massive and damage could be caused if I shook one. And I was sure my neck would snap if I had to look up and talk with him. Each push from Dad eventually landed me next to the Leaf defenceman. As I recall, it was difficult for me to get any words out. All I could do was hand him my program to sign. Being a pro, Pat struck up a conversation and personalized the autograph he gave me.

By breaking the ice, Pat put me at ease and his size and reputation on the ice vanished. Ever since his first NHL regular season game with the Leafs, Pat Quinn quickly became known for his ability to hammer the opposition and stand up for his teammates. For the most part, Pat's hits were clean, but due to his strength and size advantage they could also be very painful.

His first official Leaf game was played in Pittsburgh against the Penguins on November 27, 1968. Right from the outset Pat let it be known he was going to play a physical game. "Pat Quinn, another Tulsa Oiler, took Dorey's place on defence and bombed Angotti with a solid check to let the Penguins know he meant business," Red Burnett wrote of Pat in his debut.

I thought about all this earlier in the week when I heard of Pat's passing. A lasting memory I will have of "The Kid" and Pat Quinn.

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