Some Golden Memories of Bobby Hull

commentary editorial opinion

Nick Reiher

Sports fans, especially those around for a while in Chicago, know by now Bobby Hull died.

He was an icon in Chicago during the 1960s, broke our hearts when he followed a million bucks to go to the Winnipeg Jets of the nascent WHL in 1972. (Would they have finally beat the Canadiens that year? We’ll never know. The Hull of MPH line that year with Pit Martin and Jim Pappin was Bobby’s brother Dennis).

Many of us were glad when Bobby came back into the fold under Rocky Wirtz earlier this decade after his Dad pretty much put him on the plane to Winnipeg. My man Tony Esposito, Bobby and teammate and fellow curved-stick great Stan Mikita were the centerpieces of the inaugural Blackhawks convention in 2008.

I didn’t see Bobby there, but Andy and I got to meet some of the old guys – defenseman Pierre Pilote and Stan, who refused to shake hands with anybody getting autographs and asked Andy if he even knew who he was. Since I had heard Stosh always was pretty genial, I wondered since then if he was suffering from the early stages of the disorder that would kill him.

And we met two of the new guys – Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. They signed one side of the blade of the stick I brought to the convention. Stan grudgingly had signed the other, as well as a picture of Bobby and him celebrating goal-scoring milestones.

I knew whose signature I wanted on that stick and that pic.

Until I got more into hockey in the late-1960s, Bobby Hull’s was about the only name I knew. I remember going to the old Stadium (God, I miss that place) with my Dad and brother.

When Bobby picked up the puck behind his net, the crowd started to clap.

When he pumped those massive legs and started up ice, people stood up. And when he shot one of those monster slapshots – once clocked at 125 mph – they roared; even louder in that Madhouse if the puck whistled by the goalie.

If you couldn’t be at the Stadium for a game, the next best thing was listening to Lloyd Pettit on WGN radio. He was amazing and called a fight on the ice better than anyone.

But I was watching on WGN when Bobby scored his 600th goal. I can still hear broadcaster Jim West’s call. And, fittingly, the Golden Jet was assisted on that one by his brother, the Silver Jet.

I really needed to get that last signature on my stick and on that picture. About 12 years ago, I had heard Bobby came by the Orland Park ice arena around Thanksgiving and just sat there signing autographs.
Andy and I headed out there, and sure enough, there was Bobby and, frankly, not much of a line. We chatted for a bit. I was wearing my Terry Sawchuk Toronto jersey. He was vaguely amused.

“You knew I’d say SOMEthing,” he said laughing. “I used to call him ‘Woodchuck.’ I never had much trouble scoring on him. The one who gave me the most trouble was Gump Worsley.”

Bobby signed my picture and my stick, which now has the signatures of arguably the four most famous Blackhawks, old and new.

Andy saw him again when he was signing autographs and drinking beers at the Inwood Ice Arena in Joliet.

Bought the then-18-year-old Andy a beer. Bobby liked his beer. And other people’s, too.

When Rocky Wirtz was on the board of the group that owned the Sun-Times newsgroup, he was nice enough to give three tickets to a game on Andy’s birthday, including a ticket for my brother, Gordon.

The seats were a few rows up from the ice, right next to the tunnel where the players came out to the bench. This was the game celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Stanley Cup championship. There was Stan, the great Glenn Hall, and others from that special team. And Bobby.

We were hanging over the railing trying to get Hall’s autograph on my jersey. Bobby looked up at us and saw my brother’s cup of beer. He wanted a swig to steady himself before going out on the ice.

I’m pretty sure my brother still has the cup.

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