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No tough guy is softer than Messier, plus more notes

Posted: Wednesday November 14, 2007 1:38PM; Updated: Wednesday November 14, 2007 1:57PM
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Lax? Who says the standards are lax? Francis, MacInnis, Gregory, Messier and Stevens rival any group in any hall of fame.
Lax? Who says the standards are lax? Francis, MacInnis, Gregory, Messier and Stevens rival any group in any hall of fame.
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The Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto is the most accessible among the major professional sports, an attribute that has been roundly criticized in recent years because of what is considered a certain laxity in its standards. But the best thing about it, something that sets it apart, and possibly above the other halls, happens to be its accessibility -- especially geographic.

Downtown Toronto. The corner of Yonge and Front Streets. Stop by any time.

If baseball fans want to go to the most celebrated of halls, they make a pilgrimage to Cooperstown -- in the real sense of the word. Nobody winds up in the quaint upstate New York village by accident. If you go to Cooperstown, you really go to Cooperstown. And the pro football and pro basketball halls of fame are in Canton, Ohio, and Springfield, Massachusetts, respectively, two small cities that are slightly off the well-trod paths.

But the Hockey Hall of Fame is just up the street from the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, not far from the baseball stadium, close to the big hotels, right around the corner from the beating heart of the city. While Cooperstown rightly prides itself on its exclusivity, maybe the Hockey Hall of Fame should boast how it best includes fans -- a reflection of the game itself with its emphasis on team play and surfeit of awards.

There is room, however, for one more award: the Kleenex tissues Lachrymose Valuable Player Trophy, which this year goes to Mark Messier for his teary and decidedly improvised speech at the Hall of Fame induction ceremony Monday night.

For a guy with a visage that looks like it was taken from an Easter Island statue, he can be a total softie. There were two laugh lines in his poignant discourse: 1) at the start, when he said a guy saw him stopped at a downtown traffic light and said, 'Hey, Messier, in town for that Old Timer's game?" and 2) when he mentioned how difficult it was to squeeze 40 years of hockey into four minutes. At that point, four minutes was way back in his rear view mirror.

Although fellow inductees Scott Stevens, Al MacInnis and Ron Francis had dutifully stuck to the prescribed length and script, no one seemed to mind Messier's rambling. He was particularly moving when he described how much playing with Glenn Anderson and Adam Graves meant. Graves, sitting to my right, certainly was touched, judging by the tear that welled in the corner of his eye.

(Full disclosure: I am currently a member of the 18-member Hall of Fame selection committee.)

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