The wonder of an old team jacket should be that it warms twice: once by wrapping you in body heat, and again by enfolding you in the crest and colors that bring back warm memories. For years, my old team jacket chilled me to the bone.
The jacket may represent a high-water mark of excessive hero worship by an adolescent. The sight of this jacket so embarrassed me that for years I kept it in a garment bag under the cellar stairs. Once in a while, primed by a wave of nostalgia (in turn, primed by a couple of beers), I would wear the jacket while shoveling snow at night or while resurfacing my backyard rink. I never wore it when someone might see it and laugh at me.
Yet I couldn't bring myself to throw the jacket out, or even to look the other way when it fell victim to one of my wife's cellar-cleaning frenzies, as it almost did last year. "But it's just so...so...inexplicably stupid," my wife, Barbara, said after I had declined her invitation to pitch the jacket into a plastic trash bag full of old clothes.
Inexplicable? No, not really. Stupid? Yes. I'll also plead guilty to pretentious, impulsive and immature. But the act was not inexplicable. I can explain it, and this year, above all others, I feel compelled to do so.
It is late March 1962 and the 20 members of St. Mary's CYO hockey team of Winchester, Mass., are gathered in the parish hall to be measured for the jackets that are our reward for an undefeated season. We stand in line in front of a salesman who measures us and then writes down the name or nickname we want stitched on the left sleeve. It is my turn.
"Thirty-four inches," the salesman mutters, writing my sleeve length on his order pad.
"Name? Spell please," he says.
I start to spell my name, "J-A-C..." Then I blow it. But I have help. "...Q-U-E-S," calls out one of my teammates from somewhere near the back of the line. Others laugh. I laugh. It's a big In joke. The "Jacques" my teammate refers to is, of course, Jacques Plante, the great goaltender for the Montreal Canadiens and, as everyone on the St. Mary's team knows, my one and only sports hero.
Sure, I think. Why not? Am I not the team's goaltender? Doesn't my admiration for Plante go so far that I have even tried to ape the man's roving style of play (with absolutely no discernible success except that people have yelled at me, as they did at Plante, "Get back in your bleeping net")? Hadn't I once worn a towel around my neck—a la Plante—during pregame warmups? Wasn't mine an admittedly blatant case of all-out hero worship? Why not, indeed?
"Whaddaya want on the sleeve," the salesman asks.