"Robert was always fast on his feet," said Hull Sr., picking up a wishbone and the thread of his reflections. "And strong. When he was 16 or so Robert worked in the plant here. On one job he had to use a jackhammer—way up high, above his shoulders—to loosen some firebrick in a kiln that was being shut down. I didn't see it, but a man told me he handled that jackhammer as if it was a toothpick."
After dinner some of us called on Mrs. Hull at the hospital. She turned out to be a pleasant, ample woman with soft, dark hair and obvious pride in her healthy, happy brood. "I've never lost a night's sleep over Robert or any of my children," Mrs. Hull said. "I'm only sorry that Peg here [the youngest, aged 13] wasn't twins. I've always wanted to have twins."
Just like a father
With his family's encouragement, Bobby, like most Canadian youngsters, played hockey endlessly both at home and at school. He was 14 when a Chicago scout, Bob Wilson, spotted him and won him for the Hawks' system. In his mid-teens he played Junior B amateur hockey, then Junior A for two years for the St. Catharines, Ont., Teepees, who were then coached by the present Chicago coach, Rudy Pilous. Now a left wing, Hull at that time was a hard-skating center with no great reputation for reliability or teamwork. He recalls that at least once Pilous suspended him "for a couple of weeks."
"I reprimanded Bobby," says the Chicago coach, "just as some father would his own son for tromping on the living room rug with his muddy shoes. We were trying to get him to move the puck, to help set up plays, but he was headstrong and couldn't see things our way."
When, at 18, Hull took that giant stride from St. Catharines to Chicago, he was still far from mature, on or off the ice. Domestically, he embarked on an unhappy marriage that fizzled out in divorce. (His second wife, whom he married last spring, is a pretty, red-haired former ice-show skater.) Professionally, he found it hard to give up the old take-the-puck-in-alone habit that had angered Pilous in St. Catharines. He was a sensational rookie, delighting the crowds and scoring a solid 47 points in his first big league season and 50 in his second, but he was still inexperienced enough to think he had to do it all himself.
The grand tour
Then came the trip to Europe and the lesson in the virtue of cooperation that turned Bobby Hull from a merely good to a potentially great hockey player, one who uses his head as well as his stick. Despite his new status as a traveling hockey star, Hull was as awed as any other tourist when he arrived overseas in 1959 to play a series of exhibition games. Even though his schedule called for 23 games in 25 nights, Bobby was determined not to miss a thing on the way. He saw virtually every sight there was to see between London and Vienna, doggedly walked through every museum and climbed every recommended staircase, including the one that leads to the top of France's Eiffel Tower. "After that," says Bobby in thoughtful reminiscence, "I was so tired that I couldn't have taken the puck down the ice alone and put it in if I'd wanted to. I had to learn to pass it off. And the best part of all was that I still came out the leading scorer."
His lesson learned, Bobby Hull de-emphasized his rhinoceros charges and spruced up his team play so remarkably last season that he collected 39 goals and 42 assists, beating Boston's Bronco Horvath for the scoring title by a single point on the final night. He did "the hat trick" (three goals in a single game) three times, and in one game murdered Toronto with four goals.
Shortly after the season opened Bobby was given Red Hay, 25, a big, rawboned Colorado College star, as center, and compact, dark-haired Murray Balfour, 24, as right wing.