Robert Marvin Hull, the hard-hitting fancy skater who animates this week's cover, may turn out to be one of the world's great hockey players. If so, he will certainly be the only one who ascended to greatness by climbing all 1,812 steps of the Eiffel Tower as a goggle-eyed tourist in Paris. But that story comes later. The immediately significant fact is that the bright young star of the Chicago Black Hawks looms about as high above run-of-the-ice hockey players as the Eiffel Tower above the skyline of Paris.
During the last three seasons, Bobby Hull's slashing skill on the ice in the service of the Hawks has brought light and hope to a team that, over the years, has dwelt in a state of almost unrelieved darkness and despair. A mere 21 years old, Hull is one of those truly unusual athletes who leap to the top of a sport after the briefest sort of apprenticeship. He came directly from amateur hockey to the big time—a rare enough accomplishment in itself—and last spring, in his third National Hockey League season, became the second-youngest player in history to win the scoring championship. The youngest by a matter of only 16 days was Harvey (Busher) Jackson, chief trigger man on the Toronto Maple Leafs' Kid Line in 1931-32.
Affluence followed quickly on the heels of eminence this fall as Hull signed a five-year, $100,000 contract which brought him within slap-shot range of hockey's highest-salaried players: Jean Beliveau and Doug Harvey of the Montreal Canadiens and Gordie Howe, Old Indispensable of the Detroit Red Wings, each of whom is paid approximately $25,000 a year. Hull's contract is said to be almost identical with the proposal the Canadiens originally used to seduce Beliveau, a provincial idol, from the Quebec Aces.
As the new season opened last month, Hull began to pay back the Hawks' investment with notable speed. Unbeaten in the first six games and with only three losses in the first 11, the Hawks and Hull have been so hot that enchanted Chicago fans are becoming reckless. They are speculating right out loud that the Hawks may snatch the NHL title away from the Montreal Canadiens, who for the last three seasons have acted as though they owned it.
Never mind, say the fans, that the Hawks have never won the NHL championship and haven't been as high as second since 1934-35. In a preseason poll of newsmen, they were a nearly unanimous choice to place second to Montreal, and since the season started they have jounced the Habs out of first place several times. Few can doubt that much of the credit for Chicago's part in all this belongs to Bobby Hull.
Not only one of hockey's finest, Hull is also its handsomest player. His hair is blond, his eyes blue and his smile uncommonly forthright and ingratiating. From the neck down he has the sculptured musculature of a Muscle Beach playboy. Hockey is not a game of giants, and at 5 feet 10 and 190 pounds Hull is literally a big man on the ice.
Some of the most effective players in hockey are unspectacular. A novice spectator, for instance, can easily overlook Gordie Howe, because the fabulous Detroit wing does everything so economically and with so little fuss that he seems almost to disappear in the clutch of bodies. But it would be impossible to overlook Bobby Hull. Game pads, jersey (red at home, white on the road) and bulky shorts give him a close-coupled, tanklike look, but when he is on the ice he moves excitingly and with the grace and fluency of a figure skater. There is a cheerful, vivid, freewheeling recklessness about him. He picks up the puck and sprints toward the enemy goal with the kind of jack-rabbit acceleration that marked Germany's Olympic 100-meter track champion Armin Hary. Head up, eyes unblinkingly calculating, he seems almost visibly deciding whether to try to roughhouse past the defense or feed one of his linemates. Sometimes, given a shooting chance at close quarters, he will snap the puck away. At other moments, with a little more room, he takes a big backswing and gives the puck a tremendous swat. His shot is "heavy" as well as hard—that is, not easily deflected. One goalie says it feels like lead when it chunks against him.
In a game in which tempers flare easily, skulls are sometimes cracked, blood frequently is drawn and teeth regularly are bashed in, Hull is a live-and-let-live player. He lost his own front teeth at the hands of an opposing player early in his career, but he is incapable of the wild rage that used to erupt in Rocket Richard, nor does he have the cold executioner's touch of Howe, who exacts the traditional eye for eye and tooth for tooth whenever officials are looking elsewhere. Except for a stick-swinging brawl last year with New York Defenseman Lou Fontinato, the angry man whom NHL fans love to hate, Hull's scraps have been routine and quickly forgotten. "I have the odd fight," he says nonchalantly.
Happy-go-lucky, genial, a little cocky, Bobby Hull is still essentially the same gleeful kid who had more energy to expend than anyone else in Point Anne, Ontario, where he was born on January 3, 1939. Point Anne is a company town tacked on to a local cement plant. Its fat twin smokestacks dominate the north, or mainland, shore of the Bay of Quinte. An arm of Ontario hooks out into the lake just across the bay from the town, and Toronto lies 120 miles to the west. "The population is aboat a thousand if you count the dogs," says Hull's 14-year-old sister, Judy, giving the ou sound a typically Canadian value. "Aboat a hundred if you don't."
As the son of a cement company foreman, Bobby Hull grew up in a succession of company houses spotted here and there around the town. Bigger houses were needed from time to time as new Hulls arrived (Bobby is the fifth oldest of 11 brothers and sisters). The family's present lodgings are in a three-story stucco two-family house within 30 yards of the bay shore. Most of the brood is still young enough to live at home.