For several years now, the flights of Bobby Hull have been more and more turbulent. Ever since he started averaging 50 goals a year, in 1966, the superstar of the Chicago Black Hawks has been acquiring more than the usual number of stitches, sprains and fractures from those straining to stop him. This year—though it may well be his finest ever—is certainly among the most painful. The leading National Hockey League goal scorer and point getter is playing with a broken jaw.
Underweight from taking all his meals through a straw, and playing with his blond hair and rugged features obscured by a makeshift helmet and a football face guard, Hull appears to have lost a stride. His shot has lost some of its steam, and even though he still takes his regular turn, kills penalties and plays on the power play, this is not the Bobby Hull the rest of the league fears so much. Still, he has maintained a remarkable scoring pace: of his 30 goals, eight have come in the eight games he has played since he was hurt.
Nobody—not even Hull himself—is sure exactly how the fracture occurred. Hull remembers coming away from a rough game in Detroit on Dec. 19 with soreness in his jaw, but nothing, he thought, to require X rays. He played the next game against Pittsburgh, and then, on Christmas night, he caught an elbow from Toronto's Mike Pelyk flush in the mouth and backed away in excruciating pain. There were X rays this time, and they revealed a fracture below Hull's right ear. The doctors wired his jaw together. He skipped one game but has been playing ever since.
"I've got to be careful," Hull said last week. "I don't go blasting into the corners the way I usually do, and I've got to keep my elbows up. I've got to keep people away from my face. Trouble is, I can feel myself getting weaker—especially when we're playing as often as we have been [four games in five nights, then three more in five]. I've lost 15 pounds already, and they say I'll keep losing weight until the wire comes off."
Hull's normal playing weight is a robust, body-beautiful 195, kept stoked by the steaks he likes to eat (medium rare) and fit from work on his Ontario farm during the off season. But now his wife, Joanne, whips up Hull's meals in a blender and he sips them through a straw. The recipe? Well, it would not be found on the menu at the Red Carpet.
A Hull meal, which he calls "brownish ugh," consists of three-fourths of a pound of ground beef, a cup of half-and-half, a can of barley soup and half a cup of milk. For variety, Mrs. Hull occasionally tosses in a raw egg or two. Hull takes the blender with him on the road, where his teammates get to play chef. "It tastes terrible," says Eric Nesterenko. "Really I don't see how Bobby can eat it."
A Chicago doctor says Hull will probably be down to 170 pounds before his jaws are de-wired four weeks from now. "He isn't getting enough protein," says the doctor. "He's on a strong carbohydrate diet, and a good athlete like Bobby burns that up in no time at all. Without protein he'll continue to suffer a degree of muscle deterioration, and I doubt if he'll be able to get back to his normal weight before the season is over." The reason is that Hull was all muscle when the season began.
So Hull continues to play with an injury that would sideline many hockey players. Bobby's current state, in fact, reminds one of the 1963 Stanley Cup playoffs, during which he played with a nose so severely smashed that the fracture extended into his skull. With the Hawks one game from elimination, Hull ignored the orders of his doctors, checked out of a Chicago hospital and flew by himself to Detroit. That night—with both eyes blackened, his nose encased in tape and blood draining into his throat—he played against the Red Wings. He scored three goals and an assist, but even that heroic effort was not enough to avert a 7-4 Chicago loss.
The Hawks were in St. Louis to play the Blues last Saturday, and Hull emerged from a team meeting around noon. Despite the green turtleneck and heavy parka he wore, he was visibly underweight; his cheeks were sunken and his face was greatly in need of the color it gets every once in a while during junkets south in behalf of the Jantzen company. With his jaws completely immobilized, Hull had to speak through clenched teeth, like a ventriloquist.
"They've been laying off me lately," he said, in a voice scarcely above a whisper. "I haven't been getting hounded as much as I usually do. Maybe they feel sorry for me."