Chadwick, you bum, you're as blind as a bat!"
For 16 years, from 1939 to 1955, a baker with an upper-register decibel count hurled this specific charge at National Hockey League Referee Bill Chadwick from his seat in the reaches of Madison Square Garden. Each time Chadwick heard the critic yell he would chuckle to himself. Quietly, however, for he was not about to tell that fan—or anyone else if he could help it—that the charge was half true. As an official in one of the world's fastest major sports, Bill Chadwick was burdened with an astonishing handicap—he had vision in only his left eye. Following a freak hockey accident when he was 19 years old, he lost all the sight in the other.
"I was playing for an all-star amateur team from New York against a team from Boston," says Chadwick, who is now a Brooklyn businessman. "The other team was already on the ice practicing when we came out. I stepped one foot on the ice, when somebody shot the puck and hit me in the eye."
Doctors told the young athlete that he would never see again in his right eye, a prognosis that might have ended his career then and there. But less than six months later Chadwick won a position with the New York Rovers, a highly regarded farm team of the Rangers.
About a year and a half later, early in the 1937-38 season, Chadwick got hit in the other eye and was, momentarily, completely blind. "When the blood trickled into my eye and I couldn't see at all," he says, "I decided I had had enough hockey, at least as a player."
Within a few days Chadwick had regained full vision in his left eye, and a week later he was back in the Garden—but this time as a spectator only. When Tom Lockhart, president of the Eastern Amateur Hockey League, discovered that it was almost game time and that his regular referee had failed to arrive, he urged Chadwick to put on his skates and handle the game.
"Lockhart knew I had vision in only one eye," says Chadwick, "but he didn't seem to care. I worked the game, and apparently he liked the job I did. He asked me to be a regular linesman in the Eastern League, and then he promoted me to referee."
Chadwick's officiating also impressed Red Dutton, then president of the New York Americans. Dutton recommended Chadwick to NHL President Frank Calder, and within four years the 22-year-old Chadwick was appointed as a full-time major league referee. It was obvious from the start that he would be a good one.
"Psychologically," Chadwick contends, "having only one good eye made me a better official because the problem was always on my mind. I know I was on top of the play in most cases, and I skated harder than the other guys."
Early in his career, however, Chadwick decided it would be imprudent to advertise his defect. He confided his secret to the six NHL club owners who, in turn, told their managers, but few—if any—players or fans were aware of it. Fortunately for Chadwick, his officiating was of such a high standard—he now is one of the few referees in Hockey's Hall of Fame—that nobody in a responsible position complained about his work from 1939 through the end of the regular 1944-45 season.