December 2, 1970. As I skated out to my right defense position for the Boston Bruins in Chicago Stadium, I was thinking: I wonder if this game will be better? Here we are, halfway through the season, halfway through another game, and I still don't want to be here. I don't like the nervous feeling I get when I go on the ice. I don't like thinking the way I'm thinking or the way my hands sweat and my knees shake. I don't like not being able to do the job as I want to do it. My doctors and teammates tell me to forget these things—just think about playing hockey. It's so easy for them to say, so hard for me to do. I can't forget that easily.
I look over at my defense partner, Don Awrey. We have gone out to relieve Dallas Smith and Bobby Orr, a tough act to follow. Who can do the things Orr can do? I couldn't have done them even before Wayne Maki of the St. Louis Blues nearly killed me in September 1969. And now—
Now? So many nows. Every game a question mark. I could imagine what the hockey crowds were thinking: he makes mistakes he never made before. He won't fight. He wears a helmet. Whoever thought Terrible Teddy Green would need protection on his head—or anywhere else? Or want it?
Terrible Teddy Green. The tough guy of the National Hockey League. That was the reputation I had before Maki bashed in my skull with his stick during an exhibition game in Ottawa. I didn't like the name or the reputation. I played hockey hard and I hit because it was my job to hit. In my younger days maybe I went out of my way to find a fight, but not later. Two, three years before Maki hit me I had stopped being Terrible Teddy Green. I held my ground, I battled for puck control, I hit back when I got hit. But that was to protect my part of the ice, my goalie, my partner and myself.
And when I had the puck, I bulled my way down the ice with it, passing and taking passes, fighting across the blue line and through opposing defense-men. And I was respected. Leave Ted Green alone and you'll be O.K. Just don't start anything with him, not unless you want trouble.
That's the way it had been, but not now. Physically, I was in as good shape as ever, maybe a little better. But an awful feeling of inadequacy had possessed me. I wasn't afraid, just unsure of myself. That doubt was killing me, killing my game, making me wonder what I was doing out on the ice.
I remembered a game we lost to Oakland a few weeks before. I lost that game. It was tied 1-1 in the third period when one of the Seals dumped the puck in on my side. Ordinarily this would have been no problem. I might have started up ice with it. Or, if a man were right on me and Awrey was free, I might have passed it across to Don. Or, if I got really tangled up with my opponent, I might have battled him to the boards to freeze the puck and force a face-off.
I didn't do any of these things. In fact, I'm not sure what I did. All I know is that one minute I had control of the puck and the next minute I didn't. One of the Seals just swooped down, stole it right from under me, and with nobody in front of the net but our goalie, Gerry Cheevers, slammed it home for a 2-1 win for them. Cheevers didn't have a chance.
If I were the coach, I would have yanked me out right away. But Tom Johnson, a former defense partner of mine on the Bruins, kept me in for a few more minutes to save further embarrassment. Johnson, who treated me with understanding and consideration almost all year, didn't fool me or the crowd, either. My mistake was obvious to everyone at Boston Garden. I was all alone out there, holding the puck on my stick and obviously in control of it. When I lost control, a spectator had to be blind or looking the other way to miss it.
Maybe I was imagining things, but I could hear the crowd murmuring that night, too: Teddy Green hasn't got it anymore.