"But some of them really like me," he adds. "I don't know why. There's one old woman who waits for me at Madison Square Garden every time I'm in town. She usually gives me a book for my children. I have a whole library from her. She sends me Christmas cards and letters and seems really interested in me and my family. You know these grandmotherly types. They always want to redeem you. They feel you can't be all bad."
But for the previous 10 years John Ferguson of the Montreal Canadiens had been "all bad" as far as rival players were concerned. He had reaped more penalties, been in more fights and been a party to more injuries than probably any other player in the NHL. On the ice Ferguson did not seem to skate or move, he just appeared suddenly like an ill omen swooping down from nowhere. Seconds later there would be a fight, a penalty, an injury, and Ferguson would be gone. A few days before he arrived in New York for a game last winter with the Rangers, Ferguson swooped down on Pittsburgh's Ken Schinkel. A few days later Schinkel underwent surgery for a broken collarbone. When the Rangers' trainer, Frank Paice, asked Ferguson how hard he had hit Schinkel, Ferguson looked up through raised eyebrows and shook his head. He sucked in his cheeks and formed a perfect O with his lips and then said ever so softly through puckered lips, "A kiss...I gave him just a kiss."
At six p.m. John Ferguson slips on his navy overcoat and leaves the drugstore. As he moves up 33rd Street in the darkness, three small boys come out of the shadows and fall in behind him. Although the boys are silent and Ferguson does not turn to look at them, he is conscious of their presence. Finally one of the boys moves up beside him. The boy walks a few feet before he says, "Fergy, we—" but before he can finish, Ferguson sweeps his arm out from his body, its shadow moving like a giant wing across the sidewalk, and he says, "No autographs." The boy shrinks back to his friends; they withdraw, are gone.
Ferguson stops at the corner of Seventh Avenue, across from Madison Square Garden, and waits for the red light to change. He is a towering figure at almost 6'4". From behind he resembles an inverted triangle, the broad shoulders of his coat tapering to a narrow waist which tapers to even narrower hips, and so on, until it seems he must surely come to a point at his feet.
While he waits for the light to change, a man in thick glasses and a Russian fur hat stops beside him. He looks at Ferguson, once, twice, three times and then he says with a smile, "Hey, Fergy! You gonna play tonight?"
Ferguson does not look at him or say anything. The man repeats his question. Still staring straight ahead, Ferguson says, "No, I'm crossing the street to wait for a bus."
The man, still smiling, says, "Maybe you gonna score a goal tonight, huh, Fergy?" Ferguson says nothing. "Maybe even a hat trick."
"Three hat tricks," says Ferguson, and he begins to cross Seventh Avenue, the man skipping to stay beside him. When they reach the other side the man stops and says, "You got any tickets for tonight's game? Heh, Fergy, any extras?"
Ferguson, who is still moving down 33rd Street, says, "I got a whole suit-caseful."
The man calls out after him. "Aw, ya bum, I hope they break your neck tonight."