SI Vault
Pat Jordan
December 13, 1971
John Ferguson, long and lean and sharp, is perched on a stool in a New York City drugstore, his shoulders hunched over the counter. His face, fleshless and dominated by a beaklike nose, is pointed down at his hands, which are moving back and forth across the Formica counter. He has curved his long, thin fingers so that each hand is shaped like a talon, and now, slowly, he brings the hands together until the fingertips touch and then withdraws them. He repeats the process time after time while the fat man standing beside him fidgets and stares at the moving hands. The fat man has a pink, anxious face, and he is clutching a piece of paper in his right hand, which he keeps out of sight.
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December 13, 1971

Icemen You'd Love To Hate

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But if Ferguson hears the man, he pays no attention. He continues to move down 33rd Street toward the shadows of the Garden. Suddenly there is a strong wind and he hunches his shoulders about his neck, which is craned slightly forward. The wind catches the vent of his coat, and the two sides flap in the breeze like ruffled wings, and then John Ferguson is swallowed up by the shadows of the Garden. From the corner of Seventh Avenue he is no longer visible as a man but only a form diminishing in the night—the dark, tapering form of a huge predatory bird stalking the city streets.

After that season the bird was seen no more. John Ferguson retired for good.

For the third time John McKenzie, a neat little man with a cigar clenched between his teeth, smiles. He is standing in the lobby of the Statler-Hilton in New York, his left arm around the waist of an older woman in black slacks, his right arm around the waist of a plump young girl in a raincoat, while in front of him a middle-aged woman in a Boston Bruin warmup jacket is squinting through the lens of a camera. "Hold it." she says, and clicks the shutter. Nothing.

"Oh, that stupid, lousy camera," says the plump girl. "I'm gonna cry!"

The woman in black slacks says, "Please, Johnny, don't go. My daughter loves you so much." The woman with the camera looks at it with fury. "Aaagh, you son of a bitch," she says to the camera. McKenzie takes the camera, examines it carefully, makes a small adjustment and returns it to the woman in the Bruin jacket.

"Try it now," he says. He puts his arm around the girl and her mother again and smiles.

"Isn't he a doll?" says the mother. The woman in the Bruin jacket squints and clicks for a fourth time. There is a small flash. "Oh, wonderful," says the girl, clapping her hands. The two older women, beaming, begin to thank McKenzie, their hands brushing his arms as if they would like to tear off a piece of him as a souvenir. McKenzie disengages himself from the women, says goodby and begins walking through the lobby toward the door. But it is too late. The legion of autograph seekers who have been waiting for him converges like a swarm of locusts. Without breaking his stride he begins signing everything thrust in front of him as he moves slowly but steadily toward the door.

John McKenzie is a small, compact man of 34 years who stands 5'7" tall and weighs 175 pounds. He has clear blue eyes that are often half-lidded and blond hair that is beginning to turn gray at the temples. His face resembles that of Michael J. Pollard, the actor, except that McKenzie's small features are not quite so scrunched together. On this winter afternoon he is wearing a well-fitted double-breasted suit and carrying a thin attach� case. McKenzie had originally ordered two such suits, but when his tailor failed to make them to his specific orders, he felt free to refuse them. Still, he bought one anyway, for $200. "What could I do?" he said. Earlier this morning he had attempted to eat a leisurely breakfast in the hotel coffee shop, where a waitress kept hurrying him. At first he pretended not to notice her huffing and puffing. Finally, as he was about to light up a cigar, she said, "This isn't a lounge, you know." McKenzie looked at her for a second, then got up to leave. "It must be awful to work at something you hate," he said as he put a dollar tip beside his plate. His breakfast had been a No. 3, listed at $1.85.

Once he is outside on Seventh Avenue the autograph seekers leave McKenzie, and he is lost in the noontime crowd moving across the street toward Madison Square Garden. Like most men of his stature, McKenzie walks with an erect and purposeful stride. There is about him a sense of order and direction which his clothes and compact movements tend to reinforce, so that he resembles not the violent hockey player he is but a well-organized businessman about to enter a bargaining session for which he is confidently prepared. It is only on the ice, his eyes wide and cold, his body padded and squat, that John McKenzie looks the type of hockey player his reputation suggests. He still moves in that same rigid and precise way, only now, beneath the surface, there is a hint of violence. But it is a controlled violence nevertheless, and watching John McKenzie skate one has the feeling that at no time does he ever make a move, spontaneous though it might seem at the time, over which he does not have complete control.

Because of his size and the fact that he was born in the Far West (High River, Alberta), John McKenzie never thought he'd make the National Hockey League. He thought, instead, he would remain the rodeo cowboy he had become in his youth. Even when he reached the NHL in 1958 he continued to ride 2,000-pound brahma bulls during the off season, for which he was paid as much as $300 a trip. He claims that hockey is a mild sport compared to rodeo riding, whose practitioners he calls "the best conditioned athletes in the world."

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