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"You sure do," the doctor chortled.
"But there's one thing about my mistakes...."
"I don't bury mine."
Ballard has said that the reason he purchased the Tiger-Cats was to give Clancy and him something to do in the summer. "I'm not the kind of guy who likes to put his feet up at the cottage all summer and watch the sky stay up," Ballard says. Ballard's purchase was bitterly fought by John Munro, a Hamilton resident and then Canada's Federal Minister of Labor. In the midst of his anti-Ballard campaign, Munro said he would feel more comfortable if the Montreal Canadiens were buying the Tiger-Cats. That was enough for Ballard. At his most eloquent, Ballard stated, "That's another in the never-ending series of moronic statements from one of Canada's supposed leaders. Next thing you know, this Munro character will be crawling on his yellow belly asking me for free tickets." (According to rumors, Ballard now may sell the Hamilton franchise and buy the Toronto Argonauts.)
That outburst was pure Ballard blather. Retired NHL President Clarence Campbell, asked to say a few words at a surprise testimonial dinner for Ballard sponsored by five of Toronto's charities last spring, said to the 1,000 guests, " Harold Ballard can be the most devastating, abusive and profane adversary you would care to meet. The degree of the vehemence of his calumny varies directly with his contempt for his adversary."
Ballard's calumny has been at its most vehement toward Campbell's successor, John Ziegler. Irked when Ziegler ordered him to remove the Tiger-Cat logo from the ice at the Gardens—the same logo that Tiger Williams affectionately kissed each time he scored a goal—Ballard began dismissing the new president as an office boy. He made constant references to Ziegler's diminutive size. When Ziegler ordered Ballard to put his players' names on the back of their jerseys, Ballard refused, complaining it would hurt program sales. Ziegler fined him $2,000. Ballard capitulated as only Ballard can—by adding the lettering in the same color as the underlying jersey: Maple Leaf blue. "I just did it to antagonize the little dictator," he says.
To his credit, Ziegler was also at Ballard's testimonial dinner in April—wearing a Maple Leaf jersey with ZIEGLER sewn across the back in Maple Leaf blue. After CFL President Jake Gaudaur congratulated Ballard on putting his money where his mouth was, Ziegler cracked, "Fortunately, Harold has enough money to match the opening of his mouth."
Ballard has not smoked or drunk since the death of Stafford Smythe seven years ago, instead indulging a gargantuan appetite for chocolates, peanut butter and ice cream—extraordinary behavior for a man with diabetes. "I caught it from Clancy," he says with glee. Ballard has been known to devour a two-pound box of chocolates in half an hour. A shade under six feet, Ballard is probably 60 pounds overweight, but by no means is he a tub of lard. He keeps his extra pounds firmly in his belly, like a fat distance swimmer. He can, in fact, swim five or six miles with ease. He is agile and clear-eyed, with as full a head of hair, tinted reddish, as any man of 75 years has a right to expect. And he walks at a pace that someone one-third his age must struggle to match. All in all, Ballard lives like a man who has made his pact with the devil and knows no fear.
He has no plans to step down from the Gardens' presidency, or even to slow down. There are Stanley Cups and Grey Cups to win, an NBA basketball team to buy. Perhaps even a new Maple Leaf Gardens complex to build. Ballard insists he will be taken out with his boots on, that he will probably die of throat trouble—"Somebody will hang me."