In a Minneapolis bar recently, Tino and Michelle were chittering away like lovebirds. Lulu was perched on the rim of Michelle's chi-chi, pecking at a French fry that Lettieri's spindly 11-year-old cousin, also named Tino, dangled before her. Little Tino was trying to get Lulu to say "goddam it," but all she'd do was rasp, "ky-ake...ky-ake, yoik...yoik." Big Tino cocked his head and nibbled on Michelle's earlobe. "Think how lucky I am to have a G.M.'s daughter as a girl friend," he teased.
"I don't know why I'm so nice to you, Tino," she said affectionately. "You're such a jerk."
"You want to know the reason I can't stand you?" he cooed. "You smoke, you drink, and...you got no feathers, like Ozzie."
Tino's father, Franco, had been a goalie for the Italian Army team before emigrating to Montreal in 1958 to open a pizzeria. "My Dad was the first guy in Montreal to throw a pizza up in the air," Lettieri claims. Poppa Lettieri ran a very strict house. Tino was the eldest of four children, three sons and a daughter. None was allowed to speak at the dinner table, but if they did open their mouths, the rule was that they'd better speak in Italian. Tino watched in disbelief one night when his brother Enzo asked him in English if he wanted to play hockey after dinner.
"What was that?" demanded Franco in Italian, rapping his fork on the table. "At this table only Italiano is spoken."
"Hey, Pop," Enzo answered back in Italian. "Why don't you go to school like I do, and you'll learn English." Franco sent Enzo to bed for the rest of his adolescence. Maybe Enzo should have asked to go out and play soccer.
To hear Tino tell it, he spent his teens with his wings clipped. "I was always grounded," he says. "I was like a bird in a cage. The moment I went out the door, I wouldn't come back for at least five hours." As penance he'd have to stay home and roll the meatballs, stir the spaghetti sauce or grate the Parmesan, which he hated most. "Though I was raised harsh," he says, "it did a lot of good for me. I've always got to be the best. My father built that challenge into me."
Lettieri is a practical joker of the toothpaste-on-the-toilet-seat school. He impersonates Arab sheiks in hotel lobbies and on airplanes does a lively burlesque of a flight attendant's safety routine. "My Dad was a cutup, just like me," he says. "But when I was growing up, I didn't know that." If Franco Lettieri laughed, Tino's mother would say, "Look out kids, the devil is laughing, and something's going to happen."
Though he and his father are now the best of buddies, Lettieri still sometimes runs afoul of authority. "Tino had a reputation of being difficult to handle," says Chadwick. "He was supposed to be a bad boy who sometimes took his gimmickry too far." Chadwick had been reluctant to deal for the parrot-packing goalie because Lettieri had ruffled some feathers in Vancouver. After Whitecap coach Derrick Posse suspended him twice for insubordination last winter, Lettieri left the team, returned to Montreal and demanded to be traded. "Having to sit on the bench bothered me," he says, "but not as much as the Vancouver property taxes."
Lettieri was yellow-carded at the '84 Indoor All-Star Game for what he calls "illegal parrot downfield." Actually it was for delay of game. And he was ejected earlier this season from a game against his old team in Vancouver. He got his first yellow card for consulting too long with Ozzie before a penalty kick and the second for giving the fans the bird. The Strikers had to use a midfielder in goal and lost 3-2 in overtime. That little escapade brought Lettieri a fine of $500, the heaviest levied by the club this season. "Tino deserves to be put behind bars himself for some of his antics," says McGrane.