Defusing the Rocket
After Maurice (Rocket) Richard's suspension last week (see pages 22, 23) the city of Montreal acted as if the Canadian flag had been desecrated by foreigners. Although a more costly penalty had seldom been inflicted on a professional athlete at a more crucial point in his career, it could hardly have come as a complete surprise to hockey fans who were familiar with The Rocket's fire-on-ice temperament (SI, Dec. 6). Since he entered the National Hockey League 13 years ago, the Montreal Canadiens' inflammable right winger has been making headlines for both himself and his bruising, colorful team with tactics that might be frowned upon in Donnybrook.
Until last week's punishment, which set off the roaring Montreal mutiny, hockey officials around the league had indirectly winked at Richard's antics. While other players were being suspended for over-zealous use of their fists and sticks, Montreal's celebrated Flying Frenchman was always suited up and ready to score another winning goal just when it counted most. Once, after Richard whacked some Toronto players over the head with his stick in 1947, NHL President Clarence S. Campbell slapped him with a $250 fine. A few years later The Rocket exercised his muscles in the lobby of a New York hotel by scuffling with Referee Hugh McLean. Campbell obliged the jittery citizens of Montreal by leveling a $500 fine at their hero. The fines, of course, hardly disturbed Maurice Richard. They were paid either by the Montreal club or the donations of fans.
But last week Richard went too far for even President Campbell. It was obviously time to defuse The Rocket. It was also time that Campbell, who has been openly accused by many hockey people of being a mere lackey of the NHL directors, step forward and do the defusing himself. Richard gave Campbell a perfect opening.
No doubt Richard's loss cost Montreal the league championship and very possibly the Stanley Cup, to say nothing of depriving The Rocket of his chance to lead the league in scoring. But it was a simple question of either enforcing the rules of hockey or catering to the passions of a somewhat overworked group of rooters. Hockey is still a game, and it is high time that both Richard and his Montreal partisans realize that slugging a referee is not yet a legal offensive maneuver.
There has been much remorse in Montreal since that black night in Boston when Richard took to battle with the Bruins's Hal Laycoe and slugged Linesman Cliff Thompson. Richard went on the air somewhat belatedly and implored his fans (in both French and English) to lend their support to the team. Of himself he said, "I will take my punishment and come back next year to help the club and the younger players to win the Cup."
Two men who have dedicated their lives to hockey—and who helped build it to the position it now occupies—also had tragic words to utter. Jack Adams, general manager of Detroit, said, "I'm sick, deathly sick and ashamed." Richard's coach, Dick Irvin, moaned, "I have often seen The Rocket fill this place [the Forum], but this is the first time I've seen him empty it."
As the citizenry tried to re-enter a state of normalcy during the regular season's final weekend an editorial in the
Montreal Star gave them—and other sport fans elsewhere—some appropriate words for required reading: "But what can we say to explain in decent terms to ourselves the hangover of humiliation that remains?... Montreal today stands convicted of emotional instability and lack of discipline. It can take no pride in what has happened. Nothing but shame remains."
Tomorrow the world
The Pan-American Games reached their halfway mark last Saturday, and most of the early attention centered around the track and field games of the 18-sport program. In particular the talk was about the unprecedented collapse of one fine athlete after another in Mexico City's oxygen-light, 7,600-foot altitude (for a medical and pictorial report, see page 33).