More highlights from the sports parade as recorded by the dean of Canadian sports writers
ELMER W. FERGUSON
Sports Editor, Montreal Herald.
DURING forty years of observing sports and writing about them, one learns that sport isn't all drama and violence. There is also humor; there are what have come to lx known as ‘‘upsets of form,” though most of these are no such thing; they are merely proof that exjxrt observers hadn't analyzed the form correctly. Pretty often the form was all right but the analysts all wrong, as was the case in the Louis-Schmelling fight and a dozen other instances.
Real surprises, based on rival athletic merit, in which the better man is beaten, are not frequent. I don’t rate the Louis-Schmelling upset as one of these surprises. It was merely the opinion of everyone that Louis was the better man on that occasion, and the opinions of everyone happened to be incorrectly formed, athletically wrong.
The most notable major incident I recall of a real champion being beaten by a man of lesser merit, was the defeat of Bobby Kerr, Hamilton's Hying red-headed sprinter, fresh from an Olympic triumph, at the feet of an almost unknown sprinter a few weeks later, in the Canadian championships of 1908, at Halifax, N.S. The victor was a nice lad. a fairly sound 10-second man Fritz Schaefer, of Halifax. But Schaefer had no reputation except a local one, never won any other major title, and so far as I can recollect—and I was a pretty close observer of the sprinting picture then, being active in it though not in Kerr’s class -Fritz never achieved any other claim to cinder-track fame.
It was August 29, 1908 - a perfect afternoon, sun filtering through a blue haze. Kerr had shortly before won the 200
metres dash at the London Olympics— “Dorando's Year” it was called—beating the pick of the world over the furlong route. He had run 100 yards in 9 3-5 seconds. The Hamilton redhead—who, in contrast with the closed-fist tensity of most sprinters, ran with his hands wide open— could readily break even time for the century sprint. So Kerr was the overwhelming favorite to win. I doubt if he even took the race seriously. In the morning we visited a battleship in the harbor and Kerr tramped all over it, walked a few miles to the harbor and back. He thought the man to beat was big-legged Lou Siebert, of Toronto. On Schaefer he didn't reckon at all.
Schaefer was second to Siebert in a heat run in the ordinary time of 10 2-5 seconds. Kerr won his own heat handily in 10 seconds fiat. Then came the finals.
Frank Stephens, former Halifax sprint star of the nineties. a g(xxl 10-second man in his day. was the starter. 1 was standing right alongside the mark, holding Kerr’s pullover. The finalists crouched. Stephens said, “Set.” Schaefer broke, then Siebert. then the gun went—and Kerr was as good as left. It’s thirty years back, but I recall that Schaefer had three or four yards the better of the break, that Kerr ran for fifty yards as if discouraged, but that at the end he turned on a blazing whirl of speed, mowed down the space between himself and the leaders, and was beaten inches only by the desperately striving Haligonian.
I recall Kerr’s bitter disappointment. He won the 220, but wasn’t satisfied. He wanted to meet Schaefer again at 100 yards, waited for the Labor Day events in Halifax, but Fritz had gone out of training and Kerr couldn’t get revenge.
That was really an upset. Kerr was the greatest sprinter in Canada at the time, but circumstances beat him. It isn’t often that the better man loses, in anything. Or the better horse or team.
There’s a fashion in sports writing now, an insistence that every writer should pick in advance the winner of a major event. This pre-battle selecting has widened its area. Selection of all-star teams, in all lines, is an annual and meaningless habit. They’ve got down to selecting the best player, even the most courageous player, and right there selecting has stepped over the line of common sense.
Joliat’s Amazing Career
WHO CAN tell who’s the gamest athlete? All those striving souls who get anywhere in the testing pit of athletics have that stuff, or they wouldn’t be in there. They’d be looking for easier, less bruising relaxations.
Courage is the athletic concomitant. They all have it, but probably no one in our time showed more of it, physical or moral, than Auriel Joliat, who in the past season wrote finis to one of the most amazing careers in the history of the National Hockey League.
It takes high courage to play the game, great durability to stand the strain, tremendous vitality to go through the long trying series, with its rapid-fire distance travelling. Courage Joliat had. The other qualities he possessed only in minor measure. In a game calling for strength, the puny Joliat weighed only 135 pounds in his best years. He played the last five years with a shoulder crippled by a break, so stiff that he had to turn to swing himself into shooting position. He suffered from stomach ulcers so that he could eat but little, was afflicted with other ailments. But he consistently stuck in the starry brackets of the whirlwind sport. Many times he was selected all-star left wing. Once he won the Hart trophy as the player most useful to his team.
The Mighty Mite they called him, and when this observer looks back over the scene, he can't recall a more remarkable athlete than was Joliat. He was pale, drawn, anaemic-looking, even at his best. Stripped, his body showed none of the muscular development of his brawny fellows. He had dead-white skin, almost unhealthy in its pallor. His ribs showed through. He was flat-muscled, thin of hips, scrawny of legs. But somewhere in that pale, sickly-looking body there pulsed a mighty motor. For the longest period in the history of hockey, over a span of sixteen full seasons, he played as a regular, always with one team, Canadiens, a feat never equalled by any major hockeyist. The pale-faced Mite, over this long stretch, outlasted such rugged stars as the late Howie Morenz, Billy Boucher, Art Gagneall great players who came and went with Canadiens, while Joliat functioned smoothly, steadily on. He and Morenz were a brilliant duo, a superb contrast. Morenz went hurtling, whirling, crashing through at blinding speed, beating defense men with his blazing speed, beating goalers with his blasting shots. But Joliat did his work by guile, by sheer skill, that at times rose to bewildering heights. He was one of the great all-time stick-handlers. He could turn on a dime, as the sports saying goes. After the first few belligerent years, in which he plunged like a little terrier into myriad fist fightsit meant fight to knock off the black cap he always wore— he faded away from body-checkers who plunged their weight at him. He was the ghost, the will o’ the wisp of the ice, expressionless, flitting from [x>int to jxfint as if divining by instinct where plays would break.
Joliat, the Master Mite, as quiet off the ice as Morenz was roaring and jovially boisterous, played his greatest game the night of April 14, 1931, when Canadiens captured the final and deciding struggle of a five-match Stanley Cup battle from Chicago Black Hawks. Each had won two games, it was anybody’s battle, and Hawks shrewdly planned a surprise attack. Previously, they had been playing a half-defensive game, letting the whirling Canadiens come to them, waiting for breaks through which to drive swift counterthrusts. But in the last game, they opened with a terrific blast. Their sudden rush of speed, their complete reversal of tactics, took Canadiens by surprise; the team began to flounder, looked ready to crack. Here Joliat stepped into the breach. With magnificent judgment, he whirled into five Hawk thrusts one after the other, broke them up just as they were forming by deftly intercepting or skilfully flicking the puck away from its carriers. He showed no especial speed. But his judgment of where plays would break was masterful. In that first five minutes he saved the game, singlehanded wrecked the Hawks’ strategy, and Canadiens went on to wán, 2-0.
A Hockey Kidnapping
YOU GET laughs as well as thrills, out of sport over a thirty-five-year stretch. A dozen incidents flicker across the speeding film that give you a grin or a chuckle. There wras the night when our Moncton hockey team played in a near-by small town. A pass from centre to right wing went wild, flopped on the boards. What had happened? Where was Jimmy Cushing, our right wing? Not on the ice. The
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team management was stunned. Cushing had been out there a few seconds before, now he had disappeared. There were no walls around the ice on the side of this rink. The customers crowded right to the edge of the ice on a platform raised a few inches above the playing surface. As our right winger skated past, the home-town enthusiasts had snatched him off bodily and crowded him back behind them, from where he fought vainly to get back into play. It’s the only hockey kidnapping I ever saw.
At Fredericton one night, the Moncton team had got ready for the ice when the police stepped in and arrested our right winger, the same Cushing, because he had clouted one of the home-town boys during the previous match. Our team, highly indignant, walked out, refusing to play. The truth is, we had no spare right wing. The customers, jamming the rink, were even more enraged. They somehow got a stove, a tall old-fashioned heater, from a dressing room to the gallery, and dumped it, blazing, to the ice the most extraordinary missile of all time, unless that ranking goes to a three-pound sirloin steak which an enraged Boston hockey fan tossed at Goal Judge Gene “Dare Devil” Gauthier, during a Stanley Cup series in Beantown. The thrifty habitants corralled the steak, brought it home to Montreal and ate it.
There was a phony fight, one night in Montreal, before the days of the Commission. Old Mike McTigue. then a rising middleweight, was a principal. His opponent was a New York taxi driver who had never fought before. The match, sad to relate, was rehearsed sèveral times on the roof of a hotel. The big moment came when McTigue (without putting too mudi into it) floorer! his opponent, whose play it was to get to his knees, half-rise, fall back, then struggle up. all the while chanting grimly. “I will get up! I will get up!”
The act looked great. McTigue won the succeeding round of course, but the act looked so good that a rival Montreal promoter rushed to the dressing rooms of the two fighters, fought his way in, and offered them both a huge percentage to tight it out in a re-match two weeks later. This time there was no rehearsal. Mike flopped the cabby the first round.
Strange things happened in boxing in
those old, tough, pre-Commission days. Johnny Wilson, then world’s middleweight champion, was fighting George Robinson, a fine colored boxer, one night in the old Mount Royal Arena. The champion was in ixxir shape, and Robinson was giving him a terrific whipping. Wilson had been floored several times, and looked as if he would be. knocked out and lose the title. The crowd was seething with excitement.
Suddenly the tide turned. Robinson’s punches lost all their power. He had no more speed. He fought indifferently, and the fight, went to a dull finish.
There was a reason. At the end of a round, Beano Breen, red-headed Boston strong man, recently shot to death in the lobby of a Boston hotel, had walked casually from Wilson’s corner to Robinson’s.
I le had a towel over one arm. When he got to Robinson’s corner he lifted a corner of the towel, revealing a black businesslike gat. “That’s for you, right after the fight, if Johnny goes down again,” said Breen quietly.
Robinson knew that he meant it; knew that if he won the title he’d he found in some alley, full of slugs. “I'd rather be alive than a dead champion,” he said philosophically.
T)ROMOTERS had to be tough too in those pre-Commission times, even physically tough. The late George Kennedy-his right name was Kendall —Montreal's promoter of bull fights, hockey, boxing and wrestling, was one of the forceful and rugged, fearless type. He swung a chair at Frank Gotch one night because that great wrestler had dared to question the count-up. Another night he floored a famed middleweight fighter of the day, Red Allan. Kennedy was shrewd, daring, farseeing. He kept Montreal on the professional hockey map through the lean, black Great War years, when teams were collapsing and sport was at a low ebb.
It was another Montreal promoter, lovable, financially careless but clever and imaginative Tom Duggan, who was responsible for the great international edifice that is today the National Hockey League—Tom. and no one else. The directors of the old National League laughed when he gave them $15,000 for
two franchises, to be operated in cities to be named later. Duggan admitted that he had Boston and New York in mind. The magnates, doing very nicely with an allCanadian four-city circuit, laughed some more. But Duggan sold the first National League franchise ever operated in the United States to Charles F. Adams, of Boston, the other to Bill Dwyer in New York, and from this sprang the present great league. Tom Duggan was a stout, happy-go-lucky, handsome Irishman, the Diamond Jim Brady of his day, in a sense. He had no thought of the value of money. He would give a $5 tip to a taxicab driver, a $10 tip to a waiter; his loans and gifts ran over $100,000. He built half a dozen race tracks, an arena, put hockey in the major league classand died broke. He gave it away faster than he got it.
These are some of the personalities that stand out in a sports writer’s thirty-five years, just a few of the more vibrant and compelling. There are others, of course— suave, likable Leo Dandurand, and his quiet partner, Joe Cattaranich, who have more race-track enterprises in the United States and Canada today than any promoter in America; who promoted everything, from dull and tedious walkathons to hockey with its glittering sjx:ed. They owned Canadiens. And they gave us box lacrosse, first staged bv them in Montreal. Curiously, there it died in a professional sense, but as an amateur sport it brought new life to the dying game which satisfies Joe Cattaranich, great player of his day, as if he had made a fortune out of it.
Thirty-five or forty years in sport—a long stretch, hut I wouldn’t swap it for anybody’s life. I wouldn’t swap memories of nights training on the clay sprint path of the old Moncton grounds with Jimmy Humphrey, one of the greatest sprinters of all time, in my opinion; of the cinderpath battles at Pictou, New Glasgow, Windsor, Moncton. Saint John, Amherst, Parrsboro, Newcastle. Chatham, Campbellton; of the training, the toiling, the scraping to get car fare together to reach these foreign fields; the fun and the thrill and the kick in it; the deep love for and understanding and appreciation of sport I was storing up in those days, lighting a flame that still burns as staunchly as in those far-off years.