DEREK SANDERSON THE DEAD-END KID WHO WANTS TO BE A SUPERSTAR
A Joe Namath lifestyle, a Cadillac and a Shelby, a Mod Squad wardrobe, a luxurious pad with circular bed, and girls, girls, girls. That’s hockey’s
THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE is facing its own kind of sexual revolution, led by an irreverent, 23-year-old centre with the Boston Bruins named Derek Michael Sanderson. Sporting bell-bottom sideburns and razor-cut hair, the 176-pound Sanderson is determined to “do his own thing” in the face of the hockey Establishment, probably the most conservative in major-league sports. His avowed projects for 1970 include:
□ Wearing and selling hockey’s first white skates. □ Opening a hip men’s boutique in partnership with his friend, Cleveland Indians’ Ken Harrelson. □ Becoming a partner in the Boston branch of Joe Namath’s Bachelors III restaurant in downtown Boston, next door to the Playboy Club. □ Keeping his status as fashion plate and unofficial clothing consultant to the Boston Bruins. □ Settling a few grudges on a list that includes Bob Baun, Gordie Howe and Noel Picard.
Although no threat to William F. Buckley in debate, Sanderson says what he thinks, often not the kind of thing the NHL would encourage: “Give me 10 of the best-looking women in the city and I’ll play for nothing . . . almost,” or, “The square hockey world could use a change, and I’m the guy to change it,” or, “I’ve never said a thing I’m sorry for in all my life.” All of which has led to the inevitable comparison with Joe Namath, the quarterback of the New York Jets, who led his team to an upset win over the Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl. Even Sanderson’s teammates call him Little Joe. And he himself admits to the likeness. “When Namath said he would beat the Colts,” says Sanderson, “I really had to respect him. That takes a lot of nerve. Then he beat ’em and showed you how much of a man he is by giving credit to the rest of the team. He couldn’t care less about the Baltimore Colts. I couldn’t care less about the Montreal Canadiens.”__^
The man in the snowy-white skates says simply: ‘You want class, kid,
it’ll cost you a few bucks’
It's a long way from the back streets of St. Catharines, Ont., to the smart nightspots of Boston, the riding set and a knowledgeable hand with a pop-rock guitar. But Sanderson allows his lawyer to remind him to say "please" and "thank you" at public events.
Namath's partnership in Bachelors III, the New York restaurant alleged to number Mafia members among its patrons, by no means disenchanted Sanderson with Broadway Joe. In fact, Sanderson is looking forward to his coming partnership with Namath in Boston’s Bachelors III. “I don't think a Bachelors III in Boston would be a detriment to me at all,” he argues. “Here it's an entirely different environment from New York. Besides, my whole life has been geared toward recognition, attaining what I want.”
Although he received a great deal of attention last season, particularly in the playoffs, Sanderson had not caught up to the star billing of teammates Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. “There are three things you need to make money in professional sports,” he says. “One is talent. The second is points. The third is color. Orr had the talent. Esposito had the points. The only thing left for me was the color.”
Sanderson started being colorful as soon as he arrived at the Bruins’ training camp last season. While most of the hopefuls showed up with the regulation quarter-inch NHL haircut, Sanderson had cultivated a prodigious set of Ponderosa sideburns. “When Milt Schmidt [the Bruins’ general manager] saw them, he was sick,” says Sanderson. “He said, ‘Cut those things off!’ I said to him straight, ‘Don’t worry about how I cut my hair. How I play hockey is all you got to worry about.’ ”
That wasn’t the end of the problems. A few weeks later Sanderson showed up for an exhibition game with a wardrobe straight out of Mod Squad. Schmidt laid down the law. “Straight shirt and tie, kid,” he said. “What do you think you’re doing?” Sanderson patiently pointed out that bell-bottoms, Nehru jackets and turtle-necks were very much de rigueur in the best of places. Schmidt was persuaded, reluctantly, and soon Ted Green, Gerry Cheevers, Phil Esposito and Bobby Orr all joined the Sanderson fashion parade.
“Orr used to have a brushcut,” says Sanderson, “and I told him, ‘Bobby, the brushcut, forget it. It makes you look like a kid of 16.’ So then I got him to á hair stylist. Now his hair is longer and it looks better, right? I told him to grow sideburns, too, but he’s got no beard, so he can’t grow the sideburns.” (Orr is one of the youngest players in the NHL.)
Sanderson’s fashion consulting branched out to include shirts and ties. “Take Johnny McKenzie,” he says. “He used to wear a Christmas tie and socks to match. So I told him, that don’t go. He tells me to get him a shirt and tie. So I go out and bring them back for him and tell him to give me the dough — 37 bucks for a shirt and tie. He was sick But I told him, ‘You want a little class, kid, it’ll cost you a few bucks.’ ”
Class means a lot to Sanderson, and he is ready to spend whatever it takes to meet its obvious demands. He owns not one car, but two — a Cadillac Eldorado and a Mustang Shelby. He dines out regularly and with style at such places as the graceful Hawthorne-by-the-Sea, overlooking the Atlantic at Swampscott, near Boston. “1 like a class evening,” he says. “I’m not in the pizza-and-beer kick. I like a nice quiet dinner. A little candlelight, a little wine.”
For after-dinner there is, of course. The Apartment, Sanderson’s home in suburban Boston. It’s split-level, with beamed ceilings giving a sort of Spanish air to the place (even the kitchen is beamed). There’s a sunken living room, with wall-to-wall lime-green shag rug; in front of a cork wall there’s a six-stool bar; one other wall is entirely mirrored. Up the stairs on the next level is the bedroom, with an eight-foot circular bed and an ankle-deep, wall-to-wall, whitefur rug. One wall is mirrored.
The day I talked to Sanderson he looked like a hip Clint Eastwood, his dark sideburns arched above a frilly yellow shirt cut to the navel, setting off cream-colored hip-huggers. He poured a gin-and-tonic for me, a Coke for himself (he’s not much of a drinker). Settling himself comfortably, he answered the obvious question.
“You want to know what kind of girl I like?” he said, reflectively. “The girl has to be feminine, but she has to have a head on her shoulders and know what she’s doing. My whole theory is that a woman can interest you with her body, but she can hold you with her mind, right? I like a girl who is really goodlooking, feminine. Sensitive and soft. The type of girl who can fit into a dinner at the Waldorf or a draft beer down at the beach. Very few girls can do that. And she has to be the kind of girl who can make a man feel like a man.”
Sanderson walked across the room and pushed open a long sliding door. Inside, the closet was jammed. “I got the shirts, the Edwardian suits, the boots,” he said, “and since I got the classy suits and the sideburns, the success I’ve had with women this year over last year has been phenomenal.”
Marriage? “Let's put it this way; I’m not fighting love. If it comes my way, I’ll take it. But right now I’m not looking for it.”
According to many of the men who run hockey, sex and ice don’t mix. Once, when his Springfield hockey club was suffering through a slump, owner Eddie Shore ordered all his players to abstain from sexual activity. There is no question that Sanderson could never have played for the disciplinarian Shore.
“Don't get me wrong,” says Sanderson. “My theory is: ‘Everything in moderation.’ If I'm going to be with a broad the night before a game, I'll take her to dinner at eight o'clock, get home at nine, be with her until midnight, then go to sleep. For me, I know I've got to have my rest, right? I plan everything I do with the game in mind, right? That's the most important thing — it's my whole life.”
Such careful planning resulted in Sanderson’s superb playoff performances
Æ hat hockey stick is a great equalizer. Anybody runs at me, he’ll have to absorb about four feet of lumber in his solar plexus before he gets to me’
last spring against ihe Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. A few weeks before the playoffs, he decided it was a good idea to play house for a while. “I said to myself, ‘Okay, what kind of broads do I have surrounding me?’ Then, I said, ‘All right, this one is a good cook, good looking.' She had me eating breakfast every morning, right?
I lived with her, stayed home all the time — got plenty of rest. But after the season, it was over. After all, variety is the spice of life, right?”
Sanderson's father, a pleasant man in his mid-40s, is a production foreman for a General Motors subsidiary in St. Catharines, Ontario. There was never a question in Harold Sanderson’s mind but that his son would make it in the NHL.
“I’ll tell you,” says Harold, “he was a helluva good son. When that boy was 10 years old, I said to his mother, ‘He's something special — he’s sure-fire NHL calibre.’ I could tell then because he had so much desire. The only thing I ever said to him was, ‘Don’t take any nonsense from anybody.’ And he never did. The kid never looked back.”
When Derek was three, Harold had him balancing on skates on the livingroom carpet. At five he was on the ice, and by seven he was turning both ways and doing stops and starts. “Dad changed his hours at the Kimberly-Clark plant, where he then worked, to a fourto-12 night shift so he could see me in the daytime. My father never made that much money — $40, $50 take - home from his mechanic’s pay. When I was nine, he gave me $50 hockey gloves. I got Taks, the best skates, as soon as my feet were big enough. Every Christmas 1 got a brand-new pair of skates — no problem. That’s what my Christmas consisted of — no toys, nothing! — just hockey equipment. A lot of fathers push, but he didn’t push me. He just encouraged me and said, ‘I'll see ya out there today,’ and he’d be out there.”
At 17, Derek quit high school. Harold Sanderson was not overjoyed about his son's decision, but he didn't interfere. “You're man enough to make the decisions for yourself,'' he told Derek, “but remember, there are three things in your life — a social life, an educational life and a career in hockey. To make it in one of those three, you're going to have to sacrifice one of the others.” Sanderson sacrificed school.
By this time, the Sanderson image — a dead-end kid on skates — was capturing headlines across Canada. Once, during a game in the Ontario Hockey Association Junior A League, a fan tossed hot coffee in Sanderson’s face. After a Memorial Cup game in Edmonton, six men jumped him and beat him up. To this day, some Edmontonians insist that Sanderson deserved the beating as payment for his treatment of hometown defenseman Bob Falkenburg. Falkenburg, who was taller and considerably heavier than Sanderson, pestered him into a fight and Sanderson knocked him out. “Then,” Sanderson recalls, “I figured I had to y bring it to a head. I went over to their bench and said, 'Okay, who’s next?’ Nobody made a move.” Another time, while playing for the OH A Junior A All-Stars, he nearly ignited an international incident by jabbing a member of the Czech National Team in the stomach with the butt-end of his stick. Sanderson claims that the Czech spat at him several times. In any event, Sander son enjoyed the publicity. “I said to myself, 'Publicity out of a fight — not bad. Keep fighting, kid.' In the remainder of my junior career, I ended up with 46 fights.”
But when he arrived at the NHL, his Boston teammates warned him that the league policemen would take a dim view of his decorum. Boston Record American columnist D. Leo Monahan warned him in print not to go out of his way to antagonize Gordie Howe, “probably the strongest — and meanest — man playing professional hockey.” Sanderson was not impressed and even went so far as to pick a battle with Howe.
“One theory I go on,” he says, “I don’t care who he is; his face will bleed just like mine, right? That stick is a great equalizer. I’ve cut people so often I can’t remember who or when. So has Howe.”
Sanderson’s penchant for class has led him to challenge the best fighters in the league. During his rookie year, he fought Orland Kurtenbach, Ted Harris, and Terry Harper, as well as Howe. When teammate Ted Green congratulated him at the end of the 1967-68 season, Sanderson mistakenly thought Green was praising his scoring ability. “No,” said Green, “I'm shaking your hand just because you got that body of yours through this league. When I saw you in training camp I didn’t believe you could do it. I thought you were going to get killed.”
Sanderson refuses to wear a helmet for protection. “A helmet would turn me right off,” he says. “My whole theory on helmets is that if you’re going to wear one you've got to be conscious of injury because it’s an added piece of equipment, and if you're conscious of injury in this game, get out of it. The second you worry about it, you’re going to get hurt bad.”
Sanderson’s father was against helmets and it was Harold who toughened Derek up when he was only nine. His head had been cut for two stitches and he bled profusely. Derek had never seen blood before and he was sick. But Harold urged him to return to the ice. “Later, I started to get proud of stitches. Dad used to cut out the stitches and put ’em in a little box. He saved my first hundred.”
There was a knock on the door. It was Bob Woolf, Sanderson’s attorney, a Boston lawyer who also represents Boston’s Green and Esposito. Woolf is a sort of father-away-from-home for Sanderson. He gives him a weekly allowance, holds power of attorney for him and advises him on business deals. “This guy,” said Sanderson, “handles every move I make — aside from women.”
Sanderson told Woolf he had just re-
JLhis season’s aim for yesterday’s dead-end kid of hockey: the Bruins’ power play, all-star rating and a $50,000 pay packet
ceived an engraved gold invitation to the Boston Debutantes' Ball. “I'd rather not have you go,” said Woolf, wincing, “unless you improve your manners. I've got to train you how to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ I think you ought to go to charm school first.”
A few months ago, Woolf accompanied Sanderson to the formal Press Photographers' Ball. Woolf thought it would be a good time to teach Sanderson a chapter or two from Emily Post. They arranged a contest: Sanderson would get one point for a correct use of “please” and another point for “thank you” and two points for “you’re welcome.” But he would be penalized for every miss. By the end of the evening, Sanderson had lost, 11-8.
“I came up in a dead-end neighborhood,” Sanderson explains. “I came up where you scratched and fought all your life. It was dog-eat-dog. If you wanted a cigarette, you'd say, ‘Gimme a weed,’ and that was it. You didn’t say, ‘May I please have a cigarette?’ ”
The Bruins management, who couldn’t care less about Sanderson’s etiquette, took a dim view when they learned he not only planned to wear white hockey skates, but would market a “Derek Sanderson White Skate.”
“The Bruins don't see eye to eye with me on the skates,” said Sanderson in a moment of rare understatement. “They're a little stuffy; they figure it’s ‘Americanizing’ the game, and that the players, who are nearly all Canadians, might take offense.”
Manager Schmidt tried to reason with Sanderson.-, “Listen,” said Schmidt, “you’ve got two things to face if you’re planning to wear white skates: First of all, they’re going to try to run at you till you're silly. Every tough guy, every fringe player, is going to take a run at you because you're trying to be a big shot with the white skates. Second, you've never looked down at your feet and seen white skates. You'll be taking a face-off and look down and when you see white skates you might get sick.” Sanderson considered the objections — and then advised the factory to construct the white skates as planned. He is not perturbed about the prospects of opposing players running at him: if they
do they will have to absorb about four feet of lumber in their solar plexus before reaching him.
Like Namath, Sanderson is regarded with hostility by many of his opponents. In part, the anger is due to behavior that is bizarre by hockey’s square standards. In part, it’s because of Sanderson’s candor. Minutes after the Canadiens had defeated Boston in the Stanley Cup semifinal last April, a reporter put a question to Sanderson, expecting a gracious tribute to the champions.
“They [the Canadiens] don’t have the team, the defense, the talent or the guts,” said Sanderson. Reminded of the observation several months later, he said he meant ever word of it then and means every word of it now.
He has an irreverence that will put down an opponent without hesitation. Talking about the playoffs, he was reminded of a fight he had with Montreal’s Dick Duff. “He’s the only guy under 200 pounds I’ve ever fought,” he said, shaking his head. “I was amazed that the guy threw a punch at me, right? I mean, it was no contest. There’s just no way he’s going to win, right?”
Sanderson the fighter is not equalled by Sanderson the hockey player, and he knows it. Though he won the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year in 196768 and scored a respectable 26 goals and 22 assists last year, he believes he’s four years away from his peak.
“The thing I haven’t gotten yet, but may get this season, is the opportunity to kill penalties and work the power play. And I can do both. But Harry [Sinden, the coach] has a whole theory of his that he’s not going to break me in too fast. But you don’t get an all-star rating unless you’re on the power play. You just gotta take those things in stride. I’m not gonna bitch. As long as we keep on winning. Phil Esposito is putting money in my pocket.”
The money could have beeij,more substantial in the first two NHL' years, but ex-Bruin Manager HapAEmms induced him to sign a contract he considered far below his worth. But at last season’s playoffs, the Bruins sweetened the pot, and with Woolf’s advice his income should reach $50,000 by 1970.
He hasn't forgotten who, made it all possible. “I bought Dad a boat,” he reveals. “I bought him a motor [car], bought him a color TV. He wanted to see me in color.”
Sanderson offered me a fresh ginand-tonic, then pulled out another cigarette. “I know what I’m doing,” he said. “I know what this life is all about. I know exactly what it takes. I know where everybody’s at. I mind my own business. You want to do your thing, you do it. It won’t affect me as long as I’m happy, right? I climb into my own little corner of the world and let every other flaky idiot do what he wants to do. As long as I’m doing what I’m doing. I’m getting ahead and I’m not hurting any of my friends, right?” Anything you say, Little Joe. □