When he showed up at the Montreal Forum an hour before puck drop that night, three days after Christmas in 1944, Maurice Richard told coach Dick Irvin not to expect much of a game from him. He was pooped.
“Pooped?” Irvin inquired. “How do you mean, pooped?”
Richard explained that it was moving day. He’d spent all afternoon hefting furniture—including the piano—into the family’s new two-storey home.
And indeed, for most of the first period, Richard looked like he was still carrying that piano. But after his centreman Elmer Lach set him up for an easy goal, he caught the scent of destiny. He remembered that he was, in fact, The Rocket, number 9 in your program. And as the game went on, Richard got stronger. And stronger. By the final horn he’d put a record-breaking outing in the books: five goals, three assists, for eight points, in a 9-1 Habs win over the Red Wings.
There are so many things to relish in this story – not least the simpler time it speaks to. No pro athlete could have a diary entry like that nowadays. Extracurricular heavy lifting would be expressly forbidden in your contract, especially if you were a star.
Maybe we’re to take away the lesson that we all have another gear, one that’s there for us if we really need it. Or maybe only the Rocket did. Richard — who became such a legend that when he died of cancer in the year 2000, Montreal pretty much shut down for his funeral — routinely slept 12 hours a day. So he sort of banked his energy. There’s your life hack: bag as much rest as you can get away with; you never know when you’ll have to pull an epic second shift.
Perhaps Richard was reflecting that night (and we will never know, because he was a taciturn man, especially with the English-language media) on how lucky he was to be able to play hockey at all, while many of his young countrymen were trying to break through German supply lines in northern Italy. What is clear is that Richard understood that being a pro athlete didn’t mean that was the end of his obligations. We are not just one thing. Richard was a family man before he was a hockey player.
In the quirky TV show Ted Lasso, Ted, newly arrived from America to coach a sad-sack English soccer squad, meets a put-upon guy named Higgins. Nominally the communications man, Higgins is also the personal assistant to the overbearing team owner.
At one point Ted asks him:
“What else are you?”
What else are you? That’s a question that wouldn’t really compute today — not just for pro athletes but for most of the rest of us. We are what we do for money.
But in Richard’s day, the question made sense. And invited an answer.