Thursday, March 6, 2008

For Beliveau, it's still a matter of class

IN AN AGE when bundles of currency and arrogance often define superstar athletes, Jean Beliveau at age 76 stands for class.
The former Montreal Canadiens captain, who retired from hockey in 1971, still ranks as a role model even for those, who never saw his superior skills.
On the Legends of Hockey website, the late NHL president Clarence Campbell was quoted as saying that Le Gros Bill "provided hockey with a magnificent image."
That was high praise indeed, but deserved. And it hasn't diminished even today.
The reason for such status through the years was that Beliveau always displayed an affection for his chosen game and still contributes to it in positive ways.
His name came to the forefront just the other day when I started flipping through a catalogue I received from, announcing the Jean Beliveau Foundation Auction on Tuesday, March 11.
While growing up, this would-be goaltender, who certainly deserved to be known as The Sieve, tried to emulate the moves of the late Toronto netminder Turk Broda. It was a futile effort, but loyalty to the Maple Leafs was imperative in Bass River, Nova Scotia, Pop. 301, in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
However, when my family moved to the Toronto area in the mid-'50s, I became a secret admirer of the Canadiens, well not the entire team, but of Beliveau.
Of course, it was an unspoken admiration. After all, Le Gros Bill was the enemy. And I definitely wanted to keep my pearly whites intact. So I suffered in silence. However, Beliveau's class eventually softened the hearts of Toronto fanatics and for 18 years he worked his magic for the Montrealers.
After his retirement he became an executive and the "goodwill ambassador" for the Habs, and out of that connection, the Jean Beliveau Fund for underprivileged and needy kids was established.
So that's the reason, the "classy" catalogue was a welcome sight in my mailbox.
On Page 7, there's photo of a game sweater Beliveau wore in 1969. An accompanying story read: "Our consignor was just a youngster when he won the sweater in a contest organized by the Journal de Montreal newspaper not long after Jean Beliveau retired from hockey ... The Canadiens' former captain personally presented the sweater to the excited boy."
Besides the sweater, there were other Beliveau "treasures" being auctioned off to benefit those less fortunate such as his 1972-73 Stanley Cup championship ring and even the 325th career goal puck in which he moved ahead of Nels Stewart and into fifth place on the all-time goals scored list behind Richard, Howe, Lindsay and Geoffrion.
It might not mean much to the diminishing number of non-hockey fans, but that Beliveau goal, assisted by Bobby Rousseau, was scored against Roger Crozier in Detroit's Olympia on Dec. 22, 1963. The Canadiens went on to a 6-1 victory.
Other items include miniature silver-plated Stanley Cups, rings, sticks and pucks and even a pair of autographed "reds" from the old Montreal Forum. These are two of the four seats which "belonged" to Beliveau.
Now wouldn't those "reds" look terrific in my office? The only trouble is there's already a reserve bid of $500 on them.
Besides, those "reds," other "treasures" connected to the likes of Henri Richard, Guy Lafleur, Rocket Richard, Howie Morenz, Jacques Plante, Ken Dryden, Patrick Roy, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull, Bobby Baun and the Great Gretzky will also be up for auction.
Now, please excuse me, I'm trying to raise some dollars for, maybe, an autographed photo of Beliveau on auction day. It will be a birthday gift. That's right my birthday also happens to be on Tuesday, March 11.

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