I’ve been in a few fights in my life, most of them on the ice, as a kid, or more recently a few years ago during a late-night beer league that I was playing in. That latest fight was with a guy, younger than me, mid-thirties, who liked to skate with whiskey on his breath. I had two-handed his brother and, like a good brother should, he stepped in and had his brother’s back. I’m not afraid to say that he cleaned my clock, this brother, and that his brother probably could have done the same without his help. I’m not much of a fighter is what I’m saying here. This brother fought dirty; he caged me and brought my face down to his knees a good half a dozen times. There wasn’t much damage done since I was wearing wire in front of my face. I got a busted lip, spit some blood, and was sent ten minutes early to the locker room to drink more beer. Sometimes it’s good to get a good ass whooping now and again. I’m not going to lie, in hindsight, all these years later, and say that I got a few good licks in, or that I kicked this guy’s butt. Even though I’m a fiction writer by nature, this lie would be a fiction that I cannot, as a grown man, place my name behind.
That’s exactly what Adam Foote did, recently, when his number 52 was raised to the rafters of the Pepsi Center in Denver. Foote, you might remember, was a core member of the Colorado Avalanche team that sported guys like Joe Sakic—a true captain in the mold of Steve Yzerman (Sidney Crosby should turn to them both as models to see how to wear the captain’s C—along with Peter Forsberg, Claude Lemieux, and Patrick Roy (in his grossly oversized jersey and pads) anchoring down the back end of the Avalanche D. Foote anchored down the back end, too, in front of Roy, and Foote was a gritty, tough guy presence both in front and in back of the net. I won’t say I didn’t like the way he played the game. Had Foote been a Detroit Red Wing, clearing out bodies in front of our net, I’m sure I would’ve loved chanting his name.
But let’s be clear: Foote wasn’t a member of my hometown team and back in the day—the mid-90s—hate was a bridge of bad blood all the way between Denver and Detroit. A cheap hit from behind by Claude Lemieux on fan-favorite Kris Draper was the sucker punch that set the scene for the classic rumble in the rink that took place some ten months later, back at a fittingly named Joe Louis Arena, where revenge, as the saying goes, was a dish best served cold.
This fight featured full-ice fisticuffs with goalies Roy and Mike Vernon going toe to toe, with skill guys Igor “The Professor” Larionov facing off with Peter Forsberg to get the bang-fest started. Current NHL sheriff in command of cheap shots to the head, Brendan Shanahan, newly minted into the Hall of Fame (kudos to Shanahan for that), clotheslined Patrick Roy at mid-ice (Roy had skated from his end of the rink to be a cowardly third man in) with a steel gaze in his eyes that I see staring back at me everyday when I walk into my son’s room where a blown-up poster of that moment hangs banner-like on the wall. Adam Foote, it should be noted, too, was also attempting to “third man” Shanahan as Shanahan fought to shake free from grappling paws of Patrick Roy. Cowardice is contagious. Best of all, though, that night, was watching Claude Lemieux—the instigating culprit in all this drama—curl up and turtle in the middle of the ice against the hammering hands of #25, Darren McCarty. Even if you’re color-blind it’s easy to see that the ice, that night, bled a whole lot of burgundy and very little, if any, red.
It’s true: memory has its own story to tell. For Adam Foote to make the claim that the Avalanche “kicked Detroit’s ass” is to listen to a man speak with his foot stuck fully in his mouth.
Think again, Mr. Foote.
Watch the footage.
What you claim to be an ass-kicking is a fiction. The eye of the camera captures the truth.