There really should be some way for people to attend their own funeral. How many times in our lives do we have the opportunity to see all of our friends and relatives gather together for us? How many times do we have the chance to see all the people we touched in our lives—whether we knew it or not? When do we ever get the chance to hear all of the things that people think about us—but never say?
One look around the hockey world on Monday showed that Bob Probert should have been around for this. Red Wings fans and Blackhawks fans. American hockey fans and Canadian hockey fans. Fans of fighting and fans that don’t quite understand fighting. It was nearly unanimous: the hockey world lost a good one yesterday.
The truth of the matter is that I write about hockey and I haven’t thought about Bob Probert for over a year. Like every other hockey fan of my generation, I grew up watching him and looking forward to everyone one of his fights. Like most pugilists, he might have been a criminal on the ice but he was a fantastic athlete to meet in person. My friend and I were too young to understand about multiple trips to the Betty Ford clinic or traveling across international borders with a gram of coke in our pants; but what I did understand was that he treated both of us like we were the only fans on the entire planet.
He was a good player (not great) and a great fighter (not good) from a very different era of hockey. This is how he announced his arrival to the NHL. Not a bad first impression.
16 seasons, 935 regular season games, and 3300 penalty minutes later, Bob Probert left an imprint on every hockey fan and media member around the 1980’s and 90’s NHL. Maybe he wasn’t the most talented hockey player and maybe he was a guy with his demons, but someone who, at his core, was a good person. One look at this article on Pro Hockey Talk gives you a glimpse into the reverence for the 45-year-old Probert. Like I said, from all corners of the hockey world, the respect for the tough, flawed man was nearly unanimous.
I know that whenever I think of him, the first thing I’ll think about was how great he was when I met him as a kid. So what about you? What will you think about when you hear the name Bob Probert?