Hockey in the Time of the Spanish Flu

One hundred and one years ago yesterday, on April 5, 1919, Joe Hall passed away at the Columbus Sanitarium in Seattle, Washington. Hall died of pneumonia, as did so many victims of the Spanish Flu epidemic around the world between 1918 and 1920. (Sources used to put the death toll around 20 million worldwide, but more recent estimates have moved that number to more like 100 million.)

Last year on April 5, I visited Joe Hall’s gravesite in Vancouver on the 100th anniversary of his death. Hall’s illness, along with several other of his Montreal Canadiens teammates, is the reason that the deciding game of the 1919 Stanley Cup Final was never played. The fact that Hall died just four days after the series was cancelled makes him the most famous hockey victim of the Spanish Flu … but he wasn’t the only one.

George Kennedy owned and operated the Montreal Canadiens from 1910 until his death on October 19, 1921. Kennedy also contracted the Spanish Flu while the team was in Seattle for the Stanley Cup in 1919. Although he lived for another 2 1/2 years, it was said that Kennedy never really recovered.

Three years before George Kennedy died, Hamby Shore of the Ottawa Senators had been the first member of the hockey community to fall to the Spanish Flu. Shore caught the disease while nursing his wife, who made a complete recovery. Sadly, he died on October 13, 1918.

On the day of Hamby Shore’s funeral in Ottawa on October 16, 1918, the hockey world suffered another loss when the son of Jack Marshall (who had starred at the game’s highest level from 1900 to 1917) died of the flu. Bob Marshall was just 12 years old.

Having been called on a few times of late to share my knowledge of the Spanish Flu and the 1919 Stanley Cup, I was asked recently if I knew how many hockey players had been sick during the epidemic. I spent an hour or two last week trying to put together a list. This may not be a complete compilation, but it’s certainly a start. Everyone listed here seems to have made a complete recovery. (Most of the pictures accompanying the newspaper stories are courtesy of the Society for International Hockey Research.)

I decided to limit myself to professional hockey players, but I did come across a few other big names from other sports. Babe Ruth’s case was said to be a mild one, but imagine how different the history of baseball would be if Ruth had died in the fall of 1918!

Jim Jeffries was the heavyweight boxing champion of the world from 1899 to 1904, and famously came out of retirement in 1910 to fight Jack Johnson as the “Great White Hope.” Jeffries recovered from the Spanish Flu, as his doctors believed he would.

Former Canadian heavyweight champ Tommy Burns (who lost the title to Jack Johnson in 1908) also came down with the flu in 1918 while in training with the army in Vancouver. Though his case sounds bad, it was soon reported that Burns was improving.

As for other hockey players, while Hamby Shore was dying in the fall of 1918, his Ottawa teammate Eddie Gerard was recovering from his own bout of Spanish Flu.

And at least two club executives in Ottawa were reported to be down with the flu as well. Still, the NHL meeting went on as scheduled on October 19 … although only three delegates were in attendance.

Frank Foyston of the Seattle Metropolitans was also sick in October of 1918. He was training with the Royal Air Force in Toronto during World War I at the time. Toronto newspapers mention that he was sick, some articles noting he had the Spanish Flu, which was confirmed by his former teammate Norm Fowler in a letter to Pacific Coast Hockey Association President Frank Patrick in Vancouver. (The War ended before Foyston was ever sent overseas.)

Fowler, who was in the army and training in Victoria, British Columbia, late in 1918 before serving in the Canadian Siberian Expeditionary Force to bolster the Allied presence during the Russian Revolution, would also become a sufferer of the Spanish Flu. Fowler recovered, and after missing the 1918–19 season due to his military service, he signed on with the Victoria Aristocrats hockey team in 1919–20.

The British Columbia capital seemed to be a particularly difficult place for hockey players during the Spanish Flu epidemic. Dubbie Kerr, who hadn’t played hockey at all in 1917–18 and would play just one game for Victoria during the 1918–19 season was reported sick with Spanish Flu in the fall of 1918.

Aristocrats captain Eddie Oatman came down with a case in late December of 1918 and missed the team’s first game of the PCHA season before returning to action in January.

After Oatman recovered, team owner, coach and star player Lester Patrick came down with the disease.

Though it’s said that Lester was extremely diligent in insisting that other players be sent home if they experienced any symptoms, Moose Johnson, Clem Loughlin, Bob Genge and Alf Barbour of the Aristocrats all got sick too. Every Victoria player recovered.

Given that many sporting events were cancelled in Victoria in the fall of 1918 (as they were all across North America, where – like today – meetings, schools, theaters and the like had all been shut down) it’s amazing to me that the PCHA never closed the rinks during the 1918–19 season. Of course, the league only had three teams, as did the NHL, but whereas the Spanish Flu epidemic was considered essentially over in November on the East Coast – well before the the NHL season began in late December — life didn’t really get back to normal on the West Coast until January. And, of course the disease would flare up again later.

It’s long been said that the Montreal players who got sick at the end of March during the 1919 Stanley Cup Final contracted the disease while in Victoria. I don’t believe that to be true. (In my research, the team was never in Victoria en route from Montreal to Seattle.) I think it was just an easy story for lazy writers who knew that so many Victoria hockey players had been sick. I also doubt they picked up the virus in Vancouver, which is another theory. The Canadiens were in Vancouver for barely 24 hours nearly two weeks before anyone got sick, and unlike COVID-19, the Spanish flu presented symptoms almost immediately.

Although there were no deaths associated with the flu in Seattle during March of 1919, I think the Canadiens contracted the disease while they were there. In addition to Joe Hall and George Kennedy, Canadiens who got sick in Seattle include Jack McDonald, Newsy Lalonde, Billy Coutu, Louis Berlinguette, and Odie Cleghorn. Roy Rickey, Muzz Murray and manager Pete Muldoon of the Seattle Metropolitans were also stricken with influenza. All would recover fairly quickly.

For more on this topic, you can see the story I wrote here in March of 2017, or search out several interesting stories by others writers about Joe Hall, Hamby Shore, and the 1919 Stanley Cup that have been written since the start of the COVID 19 pandemic.

April First (No Fooling!)

From anything I’ve read (and I’m just talking newspapers and web sites; I don’t have any inside information) the NHL is really hoping the COVID-19 crisis clears up in time to complete the season and then have a full playoff for the Stanley Cup. Apparently, arenas across the NHL have guaranteed that ice will be available into July and August.

Understandably, there has never been a Stanley Cup game played in July or August before. But it might surprise you to learn that if championship games are played this summer, it would mean that over the years since 1893, Stanley Cup games will have been played in nine of the 12 months on the calendar. If there is a series in July and August, only September, October and November would never have seen a Stanley Cup game.

In the earliest years of its competition, the Stanley Cup was a challenge trophy available to championship teams in any major senior provincial hockey league anywhere in Canada. With travel limited to trains, leagues were small in those days (anywhere from just two to seven teams) and, with arenas requiring cold temperatures to keep natural ice surfaces frozen, seasons were short. Schedules generally began in late December or early January and extended only to the beginning of March.

The Ottawa Senators won their first Stanley Cup as an NHL team on April 1, 1920.

As championship teams from more and more leagues wished to challenge for the Stanley Cup, the trustees in charge of the trophy often had to arrange title games at any time during the hockey schedule. Sometimes the Stanley Cup was contested before the regular season started; sometimes right smack dab in the middle. For that reason, from 1893 to 1910, Stanley Cup games were played in December, January, February and March. Although no formal announcement seems to have been made, all Stanley Cup games since 1911 have always been played at the end of the hockey season.

Beginning in 1914, Stanley Cup play was limited to the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association, whose championship teams would meet at the end of the season in a Stanley Cup Final often referred to as the World Series of Hockey. During this World Series era, all the games in a best-of-five series were scheduled for just one city. It could take six or seven days to travel across the continent by train, so the entire series was played in the eastern winner’s city one year and the western winner’s city the next.

If not for the Spanish Flu epidemic, the Stanley Cup Final of 1919 in Seattle would have stretched into April, but since the last game of that series wasn’t played, the first Stanley Cup game ever played in April took place one year later – 100 years ago today – on April 1, 1920. The teams that year were the NHL champion Ottawa Senators and the PCHA champion Seattle Metropolitans … yet the first Stanley Cup game to be played in April actually took place in Toronto.

As these Ottawa Citizen articles of March 10 and 11, indicate, whether or not the Senators would be able to host the 1920 Stanley Cup Final wasn’t entirely clear.

With the NHL newly expanded to four teams, and with the schedule extended to 24 games, the 1919–20 NHL season began on December 23, 1919, which was slightly later than the start of the first two seasons in league history and didn’t end until March 13, 1920 – which was also the latest date yet. In this era, the NHL used a split schedule, with a first-half champion and a second-half champion. The playoffs then pitted the first-half winner against the second-half winner to determine the league championship.

In 1920, Ottawa won the first half of the schedule in a tight race with the Montreal Canadiens. The Senators also won the second half, clinching it with a win over the Toronto St. Pats on March 3 with 10 days (and three games for each team) still left in the season. This meant there was no need for an NHL playoff and thoughts turned immediately to the Stanley Cup Final with the PCHA.

Would the 1920 Stanley Cup Final be moved to Toronto?
The Globe newspaper said yes on March 5, but no on March 9.

Out west, the PCHA had three teams in 1919–20: the Vancouver Millionaires, the Victoria Aristocrats, and Seattle. The PCHA played a full schedule, which was expanded to 22 games this season (each team played its two opponents 11 times at home and 11 times away) and ran from December 26 to March 10. Back in 1917, the PCHA had created what many consider to be the first modern-style playoff system in which the first-place team and second-place team would meet in a two-game, total-goal postseason series. In 1920, the second-place Millionaires won the first playoff game 3–1 on the road in Seattle on March 12, but the first-place Metropolitans stormed back for a 6–0 win in Vancouver three days later and took the series 7–3. The Mets left for Ottawa on March 16 and arrived in the Canadian capital on Sunday, March 21. The first game of the Stanley Cup Final was played the following evening.

Since clinching the NHL title nearly three weeks earlier, the Senators, their fans, and team executives (as well as NHL president Frank Calder, who would be in charge of the Stanley Cup series) had been keeping a nervous eye on the Ottawa weather. It had been unseasonably warm since the start of March, and was only getting warmer. There had been good, natural, ice available in Ottawa at the Arena on Laurier Avenue into the first week of April in 1919, but there were serious doubts the surface would hold up that long this time.

An ad from the Ottawa Journal on March 20 showing the
original dates of the first three games of the 1920 Stanley Cup Final.

There had been some talk in the newspapers about moving the 1920 Stanley Cup Final out West, where all three PCHA teams had artificial ice rinks. It’s unclear how serious those reports were. As early as March 5, there were stories about the NHL seeking to move the series to the Arena Gardens in Toronto — which also had artificial ice — but the finals of the Memorial Cup (junior hockey championship) and the Allan Cup (senior amateur championship) were already scheduled there in March. Since no firms plans could be made to move the Stanley Cup Final, it began in Ottawa despite the poor ice conditions.

The Senators hoped to play the entire series in front of their home fans, but the weather kept getting warmer … and the ice kept getting softer. With Seattle clearly hampered by the bad ice, the Senators won the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final. Game three was originally set for Friday night, March 26, but it was postponed until Saturday the 27th when the forecast called for slightly cooler temperatures. The delay would also allow Arena staff an extra day to remove the top layer of slush and – hopefully! – get down to a firmer surface below. However, if Seattle managed to stay alive (which they did, with a 3–1 victory that surprised most experts) it had already been announced that any remaining games in the series would be moved to Toronto.

Ottawa Journal weather headlines. (Top: March 27. Bottom: March 25.)

Playing on the hard, fast, artificial ice in Toronto, the Metropolitans scored a 5–2 victory in game four on March 30 to stay alive once again and extend the series into April. A Canadian Press report prior to the deciding contest on April 1 stated that, “the result of this important and soon-to-be-historic game is as uncertain as any game ever was in advance.” As further proof, the report noted that, “no line could be obtained tonight on the probable betting odds.”

The game certainly start out close, with the score tied 1–1 after two periods. Defenseman Bobby Rowe starred for Seattle, scoring the first goal midway through the first period and helping to keep Ottawa’s offense bottled up. But during the second period, Rowe delivered a check on Eddie Gerard and was accidentally cut just below the left eye by the blade of the Ottawa captain’s stick. Rowe went down, semi-conscious, in a pool of blood. He had to be helped off the ice and was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital, where it took several stitches to close the wound.

Even 100 years ago, the Stanley Cup was national news. The article on the left is
from the Edmonton Journal. The one on the right appeared in the Calgary Herald.

In an era when teams only carried a few substitute players, Seattle had to scramble. Winger Jim Riley was dropped back to take Rowe’s spot, leaving the team’s two other spares to fill in on the forward line. Five minutes into the third period, Jack Darragh went around Riley for a goal that put Ottawa up 2–1. Five minutes later, Eddie Gerard scored for the Senators. Ottawa went into a defensive shell after that, and Seattle cracked. The Mets were rarely able to get past center. Darragh scored again a few minutes later, and then he and Frank Nighbor added two quick goals late in the game as Ottawa pulled away for a 6–1 victory.

“I thought we had them until Rowe was hurt,” said Seattle star Frank Foyston, discussing the final game with local reporters after the team arrived home later in April, “but the Ottawas had saved themselves and skated us off our feet in the third period…. We were all sorry to lose, but we were beaten by a wonderful team. They’re a credit to the game.”

Ottawa Journal headlines on April 2 marking the Senator’s victory the night before.

“I noticed that you didn’t get the cold spell until the month of April,” wrote Mets coach Pete Muldoon in a letter to Ottawa hockey executives from his Seattle office. “Why don’t you get on better terms with the weather man. He’s about the chap you fellows didn’t have pulling with you.” But even Muldoon had admitted on April 1 that, “the better team won tonight. It was a great series and we have no kick to make.” Still, the Seattle players believed their chances to win would have been better if the entire series had been played on better ice.

By 1927, the NHL was the only league left in competition for the Stanley Cup … and all its teams by then had artificial ice rinks. As the league – and its schedule – grew larger over the years, the first Stanley Cup game in May was played in 1965. The first game in June was played in 1992. Will this year mark the first time that Stanley Cup games are played in July in August? I guess we’ll have to wait and see…

Hockey Night in History

If I was an historian who specialized in Canada’s military in World War I, I feel like no one would question that. But I’m a person who likes Canadian hockey history from that same era. While it does occasionally make me someone of interest — say, during a global pandemic when reporters want to talk about the Spanish Flu and the 1919 Stanley Cup — people often find it strange.

I can’t really explain why it’s the early history of hockey — mostly before the formation of the NHL — that interests me the most. If you look at old pictures of hockey players from these pioneer days, it’s hard to believe that any of them could skate fast enough, or shoot hard enough, to actually play the game let alone to entertain anyone today. And, of course, if you put them in a time machine and brought them to the present, there’s no way they could keep up. But my personal theory is, if you put them in a time machine and brought them to a point in time where they’d be born to come of age currently, the best of them would still grow up to be stars today.

Of course, there’s no way to prove that, but the one thing that you can prove just by reading old newspapers is that the hockey played in every era was always the fastest and the best it could be … and that the fans loved it! No one in 1911 was saying, “this game will be great some day if they ever shorten the shifts, and these guys grow bigger, stronger, and faster.” Most people today don’t know many of the stories, or the personalities, from those early days … but I find them fascinating. Everything that truly formed the modern game was beginning to happen in its early days.

Hockey cards from 1910 and 1911 depicting Marty Walsh of the Ottawa Senators.

Back in 1911, Marty Walsh was one of the biggest names in hockey with the Ottawa Senators. He’s in the Hockey Hall of Fame, but not having played since 1912, he’s only remembered today by those who really know the early days well.

A native of Kingston, Ontario, Walsh had starred for the hockey team at Queen’s University from 1903 to 1906. He was also a top football player for Queen’s, and would coached the Ottawa Rough Riders in 1911.

Ottawa’s Stanley Cup team of 1909. Cyclone Taylor and Marty Walsh are circled.

Walsh joined the Ottawa Senators in 1907–08 when the Eastern Canada Amateur Hockey Association first allowed professional players to suit up with amateurs. Cyclone Taylor also arrived in the Canadian capital that year, and would serve as the Bobby Orr to Walsh’s Phil Esposito. They each appear to have added something new and lasting to hockey that season, with Taylor shouting for passes when he wanted the puck, and Walsh tapping his stick on the ice when he wanted it.

From the Ottawa Citizen on January 7, 1913.

Cyclone Taylor became a defensemen in Ottawa, and, like Bobby Orr, he could do it all. Marty Walsh was a center who scored goals like few others in his day. In what was essentially Walsh’s first season as a pro in 1907–08, he scored 27 goals in just nine games and placed second in the ECAHA behind Russell Bowie, who scored 31 times in 10 games. (Bowie is another name few know today, but he was the greatest scorer in hockey in the early 1900s when players routinely played all 60 minutes.) The next season, in 1908–09, Walsh led the league with 42 goals in 12 games as he and Taylor helped bring the Stanley Cup to Ottawa.

Two years later, in 1910–11, Walsh led the National Hockey Association (forerunner of the NHL) in scoring. Sources vary, but he either scored 35 goals or 37 in a 16-game season. What is undisputed is that in a single-game Stanley Cup challenge on March 13, 1911, Walsh scored three goals to provide the margin of victory in a 7–4 win over the Galt Professionals. Three days later in another one-game Stanley Cup challenge on March 16, Walsh scored 10 times in a 13–4 win over Port Arthur. That’s a performance topped only at the highest level of hockey by Frank McGee’s legendary 14 goals for Ottawa against Dawson City in 1905.

From the Ottawa Citizen on March 17, 1911.

Marty Walsh was more than just a hockey star. He was a guy that everybody seemed to like. Walsh was a man who could be quick with a quip, but was also as good as his word … even if others might not be.

After the Senators’ Stanley Cup win in 1909, the owners of what would become known as the Renfrew Millionaires hoped to attract several top stars to their tiny town in the Ottawa Valley. (This is a big part of the plot in my very first book, the novel Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada.) Renfrew had already signed Cyclone Taylor and looked certain to lure several other stars away from the Senators as well.

George Martel of Renfrew was reportedly offering Walsh $500 up front plus a contract paying him $2,500 for the 1909–10 season. Walsh had nothing but a gentleman’s agreement with his Ottawa team, and likely for only about half as much money, but he refused to jump.

From the Ottawa Citizen on May 3, 1917.

“I will give you three thousand cash for this season,” Martel shouted, unable to understand the Ottawa star’s hesitation.

“And I repeat,” said Walsh, “that you haven’t got money enough to make me sign until Mr. Bate releases me of my promise to him. A Walsh never broke his word.”

It’s said that Walsh’s refusal to take Renfrew’s money saved the Senators by convincing several other Ottawa players to stay with the team. But unfortunately for Walsh — and for all other hockey players of their day – after the free spending ways of the 1909–10 season, hockey owners hoped to recoup their losses by instituting the game’s first salary cap for the 1910–11 season. Teams in the NHA planned to sign no more than 10 players and to pay them just $5,000. Not $5,000 a piece… $5,000 for the entire team!

Senators players seemed particularly vocal in their displeasure. During preseason salary negotiations, when Walsh returned to Ottawa from his home in Kingston, it was reported that while he was looking forward to the coming winter, he felt that “$500 wouldn’t pay his beef steak bill at Benny Bowers’ (a cafe popular among Ottawa sportsmen) during the hockey season.”

From the Ottawa Citizen on November 16, 1910.

The salary dispute in 1910 briefly led to the game’s first player strike. It’s unclear how effectively NHA owners actually held the line on salaries that year, but the Senators were said to have signed only eight players and paid them all $625 apiece. (The decision to change the structure of the game from two 30-minute halves to three 20-minute periods may have made it slightly easier for Ottawa to get by with just seven regulars.) It’s also been said that, as a championship bonus, management allowed the Ottawa players to split all the gate receipts from their two Stanley Cup games and from a postseason tour of New York and Boston.

Despite any lingering resentment over the reduced salaries in 1910–11, the Senators had had no real competition that year. They started the 16-game schedule with 10 straight wins and finished the five-team regular season with a 13–3 record, well ahead of Renfrew and the Montreal Canadiens, who both finished 8–8. (The Montreal Wanderers were 7–9, while the Quebec Bulldogs went 4–12.)

Ottawa’s Stanley Cup team of 1911. Marty Walsh is seated first on the left.

A year later, in 1911–12, the NHA eliminated the position of rover — a seventh player who had lined up between the forwards and the defensemen — to create the six-man alignment that remains the standard in hockey to this day. It’s never been completely clear if this was done for competitive reasons or as just another way to save money, but Ottawa players weren’t happy with this move either. “You might as well do away with the shortstop in baseball,” Walsh complained.

From the Ottawa Citizen on October 13, 1911.

With essentially the same lineup as in 1910–11 but now playing six-man hockey in 1911–12, the Senators fell to 9–9 in the expanded 18-game season and dropped into second place in a tight four team race that saw Quebec top the NHA with a 10–8 record to claim the league title and the Stanley Cup. The loss of the rover had definitely hurt the Senators.

“When the rules were changed,” explained goalie and team captain Percy Lesueur, “we were completely at sea and it took half the season to get any system in our play…. In the seven-man game we used to play [a] three-man combination … [W]hen a combination was broken up, there was no one there to check the man; the rover had been done away with and there was no trailer to the three-man rush…

“In previous seasons we had depended a lot upon the center man being able to hang around the nets and get the rebounds, at which Marty Walsh shone.” Indeed, a description of Walsh’s style in the Ottawa Citizen a few years later, on February 11, 1916, noted that he often liked to flip a soft shot at the net and then — in an era where goalies didn’t have specialized gloves, carried their sticks with two hands like other players, and were not allowed to drop to the ice and smother shots – “take an extra swing if the first [shot] did not ring the bell.” But, as Lesueur explained back in 1912, “with the six-man game the center man had no chance to do that; he had to be back on the job [defending]. That threw us off a lot.”

From the Ottawa Journal on November 13, 1912.

Walsh basically lost his job as Ottawa’s main man at center during the 1911–12 season. He took part in only 12 of 18 scheduled games and dropped from 30+ goals to 11. He never played again. After just five seasons, and at only 27 years of age, Marty Walsh walked away.

Reports in April of 1912 indicated that Walsh was moving to Winnipeg with an Ottawa teammate, Dubbie Kerr. A story in May quoted an unnamed Senators star (probably not Walsh) as saying that players were still angry that management in Ottawa had failed to deliver on promises made when the players turned down the lucrative Renfrew offers. Walsh, it was said, was interested in playing for the rival Pacific Coast Hockey Association.

Walsh left for Winnipeg to join Dubbie Kerr at the end of May in 1912. Some newspapers claimed they were going to buy a Western cattle ranch. Others said they were looking for a farm. These stories may never have been true, as Walsh moved on to Edmonton in July and took a job with the Grand Trunk Pacific railway. (Kerr stayed in Winnipeg, but reportedly took a job with the Canadian Northern railway.) Rumors that Walsh would join a PCHA team — Vancouver was sometimes mentioned, but usually Victoria — continued into December.

From the Ottawa Citizen and the Vancouver Province, May 28, 1912.

There would soon be others stories saying that Ottawa wanted Walsh back, but he never signed with anyone. On December 28, 1912, the Edmonton Journal reported that he’d attended a local hockey game on Christmas Day (the Edmonton Eskimos defeated the Calgary Tigers 13–3) and Walsh soon joined the Eskimos as a coach. He remained in that role through the 1913–14 season.

During the fall of 1914, Marty Walsh left Edmonton. Around September, he relocated to a ranch outside of Cochrane, Alberta. Was it the cattle ranch he’d reportedly bought with Dubbie Kerr back in 1912? Maybe … but Walsh had actually moved on the advice of his doctors. Some time early in 1915, he moved again, this time to Gravenhurst in the Muskoka region of Ontario. Gravenhurst was the first site in Canada, and only the third in North America, with a sanitorium to treat patients suffering from tuberculosis.

From the Victoria Daily Times, December 23, 1914.

By the end of February in 1915, Walsh was reported as being gravely ill with the deadly disease. Friends in his hometown of Kingston established a fund, which would be supported as well by the hockey community in Ottawa. (Frank Patrick of the PCHA is known to have made a donation, and one would have to think that the Edmonton hockey community also contributed.)

Marty Walsh died of tuberculosis on March 27, 1915. His funeral was held four days later, on March 31, at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Kingston. He was survived only by a sister, Mrs. Loretta Keaney of Sudbury. Frank McGee, then in training with the Canadian army in Kingston, represented the Ottawa hockey club at the funeral. The fund for Walsh had raised sufficient money to cover all of his medical and funeral expenses with enough left over to erect a commemorative monument at his grave which stands there to this day. Largely through the work of his nephew Martin Keaney (who was only about four years old when his uncle died), Marty Walsh was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1962 and inducted in 1963.

Memories Play an Evel Trick

Auston Matthews scored his 46th goal of the season in San Jose on Tuesday during the first game of the Maple Leafs’ three-game California road trip which continues tonight in Los Angeles. I’m not looking to jinx anything, but it seems pretty certain that he’ll become the first Toronto player to score 50 in a season since 1993–94, making him just the fourth in franchise history to do so. And, really, at this point, it would be disappointing if he’s not able to break Rick Vaive’s single-season record of 54 goals.

Vaive was the first Leaf to score 50 when he set the team record back in 1981–82. But seven seasons before that — and coming up on 45 years ago later this month — another player on another Toronto team became the city’s first pro athlete to reach the 50-goal plateau. I was there on March 25, 1975 when “Shotgun” Tom Simpson scored his 50th for the Toronto Toros. This was just going to be a short piece about that … but then I found something more.

Apparently, it was a tradition with Toros owner John Bassett to buy a new suit for a player if he scored four goals. Better than a new hat for three goals, I guess!

As I mentioned in my most recent story, the Toros and the WHA were a big part of my young hockey life. I do have many fond memories, but, it seems that as the years go by, they’re all starting to blend together!

Back in 2016, I posted a story here about Olympic memories. I wrote that the Munich Olympic Games ran from August 26 to September 11, 1972. (The massacre of Israeli athletes occurred on September 5-6). My grandfather had died that August 26, and Team Canada and the Soviets played all four Canadian games of the Summit Series between September 2 and September 8. I remember all of this, of course, but each event now seems so separate and distinct to me that it’s hard to believe they all happened within two weeks.

No tragedies in today’s story, but although I do remember that I was there when Tom Simpson scored his 50th goal, I really had no memory of all that went on. Turns out, Simpson entered the game against the Vancouver Blazers on that Tuesday night with 46 goals … and scored four to reach 50. He also added two assists for six points in Toronto’s 8-4 win. I don’t really recall any of that, but what really amazed me was that it happened on the same night as one of my other greatest Toros memories; the night that Evel Knievel went one-on-one against Les Binkley for ABC’s Wide World of Sports!

I do remember that Knievel scored a couple of cheap goals. And I think I remember him skating back to center ice after each of his attempts to talk things over with Frank Gifford of ABC. In my memory, they weren’t mic’ed up in a way that we could hear them, although I believe we did hear Frank Gifford introduce Evel so maybe we heard their conversations too. What I didn’t know until researching this story was that Global TV, who used to broadcast Toros games, wasn’t allowed to air this second-period intermission stunt because ABC had the exclusive rights to it. So maybe the conversations were ABC property as well?

Ads from the Toronto Star and the Globe and Mail.

Something else I remember about that night was that although we were told that Knievel had some hockey experience in his background, not everyone believed that. Maybe that was just my father being cynical and not a widespread belief, but that’s how I remember it. (Then again, my memories of that night are obviously not as sharp as I used to think!)

The picture on the left must have been taken the day before the game when Evel took to the ice at the George Bell Arena. Though he scored twice on his four shots, my memory of it is that he definitely looked a little less than graceful on skates!

In reading through the articles now from before the game, it was made pretty clear that Evel Knievel had played some competitive amateur hockey in his younger days … which other hockey researchers have pretty much confirmed over the years. (It’s interesting, now, to be able to read hockey stories about a young Bob Knievel in Montana newspapers online.) Knievel even claimed that Gordie Howe and the boxer Joe Louis were his sports idols.

Still, it definitely seems that Toronto sportswriters thought Knievel’s appearance at the Toros game was just a cheap publicity stunt … but it’s one of my best childhood hockey memories. So was being there when Tom Simpson became Toronto’s first 50-goal scorer. I just didn’t remember that both things happened on the very same night!

Evel Knievel’s hockey records from the Society for International Hockey Research.

10 Images from My Hockey Life

It’s one of those things I usually ignore. Facebook “challenges” to copy something, or list this, that or the other. But, this one intrigued me. The challenge was to post an image a day for 10 days — I always used more than one image! — that were memorable or meaningful to my hockey life, with zero explanations. Frankly, as a writer, the explanation is the best part. Based on how few likes and comments these images actually got on Facebook, this may be a waste of time … but, I figured, why not tell the stories? So, here we go.

Many of the images I might have chosen are in family albums at my mother’s condo in Toronto, so I didn’t have access to them here in Owen Sound. Also, my own pictures and albums are among the last things I have yet to get around to unpacking since my move, so I really only had access to images on my phone and computer, or that are accessible online. Still, these tell a pretty good story of my hockey life.

I was only eight years old in September of 1972. I honestly didn’t even know they played hockey in Russia before this series was announced. Of course I bought the hype we’d win the series in eight straight! Given the family I grew up in, I have no doubt I would have become a huge sports fan anyway, but after Paul Henderson’s goal in game eight, there was no doubt! And I must have flipped through Twenty-Seven Days in September a thousand times!

I was a sports fan, and already working as at least a psuedo-sportswriter when I got the idea to write Hockey Night in the Dominion of Canada in the summer of 1990. I was unhappy in a job I used to love, and knowing myself and that I would NEVER write a book in my spare time, I quit my job to write this. I was only 26 years old. My father had recently quit dentistry – which he’d always hated – and when I said I wanted to take a year and move up to the cottage and write a book he said, “You won’t have too many more chances to do something like this.” Both my parents were very supportive. It’s no exaggeration to say my whole life changed because of this book. (I included the picture of Frank Patrick because he’s one of the real-life hockey characters in the book … and I love this cartoon!)

The Leafs book (which came out in 1977 when the team was still counting its age from the name change to Maple Leafs in 1927) was my first real introduction to the history of the team. That, and the old pictures that used to line the walls at Maple Leaf Gardens. The newspaper clipping is from after Toronto beat Montreal 9-2 on December 26, 1973. I was there with my brother David. (I think it was the second NHL game for both of us.) We went down together on the subway. I was 10 and he’d just turned 8 the day before. Imagine anyone letting their kids do that today?!?

It was hard to get tickets to see the Leafs at Maple Leaf Gardens when I was a kid. So, we went to a lot of Marlies games instead. And when the Toros moved from Varsity to the Gardens, my father got season’s tickets. (I definitely saw the Toros play at Varsity too, but I don’t think we got the tickets until the move.) I saw some amazing things at Toros games… Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield in the stands when they were being wooed for the Toronto Northmen (who became the Memphis Southmen) of the World Football League; Gordie Howe playing with Mark and Marty (I’d seen them all at Marlies games too when Gordie was only watching his kids instead of playing with them); Bobby Hull with the Winnipeg Jets; Jacques Plante with the Edmonton Oilers; and Evel Knievel taking shots at Les Binkley between periods for a segment on ABC’s Wide World of Sports.

Brian McFarlane has become a friend over the years I’ve worked in hockey. It’s an honour. This book of his — and his creation of Peter Puck! — is what really introduced me to hockey history. Buffalo Sabres goalie Roger Crozier ran a summer hockey school in Barrie, Ontario, near where our family has a cottage. David, Jonathan and I (along with our cousin Bob) all attended. For David and me in particularly, our first summer there (it was only for a week or two, actually) turned us from beginners with one year’s experience and little idea of what we were doing on the ice into pretty good hockey players. Well, I was pretty good. David was great!

When we went to Marlies games as kids, we usually bought tickets in the greens for $1. In February of 1978, our dad took all three of us to see Wayne Gretzky of the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. I remember Gretzky scoring a nice goal … but what I remember most of all was that our father bought us four seats in the golds! It cost $16. That seemed like a fortune! David and I followed Wayne Gretzky very closely after that. I saw him play his first two games against the Leafs at the Gardens in November of 1979 and March of 1980. Gretzky had two goals and four assists in the March game (the Oilers beat the Leafs 8-5) to close in on Marcel Dionne for the NHL scoring lead. It was amazing!

I worked with Dan Diamond & Associates on the NHL Guide & Record Book and many other publications from 1996 to 2018. If I have a “name” at all in hockey, it’s because of my time there. I was brought in during the summer of 1996 because Dan had more projects on the go than they’d ever had before. Writing sidebars for the Hockey Hall of Fame Book was the first work I ever did for Dan. We also did the media guide for the first World Cup of Hockey that summer. I should probably have posted the covers of Total Hockey, which kind of made us all, but these were my first.

Steve Yzerman starred for the Peterborough Petes in his last year of Junior hockey when I was in my first year at Trent University. I never actually saw him play, but I heard his name on the radio all the time and followed him for his whole career because of that. But these images don’t actually have much to do with Yzerman or the Red Wings. My father died in May of 1997. A month later, my brothers and my mother were all at our house with me and Barbara to watch the Red Wings (we have cousins from Detroit) finish off their sweep of the Philadelphia Flyers and win their first Stanley Cup in 42 years.

Though I’ve written a couple of novels and a few books for “grown ups” (saying adult books always sounds pornographic or something!), I guess I’ve made much of whatever my reputation is as a children’s author. I can’t complain. (Although I sometimes do!) It’s been a good gig.

It took me 10 years to do the work involving in writing my biography of Art Ross, which came out in 2015. Believe me, it did NOT pay off financially, but the friends that Barbara and I made in the Ross family are worth more than money. It was a book I really wanted to write … and the launch party was a lot of fun. It wasn’t very long ago, but so much has changed since then.

A Seven-Goal Game A Century Later

The first story of the new year and back to a familiar old subject. I haven’t been watching much hockey lately (though I’m expecting a new writing assignment soon), but with tomorrow marking the 100th anniversary of the oldest major NHL record still on the books, I felt that I’d no longer have the right to call myself a hockey historian if I didn’t chime in on this. So here we go…

On January 31, 1920 (I have a hard time accepting that 1920 is 100 years ago!), Joe Malone of the Quebec Bulldogs scored seven goals in a 10-6 win over the Toronto St. Pats. (Some will tell you the Bulldogs should actually be the Quebec Athletics that season, but let’s not argue about that here.)

Because those seven goals are still a single-game NHL record, and because he led the league with 44 goals in just 20 games in the NHL’s first season of 1917-18 (a record that wasn’t broken until Maurice Richard scored 50 goals in 50 games in 1944-45), Joe Malone is one of the only names that many people recognize from hockey’s early days. I could argue that there are others from his era that were actually better players, but there’s no denying that Malone was a gifted goal-scorer. He was a skilled stickhandler known as Phantom Joe – likely for his ghost-like ability to weave his way through his opponents – and also played a clean game in an era that was incredibly rough.

So, given that one of the greatest players of his day set a record that would stand for 100 years, you’d think it was probably a pretty big deal at the time. Well, you’d be wrong! Malone’s seven-goal game got very little coverage in the newspapers of the day. There are several reasons why.

The Globe in Toronto (left) buried its story about the game deep on its sports page. The Ottawa Citizen (right) was one of few papers to include Malone in its headlines.

As I wrote in a story about Joe Malone for The Hockey News on the 90th anniversary 10 years ago, first and foremost as to why the record drew so little attention was because it occurred in a meaningless midseason game – much more meaningless than most. In this era, the NHL’s four teams played a split schedule to contest their 24-game season. The top team after 12 games of the first half met the winner of the 12-game second half for the postseason champion. So on the night of January 31, 1920, a playoff spot was on the line when the 8-3 Ottawa Senators hosted the 8-3 Montreal Canadiens. Meanwhile, the 5-6 Toronto St. Pats were out of contention when they traveled to Quebec City to face Joe Malone’s woeful 1-10 Bulldogs. The results of Ottawa’s 11-3 win over Montreal attracted much more press coverage than did Malone’s seven-goal game.

Attendance at the game in Quebec would likely have been sparse anyway, but the coldest night of the winter attracted the smallest crowd of the year. Only about 1,200 fans witnessed Malone’s scoring spree. The game report in the Toronto Star stated that it was 29 degrees below zero, “so cold that the goalkeepers froze their hands, and Corbett Denneney [of the St. Pats] had two fingers and three toes on the same list.”

The Toronto Star seemed much more interested in the low temperature in Quebec.

It was certainly cold … but the game was a hot one! Malone tested Toronto’s Ivan “Mike” Mitchell early, but the netminder kept him off the score sheet until 6:50 of the first period. It was 3-2 Quebec when the first 20 minutes ended, though Malone had nearly scored a second goal late in the frame. (If it hadn’t been called back – for reasons that are unclear – the NHL’s single-game record would be eight goals, not seven.)

Malone officially got goal number two just 55 seconds into the second period, with three and four coming later as Quebec’s lead grew to 6-4 after forty minutes. Toronto replaced Mitchell in net with Howard Lockhart for the third period, and the St. Pats pulled to within 7-6 before Cully Wilson took a major penalty. Malone scored goals number five and six while the St. Pats were shorthanded. Goal number seven came late in the game and closed out a 10-6 Bulldogs victory.

“For the locals,” stated reports of the game in most Canadian newspapers, “Joe Malone was the bright star. The lanky forward had his biggest night of the year, setting up an individual performance that has not yet been equaled this year. He scored seven tallies, and played a great game.”

That’s it.

There are several more reasons for the scant coverage.

I wonder if Malone’s big night gave a boost to sales of the skates that bore his name? (This ad appeared in the Calgary Herald on November 26, 1921.)

Though sticks and skates were primitive (but no more so than the pads that goalies wore) and forward passing was only allowed in the neutral zone, high scoring performances were far from rare in hockey’s early days. Stars often played the full 60 minutes, or very close to it, so scoring opportunities were plentiful. Newsy Lalonde had scored six goals in a game for the Canadiens just three weeks earlier, and Malone would score six himself on March 10, 1920. (Brothers Corb and Cy Denneny would each have a six-goal game in 1921.)

So there was little reason to expect Malone’s record to last for 100 years. Even less so because it would have been impossible for anyone to believe that the NHL itself would last for 100 years! Leagues had come and gone fairly regularly in hockey’s early days, and the NHL was only in its third season. Fans would barely have differentiated it from its forerunner, the National Hockey Association, or from any of the other top leagues that had come before.

And Malone himself had already scored seven goals in an NHA game back in 1913. He’d topped that with eight goals in one game during that league’s final season of 1916-17. But that wasn’t Malone’s best effort either! On March 8, 1913, he scored nine goals to lead the Quebec Bulldogs to a lopsided 14-3 win over the Sydney Millionaires in a Stanley Cup game. Yet even nine goals in a Stanley Cup game wasn’t unprecedented. Many fans in 1913 and in 1920 would still have recalled that Frank McGee scored 14 goals for the Ottawa “Silver Seven” in a Stanley Cup game against Dawson City back in 1905. So what’s the big deal about scoring seven?

These headlines appeared in the Ottawa Citizen on March 10, 1913.

Still, it’s surprising to see just how little impact Malone’s seven-goal game seems to have made. It was overlooked to the point that, when Malone was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1950, a Canadian Press report pointed out that the NHL record book at that time credited Syd Howe (no relation to Gordie) as the NHL’s single-game scoring leader with a six-goal effort on February 3, 1944.

It would seem that Joe Malone’s induction into the Hall of Fame is what finally put his seven-goal game into the consciousness of the hockey public some 30 years after the fact. Having surviving now for 100 years, it will likely remain in the NHL’s (online) record book for many more years to come.

The Ottawa Citizen, June 27, 1950.

Happy (History) Holidays

Thanks to everyone, but especially to Lynn and to my family, who helped me through this past year. Lots to adjust to, but things are good. I know that many of you have experienced losses, or health issues, or other changes, in your own lives this year. I wish you all strength and hope that you (like me) have the love and support you need.

So, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, or anything else you celebrate at this season.
All the best to everyone in the New Year. (It’s going to be 2020! How did that happen?)

Montreal Gazette, December 25, 1913.
New York Daily News, December 25, 1926.
The American Israelite (Cincinnati, Ohio), December 30, 1948.
The Canarsie Courier (Brooklyn, New York), December 24, 1959.
Ottawa Journal, December 14, 1921.
Los Angeles Evening Express, December 15, 1928.

Philosophical Differences

Been a long time since I’ve written about hockey on my web site. Just haven’t felt like I’ve had anything much to say. But, recently, I’ve done a few TV and radio hits about Don Cherry and Mike Babcock. Many of you have seen or heard them through Facebook, but for those who haven’t, I’ve posted links below.

The truth is, I’m not really sure why I was called on in these cases. Both events seemed more suited to modern analysis than historical perspective, but I’m hammy enough that even when I’ve wanted to say no, I haven’t turned them down. (For those who are curious, no, they do NOT pay me – which might be why they actually call!) It’s nice to know that they think I can handle myself, and I suppose it means they also believe I have something to contribute to the discussion. So here’s what I might have said about Babcock from an historical perspective if there had been more time…

One of the things that struck me most about firing Mike Babcock is how far the Leafs have strayed from their tradition. (And, yes, I know there’s been a long tradition of being terrible the last 50+ years, but that didn’t used to be the case!)

It’s been a long time, but when the Leafs were at their historical best – in the 1940s and the 1960s – they were defensively sound with star players who put the coach’s systems ahead of their own statistics. Of course, coaches ruled the roost in those days, but I still find this interesting. Traditionally, Montreal had bigger stars and played a more exciting style, but remember that prior to expansion, both Toronto and Montreal won the Stanley Cup 13 times in the NHL’s first 50 seasons. (The Canadiens also won in 1916, before the NHL was formed.) So despite their philosophical differences, there wasn’t much to choose results-wise between the NHL’s two greatest franchises

Yes, Toronto did have some star power over the years. Players such as Charlie Conacher, Busher Jackson and Syl Apps were once among the biggest names in the game. But guys like Dave Keon and Teeder Kennedy (who were ranked first and third among the team’s top 100 back in the 100th anniversary season – Apps was second) were “200-foot players” well before that was a term. Those two didn’t win a ton of individual honours, but they won the Stanley Cup plenty of times!

Hap Day and Mike Babcock.

When I was putting together my book The Toronto Maple Leafs: The Complete Oral History, I was struck by how similar the coaching philosophy of Mike Babcock seemed to be to that of Hap Day. Day was named team captain in 1927-28 and later became the most successful coach in Leafs history in the 1940s before moving into upper management. Here’s how he explained his coaching philosophy to Jack Batten for his 1975 book The Leafs in Autumn:

“When I was a defenceman on Toronto, I saw all kinds of players in front of me, and I learned right then that it’s defence that wins hockey games…. When you think of defence, you think of the two men, the defencemen, isn’t that right? Wrong! Think of all six men doing the job on defence. I told my players if they worked as hard coming back as they did going down the ice, we’d be okay. Of course, you had to have the proper type of player to handle that approach – or make them into the proper type of player. A player’s got to learn to keep his mind on defence, apply himself.”

Now, I’m not saying the Leafs were wrong to fire Mike Babcock. If they truly believe they have the run-and-gun skill team Kyle Dubas wants, Babcock no longer looked like the right man for the job. As I said on TV and radio, he seemed determined to make the team fit his system (or die trying!) rather than adapt his system to fit the team he had. But Day didn’t adapt either, even with scoring stars like Apps and Max Bentley. He made them play defense. And he got results with Stanley Cup wins in 1942, 1945, 1947, 1948 and 1949 (plus another as GM in 1951) to point to.

I found this interesting too…

This is what Sheldon Keefe said in one of his early press conferences after being named Leafs coach: “I’m not focused on what this team isn’t. I’m focused on what this team is.”

It put me in mind of what new coach Billy Reay said back in 1957 when he was hired after Day was let go: “I try to capitalize on a player’s strong points, rather than in trying to build up his weak ones.”

Similar sentiments, I think!

Billy Reay and Sheldon Keefe.

But it didn’t work out so well for Reay. The Leafs went 21-38-11 in a 70-game season in 1957-58 and finished last in the overall standings for the only time in the six-team era. After getting off to a 5-12-3 start the following season, Reay was fired and Punch Imlach took over. Like Day, Imlach ran a team where star players had to fit into his system … and there were Stanley Cup parades again in 1962, 1963, 1964 and 1967.

Now, I’m not suggesting the Leafs need someone like Punch Imlach, whose dictatorial ways couldn’t possibly fly today. (Nor am I saying that Babcock’s implacability makes him some sort of modern-era Imlach – though we are starting to hear more and more about his vindictive personality.) Nor do I believe the Maple Leafs were ever quite as tough as Conn Smythe’s “beat ’em in the alley” philosophy intimates, but I do agree that there are other ways of being tough that don’t involve beating up on someone. I actually hope the Leafs can succeed on offensive skill, but I’m not yet convinced they have those other kinds of toughness. But I have no analytical insights into that.

So, was changing coaches a good move? Only time will tell…

(Links: CTV News Channel TV / John Oakley Show Radio.
For my money – or lack-there-of! – radio is much more fun!)

Working Hard or…

My web site recently turned five years old. I posted my first story on October 10, 2014. Seems hard to believe. The intention at the time was to promote my writing and to try and drum up more appearances for me at schools to talk about my kids books. It was NOT to help me work through my problems.

That said, a lot of you have only been reading my site since I started posting stories about Barbara and me. Even for those who’ve followed me since the beginning, I’ve certainly gotten more reaction from these personal stories than anything else … and it helped me. A lot. So, thank you. Still, I’m not one who really likes to talk about his feelings! When I had something to say (or something to work through) I wrote about it. But I haven’t felt the need for a while. I guess that’s good.

When my web site was first set up, I told people that I would use the News and Views section to “share some of the quirky sports history stories I come across during my research.” It was fun for me, so I pretty much shared something every week. But I haven’t had much cause to be poking through old hockey stories lately. Nor much inclination, either. The truth is, the only real lingering side effect that I can detect in myself after 14 months is that I don’t have much enthusiasm for work. That might be a function of aging as much as anything. I don’t know. But even when I’ve had work, and I’ve gotten into it – and expected that would make doing more work easier – I still wake up the next day thinking, “I have to do it again?!?”

Well, I may not like working, but I do like to eat … so early this past summer, I agreed to do a book about football for National Geographic Kids. (Mainly American football, but I slide in the occasional Canadian reference when I can.) The book will be very similar to many of the hockey books I’ve done in the past, but I have to admit it’s been kind of fun to be researching something different. (As it was several years ago when I did a soccer book for NGK.) This one’s going a little slower than I’d like, but I’ll still have it ready for them on deadline at the end of this month. And, recently, while working on it, I came across the kind of story that I love to dig into. So, I thought I’d share it.

J.T. Haxall as a young Princeton football player and elderly Baltimore banker.

The football book is part of a series of Sports by Numbers, so it needs to include as many numbers as it can. Math when possible, but statistical lists are more than acceptable. So, plenty of those. And when delving into the longest field goals in football history (NFL, CFL, NCAA, anything!), I stumbled across the fact that a man named John Triplett “Jerry” Haxall had kicked a 65-yard field goal for Princeton versus Yale … in 1882!

Given how large and heavy a football of that era would have been, this struck me as pretty much impossible! I had to know more.

Fortunately, Wikipedia has a short entry on Haxall. He was from a wealthy Virginia family and later went on to a long and successful career in banking in Baltimore. Not that Wikipedia tells you much about that. But it did have a reference to a story by legendary sportswriter Grantland Rice on November 30, 1915 that proved a fine starting point.

As it turned out, on October 16, 1915, a player named Mark Payne at Dakota Wesleyan University had drop kicked a field goal from 63 yards out, breaking the 1898 drop-kick record of 62 yards by P.J. O’Dea of Wisconsin (both of which also strike me as impossible!) This put Haxall’s 65-yard place kick — which had been noted year in and year out in the Spalding Football Guide – back in the news. And (like me, now) there were people who doubted it.

Old-time kickers must have been pretty good!

Apparently, Grantland Rice asked to hear from anyone who’d been at the game and could testify to Haxall’s record. He got a response from James O. Lincoln, Yale class of 1884. “Dear Sir,” wrote Lincoln. “Luther Price, a newspaper man whom I know well, is correct. Haxall kicked that goal against Yale in 1882. I saw him perform the feat. Although, of course, the spectators did not measure the distance, it was beyond the midfield, and was announced at the time as being sixty-five yards.”

This satisfied Grantland Rice … but I was still skeptical. So, I began looking for contemporary accounts of the game played at New York City’s old Polo Grounds. In reporting on it, the Boston Globe on December 1, 1882, said only that, “This was the greatest kick ever seen.” The New York Sun said, “It was a long distance, and nobody believed that he could make it.” However, the Sun also said the ball “was 115 feet from the goal.” That’s only 38 yards or so, and, apparently, it was this account that led people in 1915 to wonder. But the New York Times (who wrote Haxall’s name as Hoxall) had said in its game report, “He was over 65 yards from Yale’s goal,” and the Hartford Courant (which spelled his name as Hachall) said he “sent the ball 66 yards across the field to the goal.”

But I was still curious, so I kept digging…

This illustration appeared in various newspapers in November of 1915.

Next, I found a story from December 12, 1915, which quotes Parke H. Davis writing a few days before in the New York Herald. “Since I am the compiler of this record,” wrote Davis of his work for the Spalding Guide, “I beg the privilege of defending its accuracy… My authorities for fixing the distance of this field goal at sixty-five yards are the accounts in the Yale News, the periodicals at Princeton, and the testimony of several eyewitnesses of the kick.”

The Yale News of December 5, 1882, quoted by Davis, says that the Yale team knew to look out for Haxall, and that he was 65 yards from the Yale goal, “when he made a kick that would have disturbed the transit of Venus. Slowly, steadily the ball was blown onward by the wind over the heads of the breathless players to drop at last on the wrong side of the goal for Yale. And now pandemonium reigned among the yellow and black. It is said that this is the finest kick ever made. You should erect a bronze statue of Haxall, Princeton.”

As to the players Davis interviewed, many had gone on to be prominent business men. “The members of these football pioneers are strikingly clear as to the events of the game, he says. “While no one of them says positively that the goal was kicked down sixty-five yards, in the absence of any mark except the midfield mark, which was fifty-five yards distant from the goal [NOTE: American fields were not reduced to the 100-yard standard of today until 1912, while Canadian football fields have remained 110-yards long], all of these players, nevertheless, assert that the kick was ‘about sixty-five yards.’”

It’s interesting to note that the Princeton narration of the game says only that “Haxall kicked (a) magnificent goal from midfield among Princeton cheers.” Yet Davis then quotes a player from that game who’d become a well-known clergyman in New York … though he chooses not to mention him by name: “Haxall put the ball down for a place kick fully 65 yards from the goal line,” states the clergyman at the end of a lengthy recollection of the game, “and what is more he stood at least 15 yards towards the one side line from the center of the field, thereby not only making the kick more difficult but in reality making the kick longer than 65 yards. The ball sailed in the wind squarely between the posts.”

Not surprisingly, all the talk of his 33-year-old field goal record came to the attention of J. Triplett Haxall himself. He was then asked by a fellow Prinecton alum to give his account of the kick, which he did for the Princeton Alumni Weekly in mid December of 1915.

Haxall writes that he and Tommy Baker (apparently an uncle of U.S. hockey legend Hobey Baker) had practiced their kicking “for some time preceding the Yale game of 1882.” They discovered that having the holder place the ball practically perpendicular to the ground and then kicking it on the bottom end, “started it accurately revolving on its long axis and resulted in long distance being realized before it began to drop.” Haxall added, “why the tendency nowadays seems to be to kick the ball in its middle and not on its ends I have never been able to understand.” (I guess kickers eventually rediscovered Haxall’s technique.)

As for the big kick in the Yale game – which Princeton lost, by the way: “I have always understood the distance was as recorded by the officials who had such matters in hand. The claim lately advanced that, due to a typographical error, the distance should have been 35 yards and not 65 yards, I think all the writings of the time sufficiently refute.”

Haxall recalls, “the wind was blowing sufficiently to require testing its direction by tossing up a bunch of grass or something of the kind,” but states that his record kick, “was the result of quite long practice by Tommy Baker and myself.”

Following his death on June 5, 1939, an obituary in the Princeton Alumi Weekly from July 7, 1939 (which is quoted on Wikipedia), notes that Haxall had once remarked, “My epitaph will probably be:

J.T. Haxall
Kicked a football.
That’s all.

Well, he did get a larger writeup in the Baltimore Sun, but he wasn’t far off.

It still may not be 100 percent official, but if it wasn’t for that lengthy kick, who’d still be writing about John Triplett Haxall today?

The Apartment is Going to Be Pretty Fine Too

Well, I’ve moved. The house closed on August 30, but I pretty much moved out on August 26. Given that the deal was reached on August 1, it was a very hectic month. Going from a three-storey house to what is essentially a three-room apartment on the second floor of another house, meant a lot of stuff wasn’t coming with me. It was emotional at times, parting with many things Barbara had collected over a lifetime, and things we’d accumulated during our years together. But, I think I did a good job. And I was very pleased with how well organized I was. I’m certainly not done yet, but unpacking, and making my new place feel like home, has been easier than I imagined.

That being said, I’m not sure I could have done any of this without my friend Lynn. Lynn was Barbara’s friend first. Sadly, because her own daughter was already battling cancer, Lynn had lots of practical advice when Barbara was diagnosed. We’ve spent a lot of time together, Lynn and I, since we both lost our loved ones. I used to tell people, “we’re sort of a lonely-hearts club.” But we’ve become more than that recently.

In addition to the emotional support we’ve given each other, Lynn found this apartment for me. She’d lived here with her daughter many years ago. Lynn’s continued support (and physical strength!) — not to mention the occasional kick-in-the-butt — got me through all the packing and moving. Thank you, Lynn.

I haven’t moved far, but it’s a huge change. I kind of fought it for a little while, yet I know for sure now it’s the right thing to do. There’s still pictures to hang and clutter to make disappear, but the apartment and I are both going to be fine. And, hey, you’re all invited to drop by! Until then, enjoy a quick tour…

Entry Hall.
Left from the hall into the kitchen.
Beyond the kitchen to the “dining” room. (Hi Riggs!)
Right from the entry hall looking into the den/living room. (Hi Odie!)
Looking out from the den/living room.
Tiny guest room beyond the entry hall.
Master bedroom.
Looking into the office.
Looking out from the office.