In my continuing shameless self-promotion tour, enjoy a chapter from my book “Madison St. Station.” But this being a summer Friday, it’s one of the few that doesn’t have much to do with hockey. Because it’s my way. And remember, you can buy my book right here.
December 19, 1991
Canadiens v. Hawks
I have never seen video of it. I have never seen any record of it. From what I can tell, the memory exists in my mind alone, which is a weird place. But it would be a few years before I would dabble in hallucinogens, and unless I absorbed the ones my brother and father had previously done through osmosis, this happened.
For those who might not know, for as long as I can remember, between the second and third periods of every Hawks home game, they would do a shoot-the-puck competition for fans. Basically, three fans would get the chance to shoot the puck at a net that had been boarded up with a mini-golf-like three openings set up in said board along the ice. If they accomplished that, they would get a chance to shoot at the other one, which had been reduced to only one opening. If they hit that, they won free flights or money or something.
The pattern of the three contestants was always the same: one child, one clear-palooka in a Hawks jersey, and one very attractive woman who apparently couldn’t be wearing anything less than four-inch heels. Let’s just say this was not a feminist moment, because these contestants were clearly chosen to give the masses something to ogle. Even the organist would play “The Stripper” when she stepped up to take her shot. Considering the makeup of the crowd in those days, when the female contestant stepped up the reaction she got was…less than tasteful, let’s say. Always the same pattern, and one the Hawks have only recently changed. And by “changed,” I mean the organist has stopped playing “The Stripper” while the female contestant shoots. I suppose it’s progress, but awfully slow.
However, on this night, the pattern was a little different. The kid still went first. But then the woman, whoever she was, went second. This was an obvious and mysterious breach of protocol. More strangely, there didn’t appear to be a third shooter out there. No one in the crowd took much notice, just maybe a raised eyebrow.
Then two men emerged onto the ice from the penalty boxes. They were given a normal introduction. However, within seconds a murmur began from the crowd. A few seconds later, the murmur increased rapidly into a deafening roar. It was like a magic trick.
Ric Flair and Mr. Perfect were on the Stadium ice.
If you’re not wrestling inclined, this was the time when Flair had first switched to the WWF (now WWE), which would have been equivalent to the speaker of the house switching political parties, and was becoming the counterpoint to Hulk Hogan. He was the biggest villain in the world, at least in my and every other kid’s mind. Mr. Perfect was acting as his bodyguard then, but already had a distinguished wrestling career as well.
The thing was, they weren’t introduced as “Ric Flair” or “Mr. Perfect.” I’m positive they were introduced by their real names, Richard Fliehr and Curt Hennig. This would have been a breaking of the WWF protocol whereby character must be kept up in public at all times. This helped keep the mystery lasting for a few seconds.
But there was no mistaking Flair’s piercing blond mane at the time. You could clearly see the shine from the balcony. Fuck, you could see it from a helicopter. It didn’t take long for the Stadium crowd to identify him. I remember when the roar began to rise my brother saying, “Holy shit, IS THAT RIC FLAIR?! WHAT THE FUCK?!” This was the simultaneous reaction of about sixteen-thousand people.
It’s still one of the biggest roars I’ve heard at the Stadium or the United Center. It was sheer surprise that created it, which probably wouldn’t be possible now in the age of Twitter.
I don’t know if it was staged or not, and it doesn’t matter, but only a matter of moments after everyone figured out who they were, Mr. Perfect slipped and fell on the ice. Flair turned around, facing our side of the arena now, pointed at him, and his face basically exploded in a way only Flair’s could. His eyes got wide and his mouth agape, so it looked like his face expanded to twice his size. The place lost it. He let out his patented “WOO!” right after, and even though he wasn’t mic’d the crowd didn’t need it to know to join in with one themselves.
I don’t know if Flair scored or not. I know it doesn’t matter. It remains one of the strangest moments in any sporting arena I can remember. As a kid, I HATED Ric Flair. He was the ultimate heel. He stood for everything wrong. He cheated, he backed out of fights, he let others do his fighting for him, and he always came out on top, preening all the way. I hated him when I was watching wrestling, I hated him when I talked about wrestling with my friends (and to this day it remains easier to find a fellow wrestling fan than a hockey fan). But it was contained in a certain frame. No wrestler ever infringed upon any other aspect of my life.
Yet here he was, basically breaking the fourth wall. And I loved it. Had it been a WWE event I was attending, I would have booed him until my lungs bled. Here? I cheered wildly like everyone else. That helped make it such an abstract memory.
It doesn’t mean anything. It had no bearing on the Hawks. But it feels like one of those “Only In The Stadium At A Hawks Game” moment. You couldn’t have trotted out Flair and Mr. Perfect at a Bulls game unannounced and have the entire crowd lose its collective mind. They wouldn’t have been recognized by those squares and yuppies. You couldn’t have done it at Wrigley Field either. Only out here on the edges would such an experience take place. And it was clear I was never leaving.