This one comes to us from longtime guy and fellow Scouser Christopher Rhodes, better known on Twitter @HolidayRhodes.
I love Theo Fleury. The first jersey I ever owned with a name on the back was a Flames Fleury jersey I got at Champs Sports for 40 bucks in 1994. I still have it and wear it with pride.
I was five foot nothing and barely 90 pounds as a high school freshman. Trying to earn a starting position on my high school soccer team over a guy who was six foot, fast as fuck, and had more hair on his balls than I did on my entire body, Theo Fleury was my idol. I styled my game after him. I played with a reckless abandon that not only saw me cleat the 1996 Parade Magazine National Player of the Year in the ankle and almost ruin his season, but also got my coaches attention with my hustle, determination, and “fuck you, I’ll do whatever it takes” attitude. Fleury showed me that no matter what size you were you could make some noise if you played bigger than you were.
So in 2002 when the Hawks signed Theo I was beyond excited. I couldn’t wait to watch one of my favorite players in a Hawks jersey. We were coming off the best season we’d had in a while (meaning we made the playoffs) and I was sure that Theo would add that extra little something to the lineup. I wore my Theo Flames jersey to games all year. And early on, while Theo wasn’t blowing up the world, he wasn’t horrible. I couldn’t place my finger on what was wrong, but it just seemed that there where a shitload of games where he just wasn’t “there”. It got worse as the season wore on.
Then he disappeared. He wasn’t in the lineup and there was no news about him and the Hawks went from being a team fighting for a playoff spot to a team that didn’t win a game for almost a month. I didn’t get it. I thought Theo hated Chicago. I thought he hated his teammates (it’s not hard to hate Karpotsev, right Pat Foley?), I thought he lost his fight. I was completely disillusioned. I thought it had everything to do with the people around him. Not him. It couldn’t be him. Legends just don’t fade away. They don’t stop caring. They don’t play 8 minutes and take stupid penalties. It was Calder’s fault and Mironov’s fault and VandenBussche’s fucking fault. It could have been Steve McCarthy’s fault because my sister loved him and fuck him. But not Theo. No way.
The guy I fashioned my entire soccer career after, who showed me that you didn’t need to have hair on your balls to start at left midfield on a team that went 18-1-2, that guy didn’t show up anymore. He played like an asshole and I hated him for it. Had I known that he had drug problems I could have said, “Well, shit I got really into smoking dope and didn’t even play my senior year, so I get it”. But that’s not what your heroes do. They don’t melt down, they rise up. They overcome the petty ass shit that brings us everyday folk down. When they play on a team that’ s.500 they don’t disappear in a crack den, they score great goals and take you on a playoff run. They make it so you wear their jersey with pride.
Instead, I stopped wearing my Fleury jersey. It hid in the back of my closet, ashamed of the shitshow that was his time in Chicago. He broke my heart. My guy was a Hawk and he sucked and so did the Hawks. After that season Theo retired and faded away into obscurity. After that season I went away to college and my family stopped paying for season tickets for a team that constantly lost 4-0 and was getting outdrawn by the goddamn Wolves (we re-upped in 2008). I still watched games on my 13 inch TV at WIU, but with as much conviction as Theo had played with.
Learning that Theo was a hopeless drug addict while he was in Chicago is like going on Maury and learning that the 26th guy you paternity test is the father. It explains shit, but doesn’t make it better. It doesn’t erase the fact that I watched one of my all time favorite players disintegrate in front of my eyes. Had he stayed a Ranger and melted down, fine, no skin off my ass. But to don the jersey of another team and go to Hawks games and wear that jersey with pride while your favorite player slashes someone across the knees and gets tossed out of the game as all 3,000 people in attendance are booing him…
That’s why Theo is my least favorite Hawk.