Publish date:

Stanley and Me

What would you do with the Stanley Cup for a day? After a year of
begging, I got the NHL to give it to me for one day to do
anything I pleased.

Well, not anything. The league vetoed taking it to a prison,
seeing what I'd get for it at a pawnshop and eating Count Chocula
from it. Other than that, Stanley and I had the day to ourselves.

I wanted to take it crazy places, places that the Cup would not
normally go. Naturally, I chose Chicago, the NHL city that has
gone the longest--39 years--without winning the Cup.

It arrived at O'Hare in a blue crate covered with FRAGILE
stickers. It also arrived with a burly redhead in a blue suit and
white gloves named Paul Metzger-Oke, who went everywhere the Cup
went. "It can't go anywhere of ill repute," Paul warned me. "No
casinos, no strip clubs, no skydiving." Rats.

When Paul took it out of its velvet-lined box, I got chill bumps.
The Stanley Cup is the greatest trophy in sports, because it's
the people's trophy. When a team wins the Cup, each of its
players actually wins the Cup--for a day. It's been on
mountaintops and pool bottoms, at the White House and a Waffle
House. It's got more dings than a driving-school Pinto, but those
are battle scars that make it more handsome.

So on a chilly October day I rented a cherry-red convertible, put
the top down, buckled Stanley into the backseat with Paul and set
sail down the freeway. Almost nobody noticed.

We took it down Michigan Avenue, where most people figured it was
a fake. "Where's the real one?" we heard a lot. Once someone
said, "That ain't the Cup! The Cup never comes here!"

We took it to a convent, where the sisters touched it reverently.
One sister reminded us that Colorado Avalanche defenseman Sylvain
Lefebvre had his daughter baptized in the Cup. The sisters
figured it for a good save.

We took it to the Billy Goat Tavern, the greasy spoon made famous
by the "cheeseboiger, cheeseboiger!" skit on Saturday Night Live.
The fry cooks all had their pictures taken with it while the
burgers burned.

We took it to a children's hospital, where the Blackhawks' star
wing, Tony Amonte, met us and showed it to the kids in the burn
unit. Some of them could barely turn their heads to see the Cup
and yet smiled at it, as painful as it was. All of us had a lump
in our throat, which was why it was a relief when a nurse asked
Tony, "Have you spent much time around the Cup?" and he replied,
"You obviously haven't seen my stats."

We took it to a Mite hockey practice, where six-year-olds swarmed
it, applauded by banging their sticks on the ice and bragged
about who would win it first, while their parents begged them to
skate still for a moment so they could get a picture. By then, of
course, the kids were flying around the rink, pretending to be
Jaromir Jagr.

We showed it to 21-year-old J.J. O'Connor, a quadriplegic whose
spinal injury came in a hockey game five years ago. We set it on
the armrests of his wheelchair, and his grin was the size of a
cantaloupe slice. J.J. still loves the game, doesn't blame it or
his best friend, who checked him into the boards that day. In
fact J.J. loved the Cup more than anybody else we met. Knew more
about it, too. He guided us to all kinds of odd stuff on the Cup,
misspellings and X-outs, and it hit us that physical perfection
is way overrated.

Right then, a junior league player walked in and just couldn't
deal with bumping straight into the Cup. He kept rubbing his hair
and staring Frisbee-eyed at it, walking all around it, getting
within an inch of it but not touching it. I asked him why. "Not
worthy," he whispered.

But the best place we took the Cup was a place where most of the
people couldn't see it--The Chicago Lighthouse. More than 200
people who were blind or visually impaired came up and felt it.
Their hands started low, thinking the Cup was, well, a cup. The
higher they felt, the wider their mouths opened. "It's huge!" one
boy said. A woman gasped and said, "It feels like a wedding

It was my privilege to take their hands on a quick tour of hockey
history, letting their fingers touch the great names, from M.
RICHARD to W. GRETZKY. They hugged it. They kissed it. They
rubbed their faces on it. One man whose eyelids didn't open
wouldn't let it go. "Never seen anything like this," he said.



"It can't go anywhere of ill repute," Paul warned me. "No
casinos, no strip clubs, no skydiving." Rats.