Sports Commentary 6/25/13
In Hockey and Golf….Character Counts..
CHARACTER DOES COUNT
Sylvain Turgeon had all the talent required of a National Hockey League first round pick. Based on ability alone there were fewer questions surrounding his first round selection by the Hartford Whalers than surrounded another Whalers first round pick, a kid named Ron Francis. In 1986, as the Whalers prepared for game seven of a second round playoff series with the Canadiens at the Montreal Forum, Turgeon walked in on a meeting between head coach Jack Evans and general manager Emile Francis and announced he had a sore groin and would be unable to play that night. “A French Canadien kid begging out of a game seven at the Montreal Forum because of a sore groin”, Francis said to Evans after Turgeon left the room, “He’ll never play for me again.” It was a matter of character to Francis, who signed Dave Tippett as a free agent after scouting a U.S.- Canada exhibition game in Cincinnati. The U.S. lost 3-2 but Tippett was clearly the best player on the ice, scoring both U.S goals. Francis was convinced that Tippett was his guy when he entered the locker room to find him in tears over the loss. Character counts. Sylvain Turgeon never played for Emile Francis again. That Whaler team had more than it’s fair share of character, Ron Francis, Kevin Dineen, Mike Liut, and a defenseman named Joel Quenneville. It never ceased to amaze me how often, after losses as well as wins, Evans singled out Quenneville, or, as Evans called him, “Joe L.”, not only for his play but for his leadership. All of that was on display again last night as Quenneville finished off a masterful coaching job, in which his Chicago Blackhawks lost only seven regular season games, by guiding them to their, and his, second Stanley Cup Championship in four years. It was evident nearly three decades ago in Hartford that Quenneville had the character to accomplish all of this. Emile Francis cherished Joel Quenneville. In Saturday’s Stanley Cup Final game five, Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron fractured a rib and separated a ribcage muscle before being rushed to the hospital over concerns about a possible ruptured spleen. He was back in last night for game six, in which he separated his shoulder in the first period, but kept on playing. Somewhere in retirement in Florida Emile Francis was watching with a smile on his lips and tears in his eyes. With so much character on display this week it’s a shame the finish of the Travelers Championship was blemished by a display of how much character one of our favorite golfers still needs to develop. Bubba Watson has learned how to win on the PGA Tour, and in the majors, but when he put his tee shot on 16 in the water to watch his one stroke lead and his shot at a second Travelers Championship trophy evaporate, Bubba showed he has yet to learn how to be a winner. After first blaming a sudden gust of wind, rather than remaining silent or blaming a mis-hit, Bubba verbally abused his caddy for underclubbing him, then, when he overshot his third shot and took a triple bogey, he verbally called out his caddie again, for giving him the wrong distance. He then picked up his bag and carried it himself. To his credit, Ted Scott, the caddie who stood by Bubba through four lean years on Tour before he finally claimed his first win, took a bullet for his boss, agreeing that it was his fault for giving Bubba the wrong club and the wrong distance. “Totally my fault”, was the way Scott said it. Bubba Watson could learn a lesson in character from his caddie, because character does count. You can’t be a winner without it. It would be a shame to see Watson, with his talent, go the way of Sylvain Turgeon. With a comment from the sports world, I’m Scott Gray.