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Talking Chicago and Stanley Cups with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita

SI: Tell us what you remember about coming to Chicago.

Bobby Hull: I had never been out of Ontario in my life. I wasn't ready to turn pro. I wanted to go to college on some sort of scholarship, hockey or baseball. I was offered a football scholarship to Colorado Springs. I was enrolled in high school playing football for Ste. Catharines on a Friday night and got home to my billet's. I walked in at six and my billet said, "You're in trouble." Bob Wilson, the chief scout for the Blackhawks, had been calling every 15 minutes since four. I had just sat down for dinner when the telephone rang and she said, "You better get it, because it's going to be for you." It wasWilson. He said, "Where the hell have you been until six o'clock? Playing football! Don't you know you're supposed to be down at the St. Catharine's Arena getting ready for an exhibition game against the New York Rangers?" I had no idea, so I rushed and got ready, got tickets for my billets and girlfriend just in time to play this exhibition game.

Gump Worsley was in goal for the Rangers. I got lucky and scored two goals. After the game, Tommy Ivan, the general manager, said, "Do you think you can get your parents up here tomorrow?" And I said, "Well, my father can't just leave the Canada Cement Company at any time." I still had no idea why they were doing this. So my parents came up and Ivan said, "We want to sign your kid to a professional contract for $6,500." My father looked at me and said, "I thought you were going to school." My mother said, "Oh, Robert, it's something you've dreamed about all your life." So I told my dad, "Well, we'll know in a year of I can hack it or not. If not, I can always go back to school." They agreed and that's how we got to Chicago. All of a sudden, I'm in the great state of Illinois. I didn't know anything about the city. But I wasn't here very long before I found out what a beautiful city it was, how great the people are, how great they were at the old barn across the street, the old Chicago Stadium.

Stan Mikita: There's no way you signed that contract for $6,500.

Bobby Hull: Well I would've signed for $2,500, but they gave me a $1,000 bonus and $6,500. Why, how much did you get?

Stan Mikita: I came up two years later. I wasn't sure what the going rates were. The minimum, I knew, was $6,000. But I had been to two camps before and they didn't say anything to me, so at the third camp, they took me aside and said, "We're prepared to pay you $6,000." And I said, "Well, it might be good for half a year, Mr. Ivan, but I need more than that." So he said, "Get the hell out of my office."

Three days later he called me back and said, "Well, have you changed your mind?" I said I'd take $8,500. He says, "Oh, my...get the hell out of my office."

Three days later he did the same thing and I said I'd take $10,000. "You're playing games with me," he said. I told him, "Yes sir, but it's ridiculous what you're offering me. I've got two more years of junior."

Bobby Hull: I signed with Chicago when I was 13.

Stan Mikita: You mean you were on the negotiation list.

Bobby Hull: Right.

Stan Mikita: The rule if you played one game for the junior team that drafted you -- the St. Catherine's Teepees, which belonged to Chicago -- was the minute you set foot on that ice, you belonged to Chicago. You could play amateur, senior or whatever, but professionally you belonged to Chicago at 13 years old.

SI: So Stan, what about your start?

Stan Mikita: The Teepees coach told me to put some clothes together because he was taking me to the train station to go to Chicago. So I said, "What am I going to Chicago for?" And he said, "Well, they had an injury. They need you for the next game." So I got there expecting a sleeper car. They said, "You don't have a sleeper, not with this ticket." I sat there on this old rickety wooden chair. I never slept a wink. My back was killing me. So I get there and I'm in a coffee shop and I hear this deep, deep voice, saying, "Hey, what are you doing?" It was [Blackhawks coach] Rudy Pilous. I knew the voice. I said, "I'm having a coffee." He said, "Well, we need you at practice. Did you talk to Hull yet?" I hadn't, but they wanted me to meet him for the first practice. They weren't doing the morning skates then.

Bobby Hull: He was the guy who invented it.

Stan Mikita: Well, that's why everybody loved him. But that's how I got town. Rudy told me to go with Bobby and room with him for a few days. I played only one game that time, a cup of coffee, against the Montreal Canadiens. We had a faceoff in their end and Rudy said, "Go take it." So I go out to the ice, nervous, you know, and I see these knees that come up to about there (holds hand high). So I lean back, practically fall on my butt and look up. Guess who it was.

Bobby Hull: Jean Beliveau.

Stan Mikita: Mr. Beliveau. He was 6-foot-4 or 5 and I'll never forget, he stood there and said, "Welcome, kid."

Bobby Hull: He didn't say "Bienvenue?"

Stan Mikita: Hey, let me finish my story. So they drop the puck and I just want to get my stick on it somehow. I got it back to the point. It deflected and should have been a goal, but the goalie made a fantastic stop. So that was my initiation.

Bobby Hull: And he's not telling you that in that game he went down the ice on Doug Harvey, the Norris Trophy-winner I don't know how many years. And Harvey, until the day he died, was still looking for his jock strap. You knew then with Stan. You could see it.

SI: Now, the team you guys had when you won the Stanley Cup in 1961 wasn't necessarily your best team, was it?

Stan Mikita: No, not at all. How far were we out of first?

Bobby Hull: We were 17 (points) behind Montreal. We were not thinking we were going to beat the mighty Canadiens on their way to five or six Stanley Cups. But we had enough elder statesmen who had been there. Al Arbour had been involved in the Stanley Cup, Dollard St. Laurent, Jack Evans, Tod Sloan with Toronto. We had veterans who convinced the younger guys we could do well here. So all of a sudden we're playing even with the mighty Canadiens [in the opening round]. Glenn Hall is standing on his ear. He shut 'em out twice. We beat 'em in triple overtime [of Game 3] and that's when we thought, hey, we can beat these guys.

Stan Mikita: After the overtime game, they beat the heck out of us [5-2], so we were tied, 2-2. The very next game in Montreal, Glenn shuts 'em out.

Bobby Hull: And then after beating Montreal we said, we don't care who's waiting. It was just a cakewalk from then on. [The Blackhawks won the Cup by beating Detroit in six games.]

SI: So talk about the Stanley Cup-winning goal, because Detroit scored first [in Game 6]. Reg Fleming tied it shorthanded and then you made the big play.

Bobby Hull: I took two guys to the left and Abbie McDonald, I knew he was there, he was just waiting, and he put it in the open corner. Ah, we could taste it, you know. Then Jack Evans went end-to-end. . .

Stan Mikita: I didn't think he could do that.

Bobby Hull: Greatest move of his life and at that point they couldn't have stopped us with five All-Stars and a tank. [Chicago won, 5-1.]

SI: So what was it like when you came back home? I know they had a parade.

Bobby Hull: We couldn't get back home right away. We were snowed in. That took a lot of steam out of it. I was drinking beer on the bus out of (Bill) Wirtz's dirty old felt hat.

Stan Mikita: When we finally got back the next day, there was an escort with fire trucks. It was still cold, but we saw a lot of people out there waving and cheering. And then we went to the mayor's office. And Bill Hay, remember that?

Bobby Hull: He didn't care that it was the mayor.

Stan Mikita: So the mayor introduces himself: "Dick Daley, congratulations, boys." Billy says, "Well, hi, Dick, how the hell are you? Nice place, here. Bill Hay, Western Canada." This was the mayor, right? But to Billy, you know, guy next door. Actually he was a big hockey fan. So is this Mayor Daley.

Bobby Hull: Then we went back to Wirtzes' hotel, the Bismarck, and stayed until we really had to go. Then we went for pizza at whatever hour.

SI: Guys today get their days with the Cup.

Bobby Hull: Not us. We didn't do that with the Cup back then. Now they have several of them, right?

Stan Mikita: Who was the guy who dropped it?

Bobby Hull: They've dropped 'em everywhere. They left the old one on the road.

SI: You won it that year, but did you think, as young as you two were, that you'd have a few more before you were done?

Stan Mikita: I certainly did.

Bobby Hull: I did, too. We thought, hey, this is going to be just one of many.

Stan Mikita: The older guys knew it would get tougher. And it did.

Bobby Hull: We lost in the finals in '62, '65, '71 and '73.

SI: You had a 2-0 lead in game seven against Montreal in '71. And Bobby, you hit the post after that. I'm going to guess that was the toughest one to swallow.

Bobby Hull: Ah, still to this day. But that shot off the post, that wasn't the worst part of it. Not having the right people on the ice at the right time sticks in my brain. We had got there because of Stan's line and my line. When we came out on the ice, we maintained control of the puck and we wouldn't let anybody touch that biscuit. That's all we needed. Nobody else should have been on the ice at those key points in the game. We got 'em there and we should have been the ones taking them the rest of the way. Stan would have the puck or I'd have it, Ab or Chico Maki. And when you were up by two, you didn't lose that lead. People were out there who shouldn't have been out there. It wasn't the shot that hit the bar and went up instead of down; it was what happened after that. I could have missed '65 and '67 if we'd won in '71. Then we'd have had two of these (points to ring). And that's what I'm trying to get through to these kids. You're this close and you better take advantage of it, because it might not happen again. Just like us, it might not happen again and it didn't happen again.

Stan Mikita: That's the funny part about sports. All those years, I don't think about them, but that one...

SI: I want to ask what it was like to play here. Obviously this building is different from the old Chicago Stadium, but just being embraced by the Chicago fans...

Bobby Hull: There was no greater place in the league. When that guy would sing the national anthem, Wayne Messmer, and these people would start roaring. And the puck would drop and they were still roaring. And we'd say, "Let's get 'em in their end in the first period and not let 'em out," and we'd win the first period.

Stan Mikita: We won a lot of games like that.

SI: But Bobby, you had a special connection with the fans. Did you ever turn down an autograph request?

Stan Mikita: I saw one. He wouldn't sign for me. He won't sign for Stan Mikita.

Bobby Hull: (laughs) Way back, when my mother, she deserves credit for that, really, she said, "Robert, don't forget these kids, the fans, they're a part of you." And she was right. If we didn't have them in the building, who the heck would we be playing for? They're still our most important asset. On those nights, 22,000 people in that building, whatever it was supposed to hold, and it was just a love affair all the way through. It was great.

SI: And Stan, you built a different kind of connection, overseeing a hockey school for hearing-impaired players. How did that come about?

Stan Mikita: A friend of mine has a son who became deaf through meningitis. He called me one spring and asked me to keep a week out of my schedule because he wanted to start a school for deaf kids. I wanted to help. I didn't know how you handle deaf kids on the ice and so on. The first group we had was 29 kids, mostly local. The next year we had a lot of other kids from the East Coast. We had a lot of volunteers who were signers. Not all the kids needed them. Some of them read lips, but we had great support, almost a one-on-one situation with the volunteers. And it's been very successful.

SI: Now for many years, it was a given that the Hawks would at least be good and make the playoffs -- 28 straight years in the postseason. But then the franchise went through a rough stretch. The team was losing, the connection to the past wasn't as strong and the games weren't on TV. Was that difficult for you guys to watch?

Bobby Hull: I was appalled at the kind of hockey that these great Chicago fans had to watch during that time. I was appalled that they couldn't bring someone in to entertain these people, bring them out of their seats. They were so used to it. That's what bothered me more than anything, especially when I came to watch [my son] Brett play.

SI: Are you sorry they never signed him? Because they had a chance to do it.

Bobby Hull: I'm sitting at home just waiting for them to call the press conference to have him come here to finish his career. All of a sudden, between [former GM Bob] Pulford and the rest of them, Brett Hull was no longer coming here. My wife and I were living here and we wanted to watch him here.

Stan Mikita: That's the tough part, like Bob says. A lot of us, we stayed around the area, at least for a while after we retired, and we'd meet those people on the street who just wanted to ask, "What's the matter with your team?" To watch the franchise just go down the way it did was very hard. I saw an article that said it had gone from being one of the most valuable franchises to the second-least valuable franchise.

SI: And they didn't show the home games on TV.

Stan Mikita: I always said if you own the bats and balls, you make the rules. That was Bill Wirtz's decision.

SI: So when did it start to turn around and how did they reach out to the four ambassadors [Hull, Mikita, Tony Esposito and Denis Savard]?

Stan Mikita: When Rocky [Wirtz] took over, there was a big change. He had the smarts to put the games back on TV.

Bobby Hull: I think Rocky Wirtz laid awake at night thinking, "I can't wait to get the reigns of that hockey club, because it's going to change when I get it." And he did everything right. He got rid of Pulford. He brought in [President] John McDonough, the smartest marketing guy in the history of the game. He hired Scotty Bowman [as a senior advisor]. He put the games on TV and he decided to dive into his past. Because he knew, with what we had, if he couldn't be proud of his past, they wouldn't have much of a future. And bringing back Esposito and Hull and Mikita was the icing on the cake. The engine was Rocky. The engineer was McDonough and the two boilermakers were [marketing director] Peter Hassen and [senior VP] Jay Blunk. They made the train run and it's running very smoothly.

SI: You guys were the young guns of those Hawks teams. Do you see any parallels between those teams and today's, with Kane and Toews?

Bobby Hull: I think the only parallels would be between Kane and Toews and then Hull and Mikita. The rest of team today is younger and, whoosh, can skate quite a bit quicker.

SI: What do you like about watching today's Hawks, especially Toews and Kane?

Stan Mikita: I never professed I could skate very fast and these guys are pretty quick. Quick, but in control. Entertaining, very skilled.

Bobby Hull:Jonathan Toews is an elder for his age. He is a tremendous leader. He never says or does anything wrong. He leads that team and I think they'd follow him to the end of the earth. As for Patrick, I've never seen anyone with as quick hands and as quick feet. He's a special talent.

SI: What would a Hawks championship mean for the people of Chicago?

Stan Mikita: It would mean the world to the fans.

Bobby Hull: And us.

Stan Mikita:: And us. We'd heave a big sigh of relief.

Bobby Hull: I believe this team, when it plays the way it can, attacks, attacks, attacks, can't be beaten by anybody.

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