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Maurice "Rocket" Richard Still Fighting

May 22, 2000

The sad and shocking news that Maurice "Rocket" Richard's condition took a turn for the worse a few days ago - that the cancer in his abdomen may have spread - stunned sports fans everywhere. In addition to cancer, Richard also is coping with Parkinson's disease and there are reports that he might also have Alzheimer's.

For those who saw him play in his prime - with verve, power and a fury - it is almost too much to comprehend. What has happened to one of their all-time hockey favorites seems just too painful to accept.

Now stricken and battling for his life, the 78-year-old Richard once held hockey's center stage as few athletes ever had. His fusion of blinding speed and brilliant goal-scoring ability earned him the nickname "The Rocket" as well as the adulation of Montreal fans through a spectacular 18-year National Hockey League career that saw him score 544 goals in 978 games.

Richard was named eight times to the NHL's first All-Star team and six times to the second. It was just last season that the NHL created the Rocket Richard Trophy for the player scoring the most goals in a season.

On the ice, Richard performed like a man possessed. "When he was coming down on you," goalie Glenn Hall said, “his eyes were flashing and gleaming like the lights of a pinball machine. It was frightening."

For the opposition, it was frightening. For opposing fans, it was infuriating. For those who rooted for the Canadiens, it was ecstasy, especially from 1956-1960 when Richard powered the Canadiens’ dynasty to five straight Stanley Cups.

Richard was born August 4, 1921 in Montreal. He played for the Verdun Juniors and Canadiens' seniors before joining the Montreal Canadiens in 1942-43. In his first 16 games, he scored five goals. Then he broke an ankle that kept him off the ice for the rest of the season. That was the way he began - playing flat out - and he never stopped.

Twice named Canada's Male Athlete of the Year, Richard became the first player to score 50 goals in 50 games, doing so during the 1944-45 season. In 1983, Montreal's La Presse newspaper celebrated its 100th anniversary by choosing man of the century. Readers replied with two names – Richard and Quebec folksinger Felix Leclerc.

Thoughts and memories of Richard don’t begin with the 78-year-old fighting for his life. Instead they are of the tempestuous "Rocket", who inflamed audiences with his intensity. Richard brought fans to their feet as he willingly paid the price for every goal.

The classic Richard episode took place on March 16, 1955. Gloves were dropped. A melee followed. Richard punched out a linesman. President Clarence Campbell suspended Richard for the rest of the season. The fans in Montreal went berserk the next night when Campbell showed up at the game. A tear-gas bomb exploded near Campbell and the Canadiens forfeited the game to Detroit.

St. Catherine's Street became the site of a violent and rampaging mob. All that passed. The lasting implication of what happened was that Richard lost the scoring title that season by one point. He was devastated and embittered.

There were so many times in his NHL career when the man they call "The Rocket" was dazed, spitting blood, fighting back fatigue. There were so many times that he miraculously came back from the brink.

We can only hope that this is another one of those times.

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About the Authors:  Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, It Happened in Manhattan, It Happened in Miami. They teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College.

They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean. More about these authors.

You can contact the Frommers at: 

Email: myrna.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Email: harvey.frommer@Dartmouth.EDU
Web: http://www.dartmouth.edu/~frommer/travel.htm.

This Article is Copyright © 1995 - 2012 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer.  All rights reserved worldwide.

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