A couple of weeks ago while cleaning out my office, I came across this small and unmarked white box that looked entirely unfamiliar. As a sportswriter for more than 30 years, I do often come across weird things in this office.
As you can see above, I might find plastic baseball helmets.
Or a baseball with the stitches in the shape of a heart:
A Cleveland Browns bowling ball:
OK, this one isn’t that strange. I’m sure you have one of your own.
But this unmarked white box is different. I have no idea where it came from. But I can tell you it has brought me so much unexpected joy during these painful and lonely and crushing days.
In the box are a few hundred old hockey cards.
And I never collected hockey cards in my entire life.
It occurs to me that if I had been born in Toronto or Montreal or Calgary or someplace like that, I’d have been an unapologetically obsessive hockey fan. So much of life is circumstance. I grew up in Cleveland, and I don’t think that I met a single hockey fan my entire childhood. If I did meet hockey fans, they kept it from me.
So, no, I didn’t college hockey cards. Baseball cards? Yes. Compulsively. Football cards? Absolutely. Basketball cards? Of course. Star Wars cards? Six Million Dollar Man cards? Battlestar Galactica cards? Charlie’s Angels cards? James Bond cards? KISS cards? Tron cards? I can keep going.
But no, never bought any hockey cards.
So I have absolutely no clue how I ended up with this box of old hockey cards. Did someone send it to me?
Because see, here’s the thing that makes it even more baffling: These cards were not just thrown in a box. No, they were LOVINGLY collected. There are a few ways you can tell that. For one thing, a couple of the cards have pieces of scotch tape on them — they had obviously been tenderly taped to a bedroom wall or a scrapbook. For another, so many of these cards are creased and folded and in generally poor condition. These cards were HANDLED. They were studied. They were cherished.
And ever since I found this box of cards, I have been looking through it. Ninety-five percent of the names are entirely unfamiliar to me. But it doesn’t matter. These cards bring me so much happiness.
Take Bob Woytowich. I have to say that’s one of the odder head shapes I’ve seen on anyone. But I learned from the back of the card that Bob “is perhaps one of the coolest defensemen in the NHL.” Well, OK!
Ron Stewart here looks to be roughly 64 years old. Admittedly, he looks like one of those 64-year-old men who is in impossibly great shape, the kind you see mowing his yard next door and you think, “Wow, I hope I can look like Ron when I get to be that age.” Ron’s forte, apparently, was violence. On the back of his card, he is called “perhaps one of the most tenacious checkers in the league.”
I do notice that a lot of these cards use that “perhaps one of” construction when talking about a player. It seems like a lot of players were “perhaps one of the fastest skaters in the league” or “perhaps one of the best leaders in the league” and so on.
Doesn’t Roger seem like the friendlest guy? I don’t know, his card just bubbles with friendliness. Roger looks like the sort of guy who would always remember to ask how your mother is doing — and he would remember your mother’s name too. But he brings more than just affability and good nature to the game. He was also, apparently, shockingly nimble. Look at what’s on the back of Roger’s card!
Roger actually was a great player — he’s in the Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame.
OK, I love this one so much,. Apparently in 1980, the Topps card company came up with an idea to create a little intrigue. They put a hockey puck on each card and hid the player’s name underneath it — that is to say you had to scratch at the puck to reveal who was on the card.
But here’s the best part: To keep the riddle pure, they didn’t put the player’s name on the BACK OF THE CARD either. In other words, if you didn’t scratch the puck, you would never know the player’s name. And because the collector didn’t scratch this puck, I have absolutely no idea who this is. I know that “his 14 career WHA shutouts were two short of league mark.” I know that he was born in Trenton, Ontario. I know that he was 5-foot-8 and weighed 175 pounds.
But I don’t know who he is. And I never will because I’m never scratching to find his name.
There are so many wonderful things about these old hockey cards — such as the fact that the photographer’s instinct here was not to, say, get Orest a doctor but instead to snap a photograph to use as his hockey card. I can’t help but wonder what Orest thought when the Topps people showed him this and said, “Yep, that’s the photo we went with. The kids will love it!”
Also — this is 100 percent true — on the back of his card, it says, “Orest is studying to become an optometrist.”
It is utterly disconcerting to be going through these cards filled with names and faces that mean nothing to you … and then to come across a card of the most famous and greatest hockey player ever. It’s like going through your penny jar and coming across a fifty dollar bill. It’s like: What is THIS doing in here?
I truly cannot believe how old some of these guys look. Jim Morrison here looks like the kindly father on an old sitcom. I expect him to give me a quick talk about how to treat everybody fairly or how if you break somebody’s window by mistake, you shouldn’t lie about it.
I am guessing that Dave Kryskow was our collector’s favorite player because of the special blue marker treatment he got. There isn’t much information about Dave on the back of his card but I did find out with a little Web searching that this card has a bit of cult status because Dave might have had the worst haircut in hockey history.
Hockey is so wonderful. Here we have a card celebrating the players who got the most penalty minutes. Yes, let’s celebrate the offenders! These three are all legends of the penalty box, by the way. Dave Williams — Tiger Williams as he was better known — still holds the all-time record for penalty minutes, and he also wrote a cookbook called “Done Like Dinner.”
I love this photograph of Guy Charron. He looks like he’s holding a lobster. The Scouts logo is just plain weird. And most of all, the smile on his face is priceless. That is one happy guy.
But there’s something extra special about this card for me — I have written at some length about his team, the Scouts. They existed only briefly in Kansas City in the mid-1970s, and they were absolutely terrible — perhaps because the people running the team knew almost nothing about hockey. This is not a joke: They would acquire players who had cool hockey names.
That’s why they traded for Guy Charron. Because of his name. It’s an inarguably cool hockey name.
So this is what I do now. A couple of times a week, at least, I go through these old hockey cards that some kid collected years ago, and I try to make some sense of them and it just makes me so happy. I mean, I don’t know if it quite makes me as happy as Guy Charron. But close enough.
Hey, if you made it this far down, first of all THANK YOU, but secondly how about you send in a photo of something that brings you happiness/comfort these days. For every person who sends in a photo, we will donate $10 to the D.C. area food bank SOME (So Others Might Eat). Just send us a photo and maybe a couple of lines explaining to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you.