WHY I’M THROUGH WITH SPORTS
Accused of “freezing” in the now-famous Montreal-Chicag Stanley Cup semifinal last spring, referee Storey resigne Now he winds up his colorful career in sport with a warningthe NHL is making hockey too “wide-open” for its own good
NOT FOR THE first time, the National Hockey League fans in Chicago showed a broad streak of hoodlumism on the night of April 5, 1959. Their team, the Black Hawks, was meeting the Montreal Canadiens in the sixth game of the NHL semifinal series for the world championship of hockey, the Stanley Cup. Montreal won the game, which I refereed, four goals to three, and eliminated Chicago from the series.
The closing minutes of the game were disrupted by the Chicago fans, who demonstrated their distaste for a couple of my decisions by littering the ice with cushions, bottles, beer cans and a layer of garbage that some of the local specialists in abuse arm themselves with in advance of every game. One imaginative moron with a can of beer in his hand made his way along the boards to the point where I was standing, leaped over, shook his can until it foamed and threw the suds in my face.
It took close to thirty minutes for the fans to run out of movable missiles and for the rink boys to clear the ice. When I skated over to face off the puck to run out the final two minutes of play. Tod Sloan, the Chicago player in the circle for the face - off, looked up and asked candidly, “Red, if you’d known there was beer in that can, would you have opened your mouth before he threw it?” Another couple of minutes went by before I could stop laughing long enough to put the puck into play.
After the game the Chicago police, among whom 1 now number some of my oldest acquaintances from escort jobs going back nine years, slipped me into an unmarked car and took me back to my hotel. It is a long time since I stayed at the Chicago hotel where the fans thought I stayed. I heard later that a few dozen of the most lamebrained showed up at the hotel they had marked down as mine and tried to start a riot in the lobby, but by that time I was relaxing elsewhere over a bottle of beer of my own choice. As a matter of fact, I was thinking that I had just turned in one of the best refereeing jobs of my career.
On Monday, two days later, l learned that while I was uncapping that bottle of beer
Clarence Campbell, the president of the NH had been discussing the game with an Ottav sports writer. According to the story the r porter afterward wrote, which was reprint: in every hockey city in Canada and the U.S Campbell made a fairly long speech denouncir the way I had handled the game. This was tl story I saw on Monday morning, under tl headline STOREY FROZE — CAMPBELI For a second, a headline with a strong n semblance to this one flashed into my mire MEHLENBACHER GOOFED — CAMI BELL. A few years ago Jack Mehlenbacher, now-retired NHL referee who trains and drivt harness horses in Ontario, had been involved i a similar incident with eerily similar results.
In his current burst of candor, leaving asifl his speculation about the spotty state of m courage and a description of the intense di; comfort this had caused him, Campbell mad three more or less straightforward accusation: First, he said, I failed to call a tripping penalti against Junior Langlois of Montreal. Second,! failed to call a tripping penalty against Mara Bonin of Montreal. Third, 1 failed to restat play immediately when the fans began to dem onstrate, and instead allowed a thirty-minut near-riot.
For the next thirty-six hours I walked th streets without sleep. Then I resigned from th NHL. It was a black and painful decision This is why I had to make it:
First and least important, Campbell’s thre accusations were uninformed, to use the mos charitable word possible. The charge that \ encouraged a near-riot by not putting the pud into play immediately after the fans startet throwing rubbish is barely worth mentioning The rink was ankle-deep in debris. Anybod; who knows the difference between hockey and mah-jongg knows that the first thing you need to play hockey without breaking a leg is a clear sheet of ice.
In both incidents when Campbell thought 1 should have called tripping penalties, I was within twenty feet of the play and the president was watching from a box seat behind the boards. Both times the score was tied. Both times, as I saw it. the Chicago players, first Ed Litzenberger and then Bob Hull, tried to get away with the oldest trick in hockey. Both men looked to me as though they deliberately fell when they w'ere checked, to draw penalties against the opposing players. This is no discredit to them; profescontinued on page 49
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Why I’m through with sports continued from page 30
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R “The NHL is becoming a circus and the
referees are the clowns”
sional hockey players are paid to win. As it happened though, both plays backfired and ended in Montreal goals. Otherwise, nobody in the rink would have paid any attention.
It’s possible, although unlikely since I was so close, that I was wrong both times. This doesn’t change the case in any way: both were what are known as judgment decisions. If the referee called a penalty on every judgment decision that comes up in hockey, the goalkeepers would play most of every game by themselves and the third period would usually start at dawn. It went unnoticed in the uproar, but in that game I called twentytwo penalties, just seven short of the alltime record for NHL playoff games, and twelve of them were against Montreal.
It’s no secret that the governors of the NHL want fast hockey, which is crowdpleasing hockey, instead of an all-night waltz to the tune of the referee’s whistle. It’s not much more of a secret that the six-man board of governors, who represent the owners of the six teams in the league, have instructed their employees, including the referees, that this is the kind of hockey they want. I have a stinging memory of a meeting a couple of years ago in which I was speaking for the referees. One of the governors, whose name I don’t think it would be fair to mention since he spoke for all six, stood up, slammed his fist on the table, and said, “We own this league, and by God you’ll run it the way we tell you to.”
Here I’m coming close to my real reason for resigning. Up to a point, of course, the governor was right. Hockey is a business and its employees naturally have to take orders from the owmers of the business; referees are no exception. But to me, and I think to many Canadians, hockey is something more than a business. In recent years this something more, which has always entitled bigleague hockey to the respect of its fans, has been too often ignored.
The NHL is becoming a circus and the referees are the clowns. This was the final reason for my resignation. It’s too late for anybody to make me over into a professional clown. And as a circus, I believe the NHL could become a secondrate sideshow in place of what is still a brilliant national sport. This is strong language, I know. I wouldn’t use it if I wasn’t sure this drift toward burlesque is a serious threat to big-league hockey.
Somewhere along the line the men in charge of the NHL—the governors and their top executive, president Campbell— have forgotten where to peg the dividing line between fast and rugged hockey and a free-for-all.
In hockey a certain amount of stretch in the rules is good for the game. On an average night in the NHL the referee sees about a hundred violations of the rules. He rarely blows the whistle on more than twenty of them. By overlooking infractions that harm nobody in a dull game, he can often step up the pace. In a wild game, by bearing down on a few of the violations he'd normally ignore he can sometimes cool out the hotheads and avoid a donnybrook. In either case he has orders to keep the third period moving as fast as possible. The owners want the fans to leave the rink with a charge of excitement that will bring them back for the next game.
The NHL governors know' all this as well as I do. They also know that this much flexibility in the rules makes the referee a wide-open target for distrust and criticism. When he can penalize a player for fouling one minute and look the other way when the same thing happens later, he needs unarguable authority and the respect of the players, the coaches and the fans to make his decisions stick. When the NHL rakes him over the coals for calling too many penalties one night
— as the league often does — and then rakes him back over in the opposite direction the next night for not calling enough
— as the league did to me last April — the referee loses everybody’s respect including his own.
The result is lawless hockey, and I’m convinced lawless hockey is bad sport and bad business. The players don’t know from one game to the next what they can get away with; naturally they try to get away with anything. There are no boxscores on injuries, but I’ve been on top of the play in the NHL for nine years and if there wasn't half as much blood again shed by high sticks in NHL rinks in 1959 as there was in 1950 I will eat my detachable bow tie. This kind of lawlessness has been tolerated to encourage fast crowd - pleasing hockey, but there comes a point when hockey doesn’t get any faster. It just gets sloppier. This is the point the NHL is approaching now.
Lawlessness doesn’t stop on the ice. The league has rules governing team officials and the rinks should have rules governing fans. One of the league regulations is known as the gag rule. It’s there to preserve the authority and respect the referee needs to do his job; it simply states that nobody employed by the NHL will publicly smear a referee. If a man’s employers want to give him hell in private they have every right to do just that, and a referee is in the same boat as everybody else. But if the NHL wants to denounce its referees in public, as it has been doing every now and then for the last few years, the case is a little harder to understand.
The rules that apply to the fans are as loosely enforced as any of the others. How many riots, near-riots and demonstrations of rubbish-throwing have there been in the NHL in the last nine years?
Lord knows; I’ve lost count. Partisan fans are an important and colorful part of hockey. But here and there in every rink there are pockets of toughs who are using partisanship as a screen for hoodlumism. In some rinks the pocket is small and seldom heard from. When the members get rough they get thrown out on their ears, which is where they belong, and the genuine fans watch hockey, which is what they came for. In other rinks the pocket is bigger, and in Chicago it sometimes takes charge of the entire building. I once asked a Chicago official when they were going to start cleaning out the thugs around the place.
“We’ve got enough trouble getting people in here,” he told me. “We aren’t about to start throwing them out." Sooner or later they’ll find out in Chicago that they are throwing people out— the interested hockey fans who are losing interest in going out to spend the evening in the middle of a mob of hoodlums.
Headlong action, uninhibited refereebaiting, the occasional outbreak of violence—all these are part of hockey and hockey wouldn’t be the same without them. Nobody knows this better than I do and nobody learned it in a harder school. In the spring of 1943, when I refereed my first minor-league hockey game in Montreal, I was a twenty-fiveyear-old ex-athlete recovering from a knee injury that left my leg too fragile for the battering of active sport. There were some high moments behind me, like the memorable Grey Cup football game in 1938 when I scored three touchdowns in the last quarter, and a Quebec League lacrosse game in 1942 when 1 set a Quebec record that still stands by scoring twelve goals in sixty minutes.
Now I was looking for a way to stay in sport, and refereeing seemed to be it. By 1945 I was refereeing minor-league hockey and football and senior lacrosse in Montreal and across Quebec. To stay in one piece I had to learn fast. It wasn’t long, for one thing, before I found out what a real hockey riot looks like. At that time the Quebec Senior Hockey League fans took their home games slightly less seriously than guerrilla warfare. One night Ken Mullins and I (the QSHL used the two-refcrec system; the NHL, of course, uses only one referee)
went into Quebec City where the Aces were playing the Sherbrooke team with the league lead at stake. With four seconds left to play I disallowed a goal that would have broken a tie in Quebec’s favor, and the roof fell in. The fans swarmed out of the stands like apes in a Tarzan movie, the players of both teams lined up with their sticks thrust out like bayonets to hold them off until the police arrived, and Mullins and I stood there throwing the odd punch.
Close to an hour later the bedlam was curbed long enough to run out the final four seconds of play, but we heard the rumble start all over again when we were stripped and showering. Jesse Owens never took off as fast as the reporters who were in the dressing room questioning us. We had time to lock the door and pick up a couple of chairs. We were standing back to back, like a pair of stark-naked lion tamers waiting for the act to begin, when, at the same time, the entire wall caved in and the police arrived. They got us out of there with billy clubs swinging, bundled us into squad cars and hustled us to the police station with all sirens full out. We played cribbage behind bars until the train left for Montreal.
That was when Mullins and I decided there is only one way to cool off a riothappy mob. The same two teams were playing in the same rink the following Sunday, and although we weren’t scheduled to ..ork the game we made a special request to be switched into Quebec. The late George Slater, who was then president of the league and the kind of man hockey sorely needs today, okayed the request. That night it was hard to tell who was more fired up, the fans or the players. Near the end of the third period a Quebec player tried to shoot the puck up the ice out of his goal zone. That one had my name on it; I vaulted up on the boards to avoid the puck, but it hit my skate blade and bounced in front of the goal. A Sherbrooke player snapped it in. All hell broke lose.
A few people were hurt and that night we sorrowfully passed up the shower room. We ploughed straight to the squad car in our striped shirts, with every cop in town, as nearly as I could count, clearing a path for us. The next day Slater, the league president, received a wire in Montreal: “Please do not send Mullins and Storey to Quebec again this season. We do not have enough policemen to guarantee their safety.” It was signed by the mayor of Quebec City.
At the end of the season the same two
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clubs played off to decide the league championship. Maybe because we had shown them we stood behind our decisions, they requested Mullins and Storey to referee the series.
With incidents like this to punctuate the passage of time, the years when 1 served my apprenticeship as a referee were lively enough. There were games when I’d make a round trip of seven hundred miles, risk my neck and pick up a couple of new specimens for my collection of choice insults, and get back home less than ten dollars richer than when I left. By this time I was married and the first of our tw'o sons was already a member of the family.
My wife Helen, who was studying classical piano at the Quebec Conservatory when we met, was understandably unenthusiastic about some of the strains of being a referee’s wife. In 1950, when 1 was appointed an NHL referee in addition to the chief referee’s job I’d held in the Big Four football league since 1947, our precarious finances improved overnight. If anything, the other departments of our domestic life became more haphazard than ever.
For the next nine years I was at home in Montreal no more than four nights a month during the seven-month hockey season. By the end of each season I’d worked at least eighty hockey games, traveled about fifty thousand miles, and listened to what seemed like a million uncomplimentary observations on my manners, morals and eyesight.
After a while, though, I got so used to the fans’ hooting that most of it meant no more to me than a friend saying hello. Sometimes I even enjoyed it. [here was the game at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto during my second season in the NHL when Col. W. A. H. MacBrien, one of the directors of the Toronto club and the pepperiest partisan in the house, was sharing his box seat with Lord Alexander during the British soldier’s term as governor-general of Canada. MacBrien’s box was just above the penalty scorer’s table, and every time I skated over to report a Toronto penalty the colonel would cut loose on me. After one penalty that came toward the end of the second period he stormed down out of his box and without saying a word handed me a copy of the NHL rule book.
When the period ended I walked up the ramp past his box. At Alexander's elbow 1 leaned across to MacBrien and said. "Look, you old buzz saw, when you’re sitting next to a gentleman try to act like one.” At least one of the old soldiers in the box smiled.
For the next six years MacBrien and I sniped at each other every time 1 was in Toronto. It was a satisfying feud and a pleasure to take part in. Then one night MacBrien came into the referee’s dressing room just before game time and told me he was retiring as a director of the Maple Leafs. "Red, it’s been a good feud,” he said. ‘Tm sorry it’s over, but it’s time to bury the hatchet."
We shook hands with a regretful word or two for the good old days, and I went out to start the game. The first penalty 1 called sent a Toronto player off the ice. High and clear from the box seats came a bellow that could only belong to MacBrien: “Storey, you’re a bum!”
The feuding the fans love to see shape up, though, is between the players and the referee. Now and then this kind of feud is genuine enough — hockey is an all-out game, and in the heat of the action no good player can keep his temper in check constantly. But more often what looks from the stands like fury is closer to frolic. A memorable example of
the kind of exchange that takes place in almost every game followed a penalty I called one night in the Montreal Forum against Rocket Richard. For years the Montreal fans have taken any penalty against their favorite star as a direct insult. This time they threw everything movable in the rink at me, including a five-pound bag of split peas that splattered on the ice and rolled around as messily as the halfwit who threw them hoped they would. As the roar mounted the Montreal captain at that time. Butch Bouchard, skated at me with his stick waving wildly.
“Butch,” I shouted, ready to send the whole Montreal team to the showers, “1 don’t want to hear one word. Not one word. Rocket earned the penalty.”
Bouchard’s stick waved even more frantically and the fans screamed approval. “Quite so. Quite so,” Bouchard agreed with facial contortions that suggested he was damning me down to the seventh generation. “I just wanted to tell you, Red, to work on the guy w'ho threw the peas. If you can get him mad enough
to throw out some bacon as well, I’ll make us some of the best French-Canadian pea soup you ever tasted.”
There’s a wrinkled old saying about the referee’s calling: nobody likes a referee, but the pay’s good and the hours can’t be beat. No? During a hockey game the referee skates longer and harder than anybody on the ice. He’s out there for the full sixty minutes, and he has to cover both ends of the rink and the middle as well. After the game he sprints for a train, spends two hours trying to relax enough to go to sleep, and makes it, if he’s lucky, by three in the morning. At six-thirty a porter is shaking him awake for the next stop.
For a football referee things are a little different. There are five officials on the field instead of one, and each of the five covers his own area of the play. When a penalty is called most of the fans don’t know what it’s all about until the public-address system carries the announcement a minute later. They ride the referee, of course — any sport fan buys the right to ride the referee when he
picks up his ticket — but they’re so far away you can rarely make out what they’re saying.
Hockey fans are close enough to make themselves heard, all right, and they know what the penalties are all about. Or they think they do. In the first game I ever refereed I found out that after ten years of playing hockey I still didn’t know' the rules. After nine years of refereeing in the NHL I can tell you that most major-league players don’t know the rules either. But the fans think they know them, and that’s enough to break up many a hockey game.
In 1958 I left the Big Four and football, where I had always been a partseason referee because the end of the schedule cut into the beginning of the NHL schedule, to concentrate on hockey. Then, on that night last April, I walked away from this life I’ve been describing altogether. Most people would probably call it a crazy life anyway: trains and hotels where I couldn't associate with my traveling companions because of the unwritten rule against fraternization between players and referees; months on end when I didn't see my family as often as the man who comes to read the gas meter; hostility and jeers in my ears when I was lucky enough not to have a mob on my heels.
That was the life I chose and the life I’d choose again.
Now there is only one more call I want to make in hockey. It concerns the April game that led up to my resignation, and the game’s aftermath. In this ex-referee’s judgment, that game was a danger signal. The curb for lawless hockey and hooligan fans is not public denunciation of NHL referees by the league’s own officers. The curb is strong authority—strong enough to preserve the respect the game lives on.
For what my experience in sport is worth, it convinces me that the NHL will only respond to this kind of authority if it's put in the hands of a commissioner who has last-word power over every decision that affects hockey as a sport. The league governors are businessmen who run hockey as a cash-on-the-barrelhead trade. Sport needs something more, as baseball long ago proved and as football is proving now. A strong commissioner — a czar, if you like — is what hockey needs as a business and as a game.
Last spring, after my resignation from hockey, the NHL governors let it be known that I would be reinstated if I applied to them; the Big Four invited me to put my whistle to work again in football; the American Hockey League and the Western league both asked me to join them as referee-in-chief.
Phone calls, telegrams and letters from all over the east found me in Montreal. They came from friends I’ve known for years and friends I didn’t know I had. They ranged from a wire sent by Conn Smythe, the owner of the Toronto Maple Leafs, before word of my resignation was published: "You have done as much for hockey as any one man. You can do more. Please stay with the game,” to a letter to a Montreal columnist from a fan in New York. It read: “I’ve been booing Red Storey for so many years I now consider him a personal friend. Please tell him to come back so I can boo him some more.”
I think I’ve made it clear why I had only one choice: to walk away with my head up. It was too late for me to learn how to stay in sport with my back bent. But thank you, my hostile friend in New York, for making it easier to say goodbye. ★