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Remembering the Great Jean Beliveau

December 4, 2014

I never met Joe DiMaggio and only briefly encountered Bill Russell, but it is safe to say that while their greatness as players, the best player on all time great teams, is beyond doubt, that neither was/is that as a person.

That is where another greatest player, on all time great teams, Jean Beliveau, who died Tuesday at age 83, shines brightest.

See there is no athlete in history, who combined class, greatness and every day affability with being part of his team’s (The Montreal Canadiens, who won 5 straight Stanley Cups from 1956-1960 and 5 others in Mr. Beliveau’s career) historic, all time great era.

Never the less, and by way of Mr. Beliveau, whom I met once, at a “card show,” in 1996, it was my comparing him with Russell and “Joe D,” that moved Beliveau, beyond words.

Thus in hailing Beliveau today, I hold both Russell and Di Maggio in the highest esteem. All three were centers or at least in center in the game and were indisputable, great playing leaders.

Beliveau was big, could carry the puck and scored over 500 goals, when few had accomplished that feat.

His real greatness was when he scored some of those goals, especially in hockey’s real season, the playoffs.

In 1965 Mr. Beliveau won the first Conn Smythe Trophy as outstanding player in the Stanley Cup playoffs. He cemented that honor with the all important first goal, in the first minute of play, of a shutout win vs the Chicago Blackhawks in game seven of the finals.

In 1969 in the virtual final series, as the winner would face an expansion team, it was Beliveau who scored in the second overtime of game six at Boston vs the Bruins, to win the series.

When I spoke with Mr. Beliveau, an amazing presence in an Armani jacket but affable beyond words, I told him that the reason the Detroit Red Wings were without Stanley Cup for 41 years and counting is that they denied Beliveau and the Canadiens in game seven of the finals in Jean’s first two seasons.

He smiled and perhaps weaved Detroit a “reprieve” as they won the next two Stanley Cups.

I was heartbroken beyond proportion when in Beliveau’s last game the Canadiens again defeated “my” Chicago Blackhawks to win the Stanley Cup in 1971.

The memories of it, the devastation it caused an unpopular 10th grader who sadly did not succeed, are no longer bad and have not been for a long time.

The reason is that Jean Beliveau went out a winner as Joe Di Maggio and Bill Russell did before him.

If I could change 1951 vs DiMaggio and the Yankees perhaps I would. If I could change 1969 vs Bill Russell and the Boston Celtics, I know I would to ease the “pain.”

However, with Beliveau and the Canadiens, I would not consider it. In fact, I can now laugh that my friend Dr. Howard T. Eichenstein, the only one who took the elective class “health” seriously and it paid off for him, recreated Canadiens’ goalie Ken Dryden’s all time great save to secure that win with his briefcase upon seeing me in “Health’ class the next day. (By the way who had a briefcase for school in those days? these? Dr. Ike did).

The reason my sadness shifted to appreciation is that Beliveau was a good person and one should relish good things happening to good people. In his case great is easily substituted for good as a player and as a person.

Today is one of the few times God will call his “cleaning crew” to make things just that much better for Mr. Beliveau’s ascent into heaven.

It was such an honor for me to have met him and his appreciation for my words will resonate with me throughout my life.

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