Man bites dog is always hot news, and so Paul Mulvey is much on the minds of hockey fans these days. Here is a hockey player who wouldn't fight. Who knows why? Videots scrambling eggs during "Good Morning, America" the other day heard Mulvey say it was the first time he'd ever been ordered to fight and he simply refused. "I'm a human being," he said in another interview.
Heaven only knows if hockey can survive such scandal. The National Hockey League is on shaky ground already. It has no national television contract and in some cities it is locked in serious war against, cross my heart, indoor soccer. Now comes Paul Mulvey saying he's a human being. When it rains, it pours.
At least the NHL has taken action against Mulvey's coach, Don Perry, suspending him yesterday for 15 days and fining the Los Angeles Kings $5,000. The team had waived Mulvey a week after he refused to go fetch for Perry. The Kings say they were going to drop Mulvey, anyway, because he is "a marginal player," to quote the general manager, George Maguire. The refusal to fight in a game Jan. 24 only expedited the move, they said.
If Lassie burned down an orphanage, it would be no more shocking than Paul Mulvey sitting out a fight. At 6 feet 4 and 220 pounds, Mulvey is loved for his body. His short time with the Capitals is memorable for the tunnel through his dentures, wide as outdoors. For every knuckle sandwich he delivered, he ate one.
Which is, of course, what hockey is all about. Any innocent who stumbles into a building with an ice pond at the bottom of the hill soon grasps the fundamentals of hockey. Guys carrying tree limbs play bumper-car while chasing a frozen rock. They get mad because the rock won't go anywhere near where they want it to. They take out their frustrations on somebody's teeth, occasionally using the tree limbs as toothpicks, but mostly they are content with blindside collisions and rabbit punches.
The officials stand and wait for the boys to get tired of throwing punches. In wimp sports, referees stop fights, but in hockey, where men are men and your ticket to heaven is validated only after 500 stitches, the officials stand and wait for the magic moment when blood congeals on the pond. This is hockey.
Hockey's history is full of those sweet spots in time when vertebrae snap in rat-a-tat-tat rhythm. One week after Mulvey said no to Perry's demand that he join in a fight, the inspirational movie "Slap Shot" lifted hearts all over America. The movie heroes were guys who couldn't win because they were too nice. At the coach's insistence, they became high-sticking goons. Victories flowed like arterial blood.
"Old Blood and Guts" is the title of a Sport magazine piece of 20 years ago. The nickname belonged to one of hockey's greatest players, Eddie Shore. Here's what an anthology's introduction said of the old Boston Bruin: "In his long hockey career, Shore accumulated a total of 978 stitches on his scarred body. He had his nose broken 14 times, his jaw shattered five times, all his teeth lost in combat. He came close to losing his left ear and both his eyes. He took punishment, but he gave it out, too. He was a man."
Space prohibits a listing of Shore's accomplishments, but the magazine recounts the most famous, the time Eddie obliterated Ace Bailey. On Dec. 12, 1933, Shore's work was so pure it remains a lodestar for all hockey players, resistant even to the shame of Mulvey.
Eddie Shore was mad at Red Horner, who had bumper-carred him. "Shore picked himself up and, raging, went after Horner," the magazine said. "Mistaking Ace Bailey for Horner, Eddie flew down the ice and hit Bailey from the rear, slamming into him at full speed. Bailey went down. His head hit the ice and the crack could be heard all over the arena. For 19 minutes, Bailey lay unconscious while doctors worked frantically over him."
Brain surgery saved Bailey. Shore was suspended a couple of months. Bailey later would excuse Eddie, saying, "We didn't see each other coming."
Oh, sweet song of the frozen pond, how you move us. Poor Ace Bailey knew he had done wrong when he asked that his eyes be placed in the front of his head. You can't blame Eddie for that, no more than you can blame the Los Angeles coach, Don Perry, for ordering Paul Mulvey off the bench and into the fisticuffs last week.
"He was asking me to get a couple of more games in suspensions," Mulvey said of Perry, who was quoted in the Los Angeles Times. "That's not a hockey player . . . I'm a human being, and I stuck up for my rights as a person."
Still, you can't blame Don Perry for trying to keep hockey the stirring game it has been from Eddie Shore's time to the glory/gory days of Dave Schultz. By ordering Mulvey into the fight, Perry would keep hockey free of the nice-guy taint that is ruinous at the box office.
Two years ago, in a minor-league playoff game in Milwaukee, a Saginaw player named John Gibson circled an injured Milwaukee man, Carey Hayworth, who was slumped face down on the frozen pond.
Gibson occasionally would stop his circling to pick up Hayworth's head and punch his face.
This he did three times, circling between stops, while, perhaps spellbound by the majesty of what they saw, the officials stood and waited.
A man who watched film of this great moment in hockey said, "Each time Gibson dropped Hayworth's head back on the ice, you could see the pool of blood increasing."
Milwaukee forfeited the playoffs rather than play another game against Saginaw.
The Saginaw coach was Don Perry.