This was going to be easy. One of life's layups. Macadamia nut ice cream in the morning. Stealing almost. Love Ya, Don Perry, I kept saying. You've made one column this week a snap, a quick tap dance on the evils of hockey and then off to the important musings of life--how to cure a spring slice.
The Perry-Paul Mulvey incident is to us hockey haters what a binge by the town drunk is to a country parson: an easy sermon. Heavy on the moral thunder. Slam Perry hard, for what he did was so blatantly wrong, so totally indefensible that any humane punishment would not fit the crime.
Two weeks ago, Los Angeles Kings Coach Perry ordered Mulvey to participate in hockey's sin and great attraction, a fight. Knowing it was against the rules for anyone to come off the bench and join a bout in progress, Perry told Mulvey to get his butt over the boards and protect whatever little King was being abused by the Vancouver Canucks.
Mulvey said no.
Which seemed more remarkable than what Perry did, for I'd assumed most hockey players--and Mulvey especially--don't have to be told to sic 'em. Like those rasslin' bozos who pollute an otherwise superior WRC-TV show by George Michael, hockey toughs thrive on the sorry side of sporting society.
After refusing that unconscionable order, after taking the high road of reason, though just possibly after determining not to risk another suspension on top of the one he'd just finished serving, Mulvey was waived. When everyone in the NHL chose not to claim him, Mulvey was assigned to Perry's former team, the New Haven Nighthawks of the AHL.
Hockey horrors usually seem so wonderfully uncomplicated, so totally without any shades of doubting gray. We can dump on nearly everyone: vicious Perry and the sport that condoned, if not created, him. Haul in a rink-sized heating pad and then, when the ice melts, whoosh hockey off the jock map with the world's largest handi-wipe (the quicker puck-er upper).
That's what Jack Mann calls fender-bending libel, but you don't have to be at too many hockey games too long before the bile starts building. When some rather tame fist flailing began during the Capitals-Islanders game the other night in Capital Centre, some wild-eyed folks near the press box cried for more.
I shook my head in disgust. But the ugliness had a familiar ring. Where had I often heard similar, though not quite so vivid, lust for blood? Where can fans be as tasteless?
Atlantic Coast Conference basketball.
Penn State football.
Red Sox baseball.
Another thought followed: wasn't there an NFL coach who once said he encouraged players to fight now and then, as something to generate spirit, to kick the lethargy out of his team?
Probably, Billy Martin has sent many a squishy-soft pitcher to the minors for not obeying orders to aim a baseball at a batter's rib cage, or his head. Is an 85-mile-per-hour baseball or Paul Holmgren's fists the more dangerous?
"Lots of managers try to get their pitchers to retaliate," one of Martin's former Detroit pitchers, Fred Holdsworth, said after the volcanic manager had been fired by the Rangers. "But Billy always seemed to make it clearer.
"There was a little sign. The catcher would flip his thumb toward the batter; the pitcher knew what he had to do."
An NBA guard prominent in the '50s told of once being asked by the team's owner, at halftime, if he wanted to earn a $75 pair of shoes.
Certainly, the player said.
Seems the game was getting one-sided and too many customers were leaving the arena the man also owned, costing a great loss in concession-stand revenues. So the owner wanted his man, just after the second half began, to pick a fight with that huge black player on the other team.
The white guard did it, went out and slugged the taller black man for all he was worth. The guard showed me pictures of it. A dandy brawl. Fans came streaming back into the arena. The shoes wore well, he said.
A pro golfer, Larry Ziegler, once punched out his caddy.
"A black eye for hockey," the Islanders' Al Arbour said of Perry versus Mulvey. "(But) I think the rules have been getting better, enforced better. I think, possibly, there'll be changes in the rules again. There's been a lotta talk about changes in the fighting rules. I'm sure it'll come up again."
It had better. And something had better happen to cage the Perrys of hockey. His 15-day suspension, while significant in relation to other actions in previous years, simply does not seem strong enough.
One more thought: a few years ago the NFL seemed to be getting overly populated with head hunters, defensive backs who considered it fine sport to spear a helpless receiver after an incomplete pass or linebackers who used their forearms to chop the neck of any back who dared enter his territory. Quarterbacks were an endangered species.
Happily, the NFL reacted to criticisms of its thugs. Defensive backs hardly are dainty now, but the first hint of dirty play brings a flag. A receiver can be intimidated, but not maimed. Backs can drift into the middle on pass patterns and come out with their limbs still intact. This forcefulness filters down through football, to the colleges and high schools, and tends to make the game safer without making it weaker.
The NHL must react in kind, and soon. The All-Star Game here is a time for celebration, but also to think. Until hockey puts some NFL-like sting in the rules, I'll keep following it with feverish apathy. The spring slice beckons.