It was the mid-’80s and I was at the Forum offices to pick up a team-signed Bob Gainey stick that was waiting for me, and after getting it, I went down some stairs leading out but stopped at the bottom to wrap the stick in my coat to protect the autographs.
As I was wrapping it, the door above opened, and it was Jean Beliveau of all people. He saw what I was doing and he looked startled and he hesitated, because I’m sure he thought at first glance that it could’ve been a gun.
I picked up on his reaction, explained what I was doing, and he came down and took his pen out, ready to add his name to the stick. But I was so surprised, so brain-dead, that I just kept wrapping, and he put his pen back in his pocket and walked out the door and across the street into a restaurant.
I remember watching him as he walked across the street, and thinking that I’d just had an encounter with the great Jean Beliveau. But I had startled him, didn’t want his autograph, and blew a chance to have a beautiful and possibly lengthy chat.
Regrets, I’ve had a bunch. And this one’s right up there.
Born in Trois Rivieres and raised in Victoriaville, both relatively small cities fittingly midway between Montreal and Quebec where Jean gave his heart, soul, and staggering talent to both, first with the Citadelles and Aces in the provincial capital, and then as a beloved Montreal Canadien.
And in return, whether it was Quebec for an older generation, or the Canadiens for the rest of us, we cheered, admired, and embraced him.
We were proud of our Jean Beliveau, from his playing days through to the end. So lucky to have him. Classy, friendly, polite, and dignified. One of the greatest ever, on and off the ice, and he was a Montreal Canadien. He was ours.
When the Rocket passed away in 2000, dark clouds hung over my head for weeks and probably months. And now it’s Jean. He was 83 years old and everyone has to go at some point, but of course it’s not easy.
I grew up watching him, beginning years before it became his turn to wear the captain’s ‘C’. I saw him play in the late-1950s at Maple Leaf Gardens with my dad, and throughout the 1960s at both the Gardens and Forum. I’m proud to be able to say that. He was a hero among heroes. A king of kings.
Jean, may you continue to lead and inspire in your new home, heaven. We’ll miss you so much.