When I was a kid, it was not uncommon to know where at least one NHL player lived. While they made good money, it was not absurd money and there was a good bet that at least one lived on somebody’s paper route, or near an aunt’s house, or someplace that was potentially accessible. If one were so inclined, you could go there and get an autograph.
I was never so inclined.
I don’t know what it is. It could be just general shyness or an overdeveloped sense of propriety, but while I’d have no problem getting an autograph from someone at a card show or a book signing or whatever, I’m extremely reluctant to do so when bumping into someone in the course of their day-to-day existence.
This past weekend, I was doing a grocery run and decided to grab a coffee at Tim Horton’s. I parked the car and headed for the door when a familiar face passed me heading the other way.
It was Johnny Bower.
It took me a second because at 87, Johnny’s a tad smaller than he once would have been, but there was no mistaking the face. I had about 5 seconds to make a decision and decided that I really didn’t want to accost Johnny Bower while he and his wife were trying to get into their car and go about their business. So I just watched him go.
I went in the store and talked to the person behind the counter.
“Hey! That was Johnny Bower!”
“Johnny Bower. He was the goalie for the Leafs a long time ago.”
“Oh, I don’t know him.”
“Older guy, almost 90 years old. He was in here with his wife a couple minutes back.”
“He was a teammate of Tim Horton.”
“Cool! I’ll have to tell the boss. He’d know about that sort of thing.”
She was obviously not quite as impressed by all of this as I was.
I’ve known for years that Johnny lived in the neighbourhood somewhere. My kids took skating lessons at the arena with his picture in it and a number of times I’ve gone to the grocery minutes after he left and the cashiers would still be buzzing. It’s the first time I’ve run across him, though.
Johnny is reputedly among the nicest human beings on the planet and probably would have signed my grocery list (the only paper I had on me) had I asked. It’s just not in my nature, I guess. If I’d had one of the kids with me, I probably would have gone. It would be easier to get something for them than for myself. The whole episode still made my day, though. It was pretty cool.
This brings the list of Leafs I’ve seen at various unofficial places to four: Carl Brewer used to visit someone at the place I worked as a kid, Norm Ullman was on the front steps of Union Station in Toronto, Derek King was waiting to cross King St. at Bay and now Johnny. Yet to get an autograph from any of them.
Maybe next time.
(Note: I actually do have a Johnny Bower autograph. He was at a bookstore or something about 20 years ago and I got a print signed. He was extremely nice that time, as well.)
In the name of being topical, Johnny probably wouldn’t have fared any better against the Bruins on Saturday than either Scrivens or Gustavsson did. Sometimes you just get beat. Severely.
I’m terrible at recognizing people in person — even people I work with who I happen to see while not in a work setting. If I lived in an area where there were a lot of pro athletes, chances are I’d walk right by them without noticing.
There aren’t that many I’d know at a glance, either, but Johnny Bower is probably one of the more recognizable former athletes out there. He still has a public presence and makes a lot of appearances around the city.
Cool story, and great 68-69 Bower!
Great story I love meeting athletes, especially ones you look up to and are actually nice. I love the cartoon on the back of the Bower (I wonder how he felt about that back then).
The thing with Johnny was that 44 was the age he’d admit to. There was speculation he was even older than that. 🙂 1924 seems to be the commonly-accepted birthdate.
Johnny Bower is a super nice guy. Never met a person with a bad thing to say about him.
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