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My Life on the Edge
By Bob Probert, Kirstie McLellan Day
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2010 Liza Danielle Probert and Kirstie McLellan Day
All rights reserved.
LIKE DON CHERRY SAYS
Tie Domi was a little fucker, and I figured, "Why not?" You know? I didn't have to fight him, but I said, "Aw fuck, let's go. Give him a chance for the hell of it, eh?"
He was saying to me, "Come on, Bob, Macho Man wants a shot at the title." He called himself Macho Man, like the bigtime wrestler. I said, "Ah, you little fucker, okay, come on!" He got lucky when he grazed me and I got cut just above the eye. He didn't really hit me, just wandered through with a left. It didn't even hurt or anything. Whole thing only lasted about thirty seconds because the refs jumped in before the fight really got going. So he skates to the box and he pretends like he's putting on the heavyweight championship belt, a hot-dog move.
Later, the coach, Bryan Murray, asked me, "What the fuck are you wasting your time with that little goofball Domi for? You've got nothing to prove."
"Aw fuck," I said, "I gave him a shot."
Murray said, "Bob, you should know better."
* * *
Yeah, I fought. I think that helped me make it into the league, because they saw that I could play and also fight — do both. It's kind of a rarity in today's game. Guys who can do both now sign big contracts. I wish I was playing today. Not just as far as money — I was happy.
A lot of people are down on fighting in the NHL. They say it doesn't belong in the game. But like Don Cherry says, "When Probert was fighting, did you ever see anyone get out of their seat and go for coffee?"CHAPTER 2
GO EASY, AL
I've got this big red mark on my foot. I burned it on the exhaust pipe of my bike last week. I keep saying to my kids, "Watch the pipes, watch the pipes," and the other day I got on the bike real quick and forgot. I've been riding bikes for years and I still forget occasionally. I got my first bike in 1990, a Kawasaki Vulcan 750, and then in '91 I bought a really fast dirt bike. I got my first Harley in '92, and I've been riding those ever since. My father had one when I was a kid. He was on the Windsor police force and drove Harleys for them. He'd come home and take us for rides. My dad got me into hockey. His name was Al. Al Probert.
I don't know how he met my mom. I do know that they met at an older age. He was thirty-six or so when I was born. Her name is Theresa Brannagan. Dad's parents were from England. My grandfather's name was Jack. He was awesome. We used to spend a lot of time over at his house — sleepovers and stuff like that. My older brother, Norm, and I played lacrosse. Papa Jack always went to our games. We lost a big game one time, and my dad came up to me after. He was pissed and really giving it to me. Papa Jack pulled him aside and said, "Go easy, Al. Bob tried hard and had a really good game." Papa Jack was a big supporter. He was a happy guy — very happy, and a lot of fun to be around.
My dad had drive. He was tough. I was always told to toughen up, be strong, strong like a bull, not to show weakness. My dad was in the army reserves for three years and then transferred to Germany. When he got out of the army, he went right into the police force. He was born in 1929 and became a cop in 1954. He was big — my size, six foot three, around 220, 225. My grandfather was a smaller guy. Grandma was small too — real small. And yet they had this big son.
My Papa Jack died in 1973, when I was eight. I remember that funeral. You know how kids are. It hadn't really dawned on us that he was dead, so we were acting up in the back of the car and my mother said, "Guys, keep it down back there. Your grandfather just died." We just didn't get it. It was the first death I had experienced. I remember seeing him laid out and I was trying to be strong. I went up to my dad after and said, "Did you see me, Dad? I didn't cry. Everybody else did, but I didn't." But I cried that night. I didn't want people to think I was a big wimp. As I get older I find that's not the case at all. Crying's okay.
There was some kind of family stuff going on at my grandfather's funeral — something between my mother and my dad's brother's wife — and that was it. We never hung around with our cousins anymore after that.
I think I'm like Papa Jack. I like to have fun. I look like my dad, though. People say I look more like my mother, but I think I look like my dad.
I grew up in south Windsor on a quiet street, in a small brick house. Virginia Park Avenue. I played street hockey with all my buddies. It was a dead end, so we'd set up in the middle of the street and play all day.
I was not very good in school, but I could figure things out. I liked tools and stuff. When I was in Grade 2, the teacher turned on an electric fan and held up a piece of paper. He asked, "How many think the fan is gonna blow this paper across my desk?" Everybody raised their hand except me. Then he said, "So who thinks the fan is gonna suck the paper in?" And I was the only one who knew it would. But I did not like to sit in classrooms and I couldn't remember one damn thing I read. When I was in rehab, I was diagnosed with ADHD — attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, which is now pretty common among kids. At Northwood Elementary I would sit at my desk and not hear a word the teacher was saying. I'd be watching a movie in my head — a movie about what I was gonna do when the bell rang. Sitting there drove me crazy — I had to do something. I was already a nail biter, but being in school all day made it worse. I bit them till there was almost nothing left, and later, when I lost my front teeth, I learned to use the teeth on the sides. Adapt, you know?
I started playing hockey when I was four and got into an organized league when I was five. My dad took me down to Adie Knox Herman, the local rink. I loved it. I started as a forward — a left winger — and played left wing my whole career. Yeah, sometimes I'd switch and play right wing, even though I was a left-hand shot, but never centre, never defence. The kids on the street would get out and go to the end of the street and play on the pond. There was a picture in The Windsor Star of my father lacing up my brother's skates. That's what he used to do. He'd put my leg on him and he'd tie my skates.
I liked my dad. He didn't smoke, but he liked to have his beers after work. He wasn't a big boozer, but it was acceptable to go to the Legion and have a few pints. He'd have his gin and tonics, but I very rarely saw him drunk — a couple of times, maybe, but he was for the most part in control. His hair was grey, like mine. It was good and thick, but more straight than curly. He wasn't all macho. He'd pat us on the back and say things like "Good job." He didn't say a lot, but when he did talk, you'd listen. Otherwise, you'd get cuffed across the head. I remember mouthing off and all of a sudden, whack! I learned real quick not to push him to that point, so it didn't happen often. I could count on one hand how many times he did that. I'd stagger around a bit and my ears would ring — not a pleasant experience.
My mother had a paddle, and she'd say, "If you don't behave, you're going to get this!" I was ten and kind of like a shit disturber, so one day I got it on the butt. That night they went out and I sawed that thing in half with this little saw that I had in a tool kit I got for Christmas. The paddle was a threat, and I wanted to get rid of it.
I remember when she went to go use it the next time, she picked it up and started yelling. I ran to my room and she locked me in. My dad wasn't home, so I turned on the tears. She felt so bad she said, "Okay, come on out," and gave me a cookie. I learned to put on a pretty good show. I was a pretty good actor and I learned how to manipulate her at a young age.
My dad was an old-school cop. He applied street justice with his nightstick. He had a reputation. I remember him coming home from work after having been in fights. One time, he had to go break up this big bar brawl and one of his elbows was all cut up from rolling around in the street. I thought that was so cool. You know, if I hadn't gone into hockey, I think I might've been a cop. As it is, I have managed to interact with police officers many times anyway.
When I was in Grade 8, my buddies Tony DiCocco and Dave Cantagallo and I snuck into school at lunch and got spotted by the lunchroom monitor, so we took off down the hall. I got out first, with Tony right behind me, but by the time Dave reached the door, it whacked him in the forehead, and split it wide open. There was blood everywhere. That's how wrestlers bleed so badly. They cut the forehead, where the blood vessels are very close to the surface. Tony and I couldn't just leave him there, so we ran back and some teachers showed up and Dave ended up in the hospital for stitches. Tony and I were sent to the office, and I thought my dad was going to be mad, but he never said a word.
My dad used to take us through the police station and give us the tour, show us the jail cells, lock us in. We'd go out to one of his buddies' and get to shoot his guns. Dad had quite a few guns of his own, probably twenty or so. After he died, my mother had one of his partners come over and sell them all for $2,500, which I'm still pissed off about. I mean, it might have been a wise move — I was seventeen and Norm was eighteen — but he had some cool things, like a Luger that his uncle took off a German during World War II, and four Lee-Enfield rifles, with the pump action. He had a Model 57 magnum and a couple of .45s. He had a couple of little snub-nosed Detective Specials with the short barrels — Colt police issue. Just a real cool collection.
My dad used to take me to Red Wings games. He had a buddy, Pat D'Amore, who owned a construction company, and he would go and check on this guy's property after hours. To thank my dad for watching his place, he would give us tickets. It was pretty dangerous over at the Olympia in the '70s. In 1976 a businessman was killed over there after a tennis match, just walking to his car. The security guards had gone home and turned out the parking lot lights — even they didn't want to be around the Olympia late at night. When my dad took Norm and me to games, he'd bring his little snub-nosed .38. He'd drive across the border with it in his belt. He'd whip open his coat, show his badge and say, "I'm going to the game." When we walked to the car after the game, he'd have it in his hand, dangling at his side. It made Norm and me feel pretty safe. Our old man wasn't going to let anyone screw around with us.CHAPTER 3
A BIG GUY WITH GOOD HANDS
I like to think I'm a good passer. That was my problem — a lot of times I'd pass instead of shooting. I just enjoyed making something happen for someone else. There's nothing like watching a teammate score on a play you set up.
I had some good years, and some good coaches who knew that I could play. A lot of guys never got that chance. You're only as good as your coach wants you to be — I believe that, and I think I also had the drive. That's what helped me make it into the NHL. I see a lot of guys who have the talent, but they don't have that push, that eye of the tiger.
Rick Cranker was my midget coach. Just a great guy. I still run into him today around the city. Between the ages of ten and thirteen, I was always one of the better guys on my team. I was fortunate, because I was always a foot taller than most guys. Not many caught up to me heightwise, which seemed to help me stay among the top two or three players all the way up. I liked it. The only thing I didn't like was my big feet. I was always embarrassed about having size 13 clompers. I'd always buy shoes that were a size smaller and stuff 'em in there. Nowadays, I don't care.
My brother, Norm, is a year older. He played hockey with me all the way up and was drafted by the Windsor Spitfires, the local major junior team, and that was pretty much the end of his hockey career. It was just one of those things — bad timing. The Spitfires were a very good team at the time. They went to the Ontario Hockey League finals. He didn't get the playing time he would have gotten any other year. He tried to hang in there by playing a year at St. Clair College in Windsor. I think it was tough on him when he didn't make it. He kind of struggled with booze and drugs.
I have been drinking for a long time. The first time I drank, I was fourteen. The family went to a party at my aunt's in Michigan, and my dad brought a cooler of beer home with us — American beer in cans, all different kinds. Schlitz, Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon. I was putting them away in the fridge, thinking, "I wonder what that tastes like?" So I opened one and knocked it down. Nothing was happening. I had another, and another. After drinking about five of them I started getting a buzz, then it really kicked in. I was like, "Wow, this is pretty neat," but I knew I had better get to my bedroom before someone saw me staggering and falling down.
I guess I threw up all over myself during the night, because when my mother came to wake me in the morning, she said, "What's going on? What's wrong with you?" To this day, when I eat fish I sometimes have an allergic reaction, so I blamed it on tuna. I told her that when I had dinner at my buddy's the night before, they'd put tuna in the Kraft Dinner. I was a quick thinker. My mother bought it, and after that she was always worried about me eating tuna.
I was lucky, because I could easily have choked on my own vomit. Having a couple of beers became a regular thing. I had a high tolerance. My dad would be downstairs watching TV and my mother would be sleeping, and I'd sneak up to the living room or into the back yard and drink by myself. I liked to have between four and half a dozen. I'd hide the cans and get rid of them the next day. I liked the buzz. I really liked it.
I started hanging out, finding guys who liked to drink. At first, we'd get blasted at a weekend party, then I wouldn't do it again for probably three weeks. And then the time between started to get shorter and shorter until it was every weekend. Then twice a week. At that time, it didn't affect my hockey. We made sure not to drink before a game. After? Yeah, sure. Possibly even the night before. But when you're young like that, you sweat it out the next day. I remember my dad was pissed about it when he found out, but he took it easier than he might have because Norm had paved the way. In his final year of midget, Norm totalled his car after partying. Anything I did after that didn't seem so bad.
One night, I was about sixteen and walking home from a party when a black-and-white drove by, going the opposite way. So I just took off through the nearest yard. They pulled a U-ey and starting chasing me, trying to cut me off. I hopped a couple of fences and headed for the school, hoping to make it across the playground because I figured the car wouldn't tear through the grass. But they had called for help. So the next thing I knew, they had me surrounded.
They took me in, questioned me and had to let me go. It was pretty funny, actually — what were they going to charge me with? Running down the street? I don't know why I did it. I must have felt a resentment against authority. If I did that today, they'd probably Taser me. I have been Tasered by the cops, and let me tell you, I can think of better things to do.
I just didn't give a shit about much. I failed half my classes in Grade 9, and my marks went downhill from there. But hockey was going great, I was a winger on my midget team, Club 240, and was getting a little attention. I was six foot two and two hundred pounds and still growing, and I had some ability. I could gain possession by moving my opponent off the puck, and I had hands, so I put up a few points.
For me, the best thing about hockey was the team, the guys. I wasn't as serious as I could have been. I never worked on my skating or bothered with off-ice training. But then we went to a tournament in Vancouver when I was sixteen. It was an eventful trip. I broke the law, lost my virginity to an older girl, and managed to make some scouts look my way.
I had made fake IDs for all the boys, so we were able to buy as much booze as we wanted. It was pretty clever, considering there were no computers back then. I found this rub-on lettering in a craft store. I scratched each buddy's name onto the cards, drew in a line for a signature, attached a school picture, rubbed on the word ALBERTA across the top and coloured it in red, then added the guy's weight and height. Finally, I'd laminate it. It looked like a real student ID card. We were never questioned, not once. It was awesome.
I was pretty good with my hands — not really artistic, but I could think up stuff that required a little skill if it had to be done. The cards made it possible for us to buy booze and go to all the bars. We met some girls who were staying around the corner from our hotel. I think they were kind of like runaways. One of them was a pretty blonde. She was a rough talker, but I found her interesting.
Excerpted from Tough Guy by Bob Probert, Kirstie McLellan Day. Copyright © 2010 Liza Danielle Probert and Kirstie McLellan Day. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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