In Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Marc Antony intones at Caesar's funeral, "The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interr'ed with their bones..." As was so often the case, the Bard wrote words of wisdom in which we can still find eternal truths.
Earlier this week, La Presse reported that the Canadiens mean to retire Patrick Roy's number 33 during the Centennial season, likely sometime in November. As soon as the report surfaced, Habs' fans once again opened the "should they or shouldn't they" debate. The "they should" camp, in which I'm firmly entrenched, believes Roy's legacy includes saving the franchise from thirty years without a Cup, as well as performing as the team's only superstar in a decade sandwiched between some pretty dark years and landing in the record books as one of the best goaltenders to ever play the game. The "they shouldn't" side, which is extremely vocal right now, cites all Roy's off-ice sins...the temper tantrums, the sending his son after a helpless goaltender during a junior game, the explosion of temper that ended in his leaving Montreal. I think that's a case of "the evil that men do lives after them while the good is oft interred with their bones." Roy did some bad things...things we don't like to associate with our heroes. That's true. And that's the stuff that's still talked about when his name comes up. But it's also true that he did some very good things, which are buried because they were good. No one talks about the good beyond the moment it happens. It isn't salacious enough and doesn't stir emotion as much as the bad.
But there is a lot of good associated with Patrick Roy's name. While he played, he gave tirelessly to Ronald McDonald House, to make sure that the parents of sick children had a place to stay while their kids were being treated. He often took time after practice when other players had gone on to their outside lives, to stay on the ice with kids whose dream was to meet him. Red Fisher, who thinks Roy's number should not be retired, half grudgingly, half admiringly, writes about Roy showing up for a private trip to the Montreal children's hospital after he'd been traded. He could no longer go with the team on its yearly visit, but he felt compelled to be there for the kids who'd been expecting him, so he went on his own.
No one looks at the fact that, despite the incident involving his son, Roy is coaching junior hockey. The man is a multi-millionaire and has no need to ride the buses in junior. Yet he feels he's got something to offer the teenaged kids who dream about making it big. So, he spends eight or ten hours on jouncing buses because that comes with the package. Who else from the pantheon of Hall of Fame players is doing that? Yet, he has one indiscretion and he's reviled for it, with no thought to the motivation behind his presence in the picture in the first place.
I have my own story. I was in Montreal when I was a teenager, hoping to meet my hero. But it was during the playoffs, and the players were sequestered in a hotel outside the city. The only hope of meeting them was to catch them on their way into the morning skate. My group of friends and I were on a tour of the Forum, and were assured there was no way we'd see any players. But, fortuitously, our bus was parked around the back of the building, and when we came out, a bunch of the players happened to be coming in for the morning skate. We met Bobby Smith, who was great to us, Mats Naslund, Brian Skrudland, Mike McPhee, Chris Chelios, Guy Carbonneau, Petr Svoboda, Rick Green...pretty much all the players who made the finals in 1989. I shook their hands and wished them luck, but my hero hadn't turned up when it was time for us to board the bus and head to the next stop on the itinerary. I dragged my heels, shuffling toward the bus, when someone else in our group noticed a late-arriving player and asked, "Who's that?" I turned and saw him. My hero. He was hurrying across the street in an orange and white windbreaker, floppy hair blowing in the wind as he skirted traffic and darted toward the side door of the Forum. I was speechless. I couldn't approach him. A friend of mine waylaid him on the way to the building and said, "That's your biggest fan. That's stupid to say, but really, it is..." He smiled and stopped. He was late for practice, he was under intense scrutiny and pressure during the playoffs, but he stopped. He signed my scrap of paper, took a picture and thanked me for supporting him. He bothered with us. And that meant something. He didn't have to do that, and I wouldn't have blamed him for rushing by because he was late. But he didn't. And that meant the world to a fan of his who was thrilled just to be in his vicinity. It proved to me that there is a lot of good in the man.
So, despite the nasty pictures people paint of him off the ice, I know there are just as many beautiful portraits. Sure, we wish our heroes were always true blue. I love Jean Beliveau, despite never having seen him play, because he has never been less than classy. I have a personal letter he wrote me after I wrote him to compliment him on his biography which I enjoyed immensely. The man is pure class. Patrick Roy is a lot more human. But really, who can't associate with that? Who's perfect? He was a helluva great player and made my team better than they were. For that, I'll always appreciate him. But the fact that he made himself available to invisible fans like me make him special. So, even if he screwed up on occasion, he has many good marks in his favour.
So, when the debates arise, as they inevitably will as the date of his number retirement approaches, it would do us all well to look at the whole picture. No person is the sum of his faults. He's the sum of what he's done, good and bad, for people. And if we look at it that way, the balance just might be tipped in favour of the good.
I hope so, because I think Patrick Roy is a good man at heart. And I hope the fans that show up at the Bell Centre on some annointed night in November realize it as well. He hasn't had the luxury of time to dim his faults like some of the other number retirees have had. So his reception will depend on the good memories of Habs' fans. I have many. I'll bet you do too.