Back in the seventeenth century, English poet John Donne wrote: "No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..."
Those words of humility and community are true for all of us, but they do not apply to Jean Beliveau. He is an exception because he is not a piece of the Canadiens or a part of the main. He is the main. Jean Beliveau is the Canadiens. Of course, he would be the first person to quietly deny that statement, but that's what he does. We, who see him without the filter of self-effacement, can say otherwise.
Without him, the Canadiens no longer rise above the anchors of modernity...money, selfishness, failure...that drag them from the exalted heights of the past into the bland ordinariness of the present. Jean Beliveau, sitting in his place behind the team, literally and symbolically, reminds us the Canadiens have something no other team does. He makes us believe they have a history and a tradition that bring a little magic to a time that has very little magic of its own. He makes the team important and lends it a gravity today's circus threatens to strip from it. As long as he's there, he is the "class" people refer to when they talk about the Canadiens. He is the history and the dignity and the pride.
There are other players who helped make the Canadiens great, of course. But Jean Beliveau made the team a legend. Now, as he lies in a Montreal hospital suffering the after-effects of a stroke, we hope for his return to health. We pray, if we pray. He's already done so much for the team we love, but we're selfish. We can't let him go. We need him and so do the Canadiens. If there was ever a worthy reason for the current incarnation of the Team Jean Built to rally, this is it.
Donne said no man is an island, but he didn't know Jean Beliveau.