In the midst of myriad sports stories and the never-changing non-story of NBA free agency, a one-line note appeared in my inbox that former Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks enforcer Bob Probert had died. He was surrounded by family on a boat in Canada when he collapsed.
He was 45. He was 45.
I let out an audible sigh and thought back to watching Probert go to work from the third deck of the United Center. Other than “The Anthem,” nothing brought the faithful Chicago fans to their feet faster and more enthusiastically than Probert dropping the gloves.
You watched him when the Red Wings visited the old Chicago Stadium, the enforcer who sneakily piled up points for Detroit, and cheered for whomever he battled in the Hawks sweater. And then, like when A.J. Pierzynski joined the White Sox, he became “your guy” while battling former Hawk Stu Grimson, Tie Domi or the enforcer of your choosing. It wasn’t a matter of if, it was when Probert was going to enthrall the crowd and send a message.
He was the hero of those early hockey video games depicted in “Swingers,” where you’d send Probert out in search of your opponent’s top scorer. And Don Cherry made a mint off Probert in his video series.
The fierceness with which he battled on the ice mirrored his off-field issues. Probert had several well-chronicled run-ins with law enforcement that included assault charges and substance use. He was indicted by a Federal grand jury on cocaine smuggling charges in 2006.
Probert found some peace in recent years. He reconciled with the Wings and appeared at Red Wings alumni events, including Steve Yzerman’s sweater retirement in 2007. The hockey-savvy crowd cheered their longtime enforcer.
Each day, I get the opportunity to sit, write and react to the latest sports news and accomplishments on the field. Retirements, off-field transgressions and shifts in personnel bring me back to those days of rabid fandom in Chicago.
In mid-June, I thought of those late-80s and early-90s Blackhawks teams fondly while watching Roenick tear up and Toews, Kane and Neimi skate around with Lord Stanley’s Cup. I revisit those memories again this week with a sigh.
Probert was just 45.
Click here to see Probert at work against Domi.