Sunday, 4 August 2013

Accolades for The Rocket from South of the Border

Jack Dempsey, boxing, Ty Cobb, baseball, Harold "Red" Grange, football, Jesse Owens, track, Rocket in hockey, Don Budge, tennis. And in front, Bobby Jones, golf.
Jack Dempsey, Ty Cobb, Harold "Red" Grange, Jesse Owens, Maurice Richard, Don Budge and Bobby Jones (seated) are honoured by New York’s B’nai Brith in 1960. (Photo: United Press)

Maurice “Rocket” Richard has a multitude of accolades bestowed upon him from the NHL and his home province of Quebec and home country of Canada. The legendary Richard was also noted in the United States, on several occasions by an assortment of outlets.


My good friend Francis Bouchard, an avid collector of video footage, and seeker of all things Habs history related, came across a few of these tributes to share.  When Richard received these awards, he was certainly in good company, with other notables of the major league sports.


 

And now for a really good shew…


Before it became “The Ed Sullivan Show,” the man for which the show would later be named hosted “Toast of the Town.”


On August 14, 1955, and just months after the infamous riot and his suspension, Richard joined a multitude of sports celebrities on the program to acknowledge the first anniversary of Sports Illustrated. Track stars Bob Richards  and Arnold Sowell, basketball  legend Bob Cousy, jockey Willie Shoemaker, golfer Ben Hogan, boxing great Joe Louis and baseball legend Ted Williams were among those who appeared on stage.

If you haven’t read it before, I strongly suggest reading SI’s piece on the Rocket from December of 1954.


A brief clip of Richard’s appearance is seen below as well as the letter that the Canadiens sent to him, asking that he would appear on the program.


 

Maurice Richard appears on Ed Sullivan’s “Toast of the Town” in 1955.

(Photo: ClassicAuctions.net)
 


In his last season of pro hockey, Richard was presented with a plaque as “Hockey’s Man of the Age,” by New York’s B’nai B’rith Sports Lodge. Other honourees included Jack Dempsey (boxing), Ty Cobb (MLB), Bobby Jones (golf), Jesse Owens (track), Red Grange (football), Don Budge (tennis) and Bob Cousy (NBA).


The plaque was auctioned off by Richard’s estate through Leland’s in May of 2003, fetching a realized price of over $1200.


It’s interesting that the plaque is dated January 24, as the Canadiens were in Chicago that night, playing in New York three nights later. We’ll have to dig further to see if the ceremony was delayed or if Richard was injured and given the OK to travel ahead. The Canadiens star does not appear on the score sheets over a span of four games around this time.


 
 

Following his retirement, Richard made frequent banquet stops and numerous other appearances, acting as a goodwill ambassador for the Canadiens. In a Montreal Gazette interview from January of 1961, he described his frequent appearances across North America as “the toughest league he ever played in.” 


He had just returned the previous evening from a B’Nai B’rith event in Boston, where the Rocket reportedly stood up  and said, “I’m happy to be back in Boston. I came here regularly in my 18 years as a player. We beat the Bruins eight or nine times in the playoffs.  We always won. Guess that’s why I like it here so much.”

 

Richard was recognized in 1961 as Athlete of the Decade in hockey by the S. Rae Hickok Co. in New York. Warren Spahn (MLB), Willie Mays (MLB) and Bob Cousy were also in attendance to receive awards.

Rocket-athletedecade (2)
Dennis Kane, another collector of Habs memorabilia and tidbits also dug up a photo of Richard getting a golf pointer from Arnold Palmer, who was also on hand.

 



The belt making company (hence why the award looks like a belt) also gave an annual award for the Professional Athlete of the Year from 1950 to 1976 (The “Hickok Belt” was resurrected in 2012, awarded on a monthly/annual basis.)


A pro hockey player was never acknowledged for the annual or modern monthly award, often overshadowed by the other big sports in the USA. To see Richard acknowledged in this company at that time where the NHL had only six teams is certainly high praise to close out his career.

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