Bob Probert: The Ultimate Rebel Without A Cause
Bob Probert, who died at the age of 45 Monday of an apparent heart attack while boating on Lake St. Clair, was a paradox in life. On one hand, he might have been the most popular athlete to play in this town the past 30 years, at least among those not named Steve Yzerman. More popular than Barry Sanders, and Isiah Thomas and Kirk Gibson, the latter two who led local teams to championships. While he didn’t have anywhere close to the same success as the above-mentioned players in competition, Probert’s connection with the people was greater. And it wasn’t because of interviews he did with the media, that’s for sure. It was more a matter of style. In Probert, fans, particularly those of a working-class background, saw themselves. Their strengths. Their flaws. Their dreams fulfilled by the son of a Windsor cop. There was never a fight he turned down. He lived hard off the ice, too, constantly running afoul with the law, which many admired in a "boys will boys’ sense. Probert was the classic rebel without a cause. Probert’s well-documented problems off the ice greatly frustrated Red Wings’ management, particularly then general manager Jimmy Devallano and coach Jacques Demers. But somehow it only endeared him more to Red Wing fans, who persistently, albeit inappropriately, shouted out, "Probie" while the national anthem was playing at Joe Louis Arena. He was the ultimate tough guy on the ice. The best hockey fighter I have seen, although teammate Joe Kocur had more one-punch knockout power. Probert’s career with the Red Wings was a profound disappointment, though. When it was over, he played eight nondescript seasons with the Blackhawks as one of those Detroit-bred athletes, who just looked strange wearing the other team’s colors. The Red Wings didn’t start winning championships until Probert departed - and that addition by subtraction did seem to be a major reason why. The ultimate distraction was gone. But his time with the Red Wings is looked back upon like it was a championship era. It was a time when the Red Wings weren’t the best team in hockey, but the "baddest." And in this town, I’m not sure sometimes which is more important. Some would say Probert got everything out of life because of the way he lived it. Others would say he wasted many opportunities. We can all agree on this much, though. Bob Probert’s life ended too soon. And it’s impossible not to feel sad about it.