Tuesday, July 06, 2010

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.

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8 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pat,

As a 44 year old man that had some of those flaws that Probie had I can only agree with just about everything you said. I was in the Navy from 85 to 91 and remember my mom sending me videos of many wings games and I would show them to my friends from around the country. They were just amazed at how "Bad" the Red Wings were. They might not of been the best team in hockey at the time, but they sure were fun to watch!!

8:08 PM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Anonymous,
To many Red Wing fans about your age, Probert and rugged style of play is the reason they started to love hockey. Great post. Thanks for sharing it with me.
Caputo

1:52 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You do have to remember, Book, that Probie had considerable talent as well, it wasn't just his rugged play. He was "The Mule" with an overhand right, as it were.

Pull away the personal issues and replace them with consistent presence in the lineup, and he'd likely be considered in an 80's/90's Top Ten List, no doubt. The talent was there.

Sad to say though, you can't pull away personal issues.

R.I.P brother Bob. You left us too soon.

8:03 AM 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's sad how some people are punished so hard in life. By all accounts he had turned much around, and now he has this happen in the middle a Lake St. Clair, and is suddenly gone at a young age.

It seemed to me that he became a target at the time - something that we see today with TMZ type reporting. Many things were published because it was Bob Probert, who was at the time our most recognizable public figure.

He was easy for people to accept into their hearts. He was from this area, he had a big brother persona, he shared our weaknesses, enjoyed rubbing shoulders with us at the bar, and yet he was a unique hockey talent. Kind of the ultimate power forward. If we dreamed of playing hockey, many would wish to fill his skates.

How many people in the future will compare a young player to a Bob Probert type talent?

God speed Bob

Allan

10:11 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Anonymous,
He was a very good player. Good hands. Strong on his skates. He could have become a consistent 30-goal scorer had he applied himself properly, which he did plenty of times.
Caputo

10:56 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

Allan,
I don't how much he had turned it around. He did have legal issues in the not-too-distant past. But to have that happen the way it happened, was truly sad. And I agree, he was somebody most of us could easily identify with.
Caputo

10:58 AM 
Blogger keith said...

I went to grade school and high school with Bob Probert. I'll tell two stories about him. Once we were in gym class and we had just finished playing floor hockey. While the class was filing out of the gym Bob and a few others stayed behind, shooting the bright orange balls into the net. I remember standing there watching in awe as Probert hit the balls across the entire school gym straight into the net. One after another. Every one went in. I remember it clearly, because each ball flew with a little curved path, about 3 feet off the ground, and right into the net, from clear across the gym. I remember thinking to myself "Wow, this guy is good at that". That was in grade 6 at Northwood Elementary. When we were in grade 12 someone stole my calculator, and while I was trying to work it out diplomatically Bob Probert came by and all of the sudden the whole vibe changed and the theif and I ended up in a fight outside the school. I didn't win the fight and I didn't get my calculator back but I did give the other guy 2 black eyes. Probert was dissappointed! He really did live for fighting. He was intelligent and witty.

2:17 AM 
Blogger Pat Caputo said...

keith,
thanks for sharing that story. It was a good one.
Caputo

7:14 PM 

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