Aug 13, 2002
Towards the closing of last season, Chris Chelios' Motor City teammate Brett Hull was quoted as saying, "I'd rather be old and smart than young and dumb".
Well, I don't think Brett's giving quite enough credit to the Jarome Iginlas out there (young people aren't all necessarily doobers), but the essence of his statement rings true enough to those of us with a little silver in our hair. The Red Wings have several players who could be considered remarkable relics of the 80's in their lineup, but my favorite by far is defenseman Chris Chelios.
Yes. Yzerman is eerily boyish in appearance, and Larionov personifies those scarred-up Russian grizzlies who'll never give up until they carry him out, but my vote for savior of the creaky and supposedly past-it goes to Cheli.
How has he persisted in a game that is known to chew up and spit out its players while they're still in their early 30's, leaving them freaked out and gimpy at an age when most of us can still climb the stairs without having a heart attack? How does he do it? Can he last through his contract, which at its conclusion will leave him practically prehistoric at 43?
On the ice, Chelios appears all sprung-up, bound with energy, but with a confident and controlled violence.
After all these years, he probably knows as well as any forensic pathologist just what piece of the human anatomy does what, and how badly it can be rearranged without causing irreparable damage.
I bet he knows all about his own workings too. Smart enough and still quick enough to get out of the way so as not to get smacked around by any young kids with something to prove.
If I truly stop and ponder upon Cheli's years, I begin to realize just what a wondrous specimen of 40-plus he is.
Think about what Cheli has to contend with...he's reached that particular point in life where your casing and its contents begin to give out. Fit or not, we all deal with it eventually. It starts in little ways...an achy knee here, a stiff neck there, and it marks the beginning of the relentless process known as "serious aging", the hideous realization that there's no turning back.
It's the point in your life where you start worrying about your parents, instead of them worrying about you. It's when your doctor says you need high blood pressure medication, or reading glasses, when it takes three weeks to recover from lifting your hand above your head the wrong way. And it's when all that physical activity that came so easily to you as a young thing turns around to bite you.
All those repeated actions, all those blows, all the running, jumping, falling, stretching, bending, skating...through the years every physical motion and mental stress gets indelibly printed in your body's cell memory. Every action you take has a bounce-back re-action that is eventually going to have you reaching for the Advil in the middle of the night. If John Lennon was shot before you were born, then none of this is going to make sense to you. Yet.
Let me tell you, as a red-blooded female, I'm on to Chris Chelios like Homer Simpson on to a doughnut. I keep a Red Wings jersey autographed by him stored in a secret box in my closet. Tucked inside with it is a triumphant picture of Cheli and his all-year tan; his dark, dark eyes and his white, white teeth glistening under the Stanley Cup.
He's a hockey player who resembles a movie star, an action hero, like a better-looking and even tougher version of Nicolas Cage.
I never think about how old Chris Chelios is. Who cares if he's 40? Life begins at 40. I'm just happy that he's signed on for another balls-to-the-wall two years with the Red Wings. Is he going to make it through the next two seasons? If I were you, I'd bet on it. The Wings have.
If you live a while, you're almost guaranteed to meet with every situation life can throw at you. With maturity come the fruits of experience, and if you learn how to spot trouble coming and step out of the way as it smashes on through, why then, you've uncovered just one of Cheli's little secrets. It's not just luck, it's just the way he plays the game.
With maturity, one can become more deft at doling out pain, too, not just skating around to avoid it. Cheli still gets out there, although I've noticed he's often holding a buddy back in a scrum, instead of starring at its epicenter.
At 40-plus, you begin to realize that you don't really have to deliver one sudden, stunning blow to immobilize your enemy, although you still can, but the smart ones ask is it worth the price to pay physically? Lousy getting out of bed in the morning, if you even can.
Pain can be doled out in small increments, to create an overall pyramid effect. Watch Chelios operate around the net. He just won't get out of the way. His attitude is formidable, aggressive: but he's also naggy, needling, relentless...the way your wife or mother is when she wants the dishes done. You know the pain. After a while you simply give up and leave, or give in; either way, the battle has taken its toll on you.
That's where Chris Chelios' brilliance truly shines. He can side-step trouble, because he sees it coming, and he certainly can create trouble with all the tricks he's learned over the years, but more than that, he understands the value of tenacity...don't waste your time and energy on one blow to get what you want...all you need to do is persist, keep on it, like a blister, irritate until you wear them down and they pop. Watching Cheli I have recognized his staying power, and I salute it.
I wish I hadn't spent so much of my youth bashing about to get what I wanted. But hey, there's still time, Chris and I aren't that old. I made my girlfriends, Vicki and Julie, sit and watch a playoff game with me last season. I gave them some wine, chips n' dip, and then I showed them Chris Chelios. We spent much of the game waiting for another camera shot of him.
"Oh, he's nice".
"He looks so mean".
"No, that's just his job".
"He looks hairy, look at his hairy hands".
"I think they're all hairy. They're doing all that skating all the time. It makes you hairy".
"You know, he's 40 years old".
"40? Really? Isn't that too old for hockey?"
"No, not at all. Look at him".
"Yeah, he's a really good player".
Yup. He is. And he will be for the next two years.
Sarah Green is a freelance writer and illustrator based around Dallas, Texas. She will never, ever know as much about hockey or hockey players as you do.
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