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  • Saturday, June 3, 2000

    Forum for a true icon

    Magical TV moment said it all about Rocket's legendary status

    By ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

      It remains, to this day, perhaps the most spine-tingling, remarkably emotional sports moment I have ever witnessed on television.

     Eleven minutes of thunderous applause in hockey's most famous shrine, an outpouring of love and reverence that reduced one of Canada's greatest hockey heroes to tears. Not to mention many in the crowd.

     If you didn't know about the deep regard French-Canadians had -- and still hold -- for the legendary Maurice "Rocket" Richard, you knew it on March 11, 1996, the night they closed the old Montreal Forum.

     The clips of that magical night were played over and over again this week, as television networks pulled together their tributes to the Rocket, who succumbed to stomach cancer last Saturday at age 78.

     Even four years later, the images still give me chills. A rare TV moment that told viewers how special this man really was.

     Not to mention footage of the 115,000 or so people who trooped to the Molson Centre to pay their respects on Tuesday. Or the emotional images displayed during Wednesday's state funeral for the Rocket, an event that was carried live on at least eight television networks.

     That television was able to provide these windows into the life of a true Canadian icon seemed almost ironic, in a way.


     For you see, the Rocket's greatest feats were performed in the 1940s and 1950s, when the likes of Hockey Night in Canada were still in their infancy.

     Indeed, if you watched enough of the Rocket tributes earlier this week -- TSN and CTV Sportsnet both produced wonderful two-hour retrospectives -- you'd have seen the same half-dozen or so grainy action clips repeatedly. For those old enough, however, so much more remains etched indelibly in their memories.

     Memories that would have produced both smiles and tears in the past few days. Memories that have been no doubt passed along to today's "TV generation," especially in Montreal and Quebec, where the reverence for Richard is almost unfathomable for those outside the province to comprehend.

     One might be tempted to ask how much bigger the Rocket could have been had he toiled in today's day and age, had his exploits received the same blanket TV coverage accorded to Gretzky and Jordan and other modern-day sports legends.

     But you think back to March 11, 1996, and what you saw on that evening, and you realize it is a question not even worth considering. It was something many of us might never again see in our lifetimes.

     The Rocket really was larger than life.

     Adieu, Maurice. Et merci.

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