Being Tie Domi
For one night, I walked in Tie Domi's shoes.
Well, not exactly one night. About 30 seconds. And I didn't have to do any of the more challenging stuff, like fighting men twice my size while wearing skates and fufilling the duties of the toughest job in hockey year after year, through bruised knuckles and dislocated shoulders.
All I had to do was look like him. In the right light. To certain Philadelphians under certain circumstances.
It all happened after that goofy game in Philly in which Sandy McCarthy attempted to mock Domi by giving him the old chicken wing act, questioning Domi's willingness to scrap. McCarthy made quite the show of it, infuriating Domi and delighting Flyer fans.
Later that night, what then constituted The Star's hockey braintrust - Paul Hunter, Ken Campbell and myself - assembled in a fine Philly dining establishment and took a table near the front window.
After a few minutes, we were startled by a loud knock on the window.
We turned to see a small group of young men. One pointed to me, burst into a huge smile and then gave me the chicken wing routine, apparently thinking he'd stumbled upon the Leaf enforcer in an after hours moment.
Must have been the eyebrows.
Needless to say, Domi was a complicated character during his NHL career, one in which I interviewed him first as a Peterborough Pete at the Memorial Cup, saw him as a Leaf rookie, watched him hone his WWF show in the 'Peg, actually flew to New York to cover his first game as a Ranger then saw him return to the Leafs.
He was nice enough to include me among a group of writers he felt had been "fair" to him during his farewell address yesterday, but the truth was we had an up-and-down relationship that including more than a few "F--- you," "No, f--- you" exchanges.
After last season, he called, upset at a column in which he had been characterized as being too close to Leaf owner Larry Tanenbaum. Offered a chance for a full, unedited rebuttal, he never called back.
I always admired him for the job he did, even as I gradually came to believe the value of the enforcer's job was hugely exaggerated and that fighting should be banned from the game. His errors - Scott Niedermayer, Ulf Samuelsson - were spectacular, viciously violent and reprehensible, but there were many, many nights in which he didn't take dumb penalties to put his team in a bad position. He fought, but rarely tripped, held, interfered or highsticked, understanding that his ice time depending on staying out of the box for anything but dropping the gloves.
Interestingly, that meant for the giant number of penalty minutes he accumulated over his career, for most of them his team was not left shorthanded. Like a physician sworn to "do no harm," Domi may not have helped the Leafs win games, but the majority of nights he didn't hurt the effort.
It's a lousy bargain for fighters. Teams use them until they get beat up, then bring in the new boy. The Leafs, for example, used John Kordic until the time bomb exploded, never really doing anything to help him with the demons that eventually killed him.
Domi, however, turned the deal to his advantage. As much as the Leafs used him, he used the Leafs to sell the brand of Tie.
Maybe better than any Leaf ever.
Even yesterday during his retirement news conference, he was already into the business of selling himself on TSN. Sportsnet, which carried the event live, must have been thrilled to broadcast Domi singing the praises of its rival network over and over.
Some say he was a phony, but to be fair, how phony could he have been as a player to have fought that many nasty characters over the years? Was he any phonier than the players who were happy to skate under his protection?
If anything, he sold himself so well that he came to believe too much in what he was sellling.