September 27, 2008
We lost Paul Newman yesterday, to cancer at age 83. We lost an entertainer whose philanthropy has overshadowed, rather than enhanced, his celebrity. We lost someone whose dedication to his art has inspired thousands of filmmakers and actors. We lost a great American.
But we'll always have Brick from "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." And Eddie Felson in the pool hall. We'll have Luke and Butch. And we'll have Reggie "Reg" Dunlop, player/coach, Charlestown Chiefs.
As a puckhead, it's selfish to assign too much of Newman's legacy to "Slap Shot," the seminal 1977 hockey comedy considered one of the greatest sports movies. But the movie exists because of Paul Newman. The movie works because of Paul Newman. The Hansons, the quotable moments, Ogie Oglethorpe ... that's window dressing. Newman was the foundation, the heart of the film. If you don't believe that, try suffering through "Slap Shot 2."
His Reggie Dunlop embodied what we adore about hockey (or, in the NHL's case, hope to one day adore again): Tough, vulgar, compelling, blue-collar and sexy, with eyes that display both game-night intensity and an undeniable sense of mischief. "Let 'em know you're there!"
I no longer ask "Where are today's Reggie Dunlops?" when I look at the NHL; they're still around, but their numbers are dwindling. But I think about how Reg would roll his eyes and ask for another cold one as he watches generations of hockey players (and their employers) abandon the primal magnetism of The Game for the sake of money and personal accomplishment.
That's why "Slap Shot" still resonates. It is, in ways much more subtle than a Hanson Bros. brawl, what we want hockey to be.
R.I.P., Paul Newman. And thanks: