A couple weeks ago, I have had the pleasure of talking to Hall of Fame Chicago Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull at PopCon Milwaukee. Bobby greeted fans and regaled all with stories. When a hockey legend speaks, you listen. Even though I had previously heard some of the stories, hearing them directly from the legend was fascinating.
Bobby Hull starred for the Hawks from the 1957-58 season through the 1971-72 season. In 1972, he signed a $1 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets of the new World Hockey Association. He played with Winnipeg through the 1978-79 season and moved back into the NHL with them, when the AHL was absorbed by the NHL. Midway through the 1979-80 season, he was traded to the Hartford Whalers, where he finished the season and retired. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983.
Bobby never wanted to leave Chicago, although he was frustrated with his salary for years. After the 1971-72 season, the new league wanted to make a splash and the Jets approached Bobby. Not really interested, Hull threw out a price of $1 million, figuring they would never be able to comply. Several days later, they met Bobby’s request. There wasn’t a contract in place, but Bobby gave his word and he would not go back on it. The Blackhawks subsequently matched that offer, but by then it was more of an insult and Hull was off to Winnipeg. (This was Mistake #1 by the Hawks.)
An interesting side note is that the Jets raised the necessary cash by pooling resources from the other nine WHA teams. Hull’s signing helped the league so much that the other teams were willing to pitch in to get it done.
After starring for the Jets for 6 seasons, Bobby only managed 4 games in the 1978-79 season. He was set to retire as the WHA was set to be merged into the NHL.
Even though he was retiring, Bobby was still disappointed that the Hawks did not keep him, which would have allowed him to retire as a Blackhawk.
Everyone assumed Hull would be kept by the Hawks. Topps even put Hull on a Blackhawks card in their 1979-80 set. While it might have been strictly a token, keeping Hull protected really wouldn’t have hurt the Hawks. It’s not like their team was chock full of stars or hot prospects.
In the 1979-80 season, Hull came out of retirement to rejoin the Jets. Midway through the season, he was traded to the Whalers, where he played with longtime (friendly) rival Gordie Howe. Bobby stated he came out of retirement for money, but also because of his love for the game. He was also excited about being able to play with Howe, against whom he had played since his rookie season. Seeing these two legends finish their careers together was amazing.
The Hawks had a great chance to mend the fences and improve their team greatly by signing Brett (Bobby’s son) when he was a free agent in 1998. Once again, the Hawks dropped the ball (or should I say “puck”). The elder Bobby really wanted to see Brett play for the Hawks. t would have been the perfect way to come full circle and bring the two sides together again. (The was Mistake #3 by the Hawks.)
It would take many years before the rift with the Blackhawks was mended. Being estranged from his beloved team “broke his heart,” but that all became old news as he eventually was brought back into the family.
Bobby talked about breaking down when the Jets retired his #9 jersey. Later, when the Hawks retired #9, Bobby became one of a handful of players in all sports to have his number retired by two teams.
Bobby did eventually get to see Brett wear his #9 for his former team, sort of. The Jets had relocated to Phoenix as the Coyotes. When Brett joined the team, Bobby requested they allow Brett to wear #9. It wasn’t as meaningful as it would have been had Brett worn the Indianhead, but it was still special to Bobby.
Another interesting story Bobby told involved his brother Dennis. Early in his career, Dennis was struggling to make the Hawks. There was a technicality in the NHL Rulebook, which forced a team to keep a player on roster. Bobby knew this and instructed Dennis to take the ice, thus activating the rule and allowing Dennis to stay with the team.
Of course, Dennis would go on to being a star in his own right. He stayed with the Hawks though the 1976-77 season, before finishing his career with one season with the rival Detroit Red Wings.
At PopCon Milwaukee, Bobby’s booth was adjacent to former wrestler Baron Von Raschke. Bobby talked about watching the Baron wrestle at the old Chicago Amphitheatre. Bobby joked that he should have tried using Baron’s signature “Claw” on some of his fighting partners during his career.
Bobby also reconnected with former Chicago Cubs Hall of Fame pitcher Fergie Jenkins. Bobby and Fergie were two of the biggest stars in Chicago (and their respective sports) for several years. Just seeing these two legends together gave me chills and brought me right back to my childhood.
Bobby is doing great these days. He’s happily back in an ambassador role for his beloved Hawks and the fans (old and young) are happy to have him back. “Hockey keeps him young,” says Bobby.
My mother was a huge Bobby fan and I often heard stories of his achievements with the Hawks. I am sure she would have loved to have met “The Golden Jet,” but I believe she was there with me in spirit. I like to think that is special, but the truth is that Bobby (and Brett and Dennis) have a special place in the hearts of many fans in Chicago (and elsewhere), many of whom are multi-generation fans of the Hull family. That fact “humbles and tickles” Bobby to no end.
I am happy to have met Hull again and very happy to see him in a good place in life and with the Hawks. It’s great to see the Hull saga have a happy ending.