Fifty years ago this week, the Canada-Soviet hockey Summit Series came to a thrilling conclusion. Paul Henderson scored the winning goal with 34 seconds left as Team Canada beat the Soviet Union. It was probably the biggest moment in Canadian history other than maybe the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917 or D-Day in 1944.
And, yes, it was even bigger than the iconic Canadian inventions of the telephone, insulin, peanut butter, and the hard cup jockstrap.
In March, 1997, I relocated my young family to Dallas to work full time at Pinnacle. I had been the editor at Canadian Sportscard Collector magazine and had done some contract work for Pinnacle, mostly in hockey. The move wasn’t easy, as my kids were four and four months. The visa requirements and international relocation were challenging. But like polite little Canadians, we sheepled into endless lines at immigration offices and said “sorry” to anyone who bumped into us.
I got to Dallas just in time to start working on the 1997-98 NHL hockey card products. I was completely stoked about it. The 25th anniversary of Paul Henderson’s epic goal would coincide with the season.
I sat down with Tom Farrell, who now works at Upper Deck Authenticated. Tom was one of the guys lucky enough to survive the implosion of the hobby in the early-to-mid 2000s and remain in the industry. As desperately as I wanted to stay in, it was a time when everyone was letting people go rather than hiring new employees.
I started talking to Tom about the idea of putting Paul Henderson Team Canada 1972 autographs into packs. The passion and enthusiasm were hanging off my face like an oversized Jean-Sebastien Giguere goalie jersey.
Tom grew up in Los Angeles as a Kings fan and was vaguely familiar with the Summit Series. He made the comparison to the Miracle on Ice in 1980 when the U.S. Olympic team beat the Soviets in Lake Placid.
I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. The Summit Series was way bigger. It was the biggest event in Canadian history. The entire country came to a complete standstill, and people who had never seen a hockey game in their lives were glued to the entire series.
The product was going to be 1997-98 Certified Hockey. That was our most premium product. It was a thick mirror board stock with a protective peel on the front. The product sparked a debate as to whether or not the cards should be peeled. Would peeing devalue or enhance the card? We loved when the hobby had these controversial debates, as it helped Certified break through the clutter of a market saturated with products.
“What about photos?” he asked me. “Do you know who to source them from?”
I looked at Tom, and I am thinking, ‘Does this guy think I’m new?’ Well, I was new because I had only been there a week, but I had spent my entire life from age 6 up to that point where I was a ripe 33 neck deep in sports cards.
“Here is what we do,” I told him. “There are two photographers that got the famous goal celebration – Martin Brodeur’s father Denis, and Frank Lennon. They are black and white and grainy. Off the photographers there, they were the only ones who got ‘the shot’. A few guys had color film, but there were no strobes at the arena in Moscow, so they all look like crap. However, there is a really good Canadian sports artist named Daniel Parry. He is at the Sport Card and Memorabilia showcasing his work every year. He just released a beautiful set of paintings based on Denis Brodeur’s photos from Moscow. Daniel is a friend of mine, and if this idea is approved, I will call him and we will figure it out. We can do like a five-card Henderson series with 1,000 autographs.”
Fast forward a week. Daniel Parry was on board. Paul Henderson was on board. Tom had his department cost out the product to make sure that it fell within our margins. It was the first time I had gone through the process of understanding cost of goods and profit margins in that business. I wish I had known what EBITDA was at that time. I probably would have run far away from Pinnacle rather than jumping through immigration hoops to get there.
Presenting products at Pinnacle was intimidating. Our CEO, Michael Cleary was there with the VPs and directors from various departments. They were shrewd and demanded excellence and perfection. It’s why Pinnacle was so successful in developing outstanding products with very high sales considering the rapidly contracting market.
Jim Brochhausen, our VP of sales, seemed like a mild-mannered and pleasant man from New Jersey. But in a sales meeting, there was always the fear that he might dive across a table at you with yogurt flying out the side of his mouth and with his raging eyes spinning with sevens and lemons if he didn’t like an idea you were pitching.
I always think of him when I see yogurt in the grocery store. Every presentation I ever made, I had to talk over him eating yogurt.
But I had this one nailed. I was covered. I had done my homework. This, as a journalist-turned-marketing executive, would be the finest moment of my professional career.
I sailed through my power point flawlessly as heads nodded and my higher-ups exchanged approving looks. And I was saving the best for last.
“And… what will make this the most sought after licensed trading card product in the history of hockey… Paul Henderson autographs!”
The room was quiet. I stood there with a smile big enough to have its own zip code (notice I didn’t say postal code as we do in Canada). I was met with a dozen blank stares.
Brochhausen put down his yogurt and stopped smacking his lips, but I could see the purple coloring build from his neck. He was trying to hold back, but he couldn’t.
“Who the %$^&#%^$% is Paul Henderson!?!?”
That was the last thing I had expected to hear. I had just assumed that everyone who was involved in sports was fully aware of the most famous goal ever scored. I guess not.
How do you put the greatest moment in a country’s history into context? How do you explain Paul Henderson’s goal?
My eyes looked out the window, and I saw the grassy knoll below us. Suddenly, the magnitude of what Paul Henderson had done hit me like a bolt of lightning.
“Look out the window,” I told everyone. “Do you see that? It’s the grassy knoll. Does anyone in this room not know exactly where they were and what they were doing when Kennedy was assassinated?”
They looked at me, puzzled. Kennedy was shot just a few weeks before I was born, but since I was the youngest person in the room, I figured I would be safe with the comparison.
“Paul Henderson’s goal,” I said, bluffing assuredness, “is like, for Canadians, our Kennedy assassination.”
I was met by more puzzled looks. I couldn’t even make eye contact with Brochhausen.
“Every single Canadian who was alive in 1972 can tell you where they were and what they were doing when that goal was scored. It was the greatest moment in Canada’s history, and probably the greatest moment in hockey history. It’s like how everyone in this room can tell us in detail where you were and what you were doing when you heard that JFK was assassinated.”
One of the guys piped in and broke the ice.
“Was it like the Miracle on Ice when we beat the Russians in 1980?”
“It was way bigger than that,” I said. “NHL players had never played the Soviets before. It was the greatest and most definitive series ever played.”
I sensed they were getting it.
“Was it like, for you, like it was for us when man walked on the moon?,” asked another guy.
“Kind of,” I said, thinking it was time to play the humor card. “But when they faked the lunar landing in Sudbury, Ontario and tricked Americans thinking they had actually flown to the moon, that was probably Canada’s second or third greatest moment.”
It cut the tension in the room and Brochhausen actually started breathing.
He did, however, grab the speaker phone to speed-dial Barry Cathcart from Arktos, our Canadian distributor in Montreal.
“Barry, have you ever heard of Paul Henderson?”
There was laughter on the other end.
“Morris says Paul Henderson’s goal was the greatest moment in Canadian history. Is he right?”
There was a pause.
“Well, maybe when we burned your White House down in the War of 1812, that might have been better, but I’d say he’s right.”
A month later, I was on a plane with a box full of cards and Sharpies for Paul Henderson. We would commemorate the anniversary of Paul Henderson’s goal with autographed cards.
Hey, Wait A Minute!
I was given a box of cards and some Sharpies and told to get on a plane to have Paul Henderson sign them.
I tried to be totally nonchalant about the whole thing, but they saw right through me. I was about as chalant as one could be. I was the mayor of Chalantville.
They booked my flight and I booked my hotel near the airport. I called Paul Henderson. Wait a minute. I just wrote that I called Paul Henderson. If eight-year-old me knew what I would be doing 25 years later, he would have been the most chalant kid at Churchill Public School, and that includes all three classrooms. Paul Henderson was going to come to my hotel room – I had a suite – and then I was going to sit with him for the afternoon while he signed 1,000 cards. Like, me and Paul Henderson, best day ever or what?
After I landed and checked in, I got sorted out. I didn’t have a cell phone yet – it was still the 90s after all. I called Henderson from the hotel. I was frantic, kind of like Martin Short’s 1980’s Ed Grimley character on Saturday Night Live.
Finally, there was a knock at the door. I looked through the peep hole. Paul Freaking Henderson! Paul Tap Dancing Henderson!
It was a thrill to meet him. I told him about being eight years old in 1972, and how I had a Globe and Mail paper route and saw a story about Ontario Premier Bill Davis saying that every kid should be let out of school to watch the game. I brought it into our principal, Larry Berry, who is a huge hockey fan. By noon, a black and white TV had been wheeled into the gym and all three classrooms in our school assembled to see the game. I will never forget all of us jumping and screaming when Henderson scored.
I realized, telling this to Henderson, that it must be tiresome to hear stories like this every time he met someone.
“Absolutely not,” he smiled. “That goal meant so much for so many people. It is a thrill, even today, to have people talk about it and tell me stories like that. It’s a privilege.”
Then, things went south quickly.
I had the cards and the Sharpies ready on the table and I went over the table and went over the instructions one more time. Then, the wrench was thrown into the plans. Henderson grabbed the box and Sharpies and my business card.
“Ok, this is great,” he said. “I have another commitment so I will sign these and Fed Ex them to you in the next couple days.”
And then he walked out the door. I stood there with my mouth open. What was I going to do now? My instructions were to bring the box of signed cards back to Dallas, to our production team who was waiting for them.
The next day, I arrived in Dallas and drove to the Pinnacle building. Michael Cleary came to my desk in the cube farm and asked me how it went. I told him it was great and amazing to meet him. Then I told him what happened, and I tried to sugar coat it saying that I probably couldn’t have crossed the border with them.
Michael saw right through my crap was not buying what I was selling. But he was really good about it. He could have fired me. I felt horrible that I let him down, because I still to this day have more respect for him than anyone I ever worked with at Pinnacle.
Fortunately, two days later the cards arrived at my desk. Paul Henderson came through, just like he said he would. I was so thrilled they arrived that I made no effort at all to act nonchalant.
The cards looked phenomenal. Henderson signed 700 in black pen, 200 in silver, and 100 in gold. I have an autographed black one in a lucite holder on a shelf. Thanks to the Henderson autographs, Certified Hockey was a home run in the hobby. The autographed cards are available on eBay and not really expensive at all.
There are a handful of cards I was personally responsible for creating, including the first Willie O’Ree card, the first Kurt Warner autographed card, the first Tom Brady card, and a few others. But the autographed Paul Henderson card is still special and always brings back special memories, especially this week as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of his goal.
And, honestly, I can’t look at the card without flashbacking to Jim Brochhausen lunging across the table at me with yogurt flying everywhere. I loved working with Jim and he was as fun as he was demanding, which I thought was perfect for a VP.
And as I take one more look at my Henderson autograph, I can only think of one thing. I wonder what kind of yogurt Jim is eating today.