Cheli's story: From despised to adored
BY DREW SHARP • FREE PRESS COLUMNIST • June 23, 2009
One man's villain becomes another man's idol. All that's required is a more favorable uniform.
Chris Chelios' arrival in Detroit 10 years ago wasn't well received. The memories remained too strong, the wounds too raw of the havoc he inflicted upon the Red Wings during his days as a master tormentor in Chicago. He was branded as a cheap-shot artist, but now that he's no longer a Wing, he's remembered as a cherished part of the family.
Sports remain the great forgiver of sins.
It's difficult imagining how loathed Chelios once was in this town. But we cheered with him when he twice skated with the Stanley Cup. We cried with him when he grieved the murders of two employees at the popular downtown sports bar that bore his nickname. Chelios became part of the community, making the Wings' decision Monday not to re-sign the 47-year-old defenseman somewhat melancholy although perfectly understandable.
"He's a guy who should be the around the National Hockey League for the rest of his life," Wings general manager Ken Holland said. "If he's not the greatest American-born player, he's certainly in the debate."
The Wings should find a place in their organization for Chelios.
Holland always is eager to add to the internal brain trust. He told Chelios that if he couldn't find a role on the ice elsewhere in the league that he should give Holland a call by summer's end. Chelios would be a valuable organizational resource. Holland spoke highly of how much Chelios mentored many of the Wings' young defensemen.
Chelios knew this decision was coming, even though he has said he wants to keep playing. The Wings' roster is loaded. There are a number of young defensemen ready for an opportunity. Last season, he played only 28 games and had no points.
I kidded him during a news conference before the Stanley Cup finals. He was in a rush to get out of there because his daughter had a soccer game, and I told him that if it's your daughter, she must be 25.
"She's 16," he said, cracking a smile.
Chelios became an adopted Detroiter. He opened one Cheli's Chili Bar, then another, then a third. But that's how it works. These guys are no longer the ogre -- you're rooting for them rather than booing them.
Bill Laimbeer was revered despite the surliness because he was a Piston. If he played in Boston or Chicago, his antics would have sent local blood pressures shooting through the roof. He was affectionately a Bad Boy here. He would've been considered a thug anywhere else.
Claude Lemieux could've played here and all would have been ... well, then again, maybe not.
Contact DREW SHARP: 313-223-4055 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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