Remembering Jean Beliveau
Remembering Jean Beliveau – a Gentle Giant in a Violent Sport
Hockey is a sport known for its latent violence. The puck is hard and travels at speeds close to or exceeding 100 kph. Skates and sticks are sharp. The side boards are also hard and unforgiving. One would expect the sport to attract a distinctly violent breed of man. Yet, many have stated over the years that hockey players are the most accessible and self-effacing athletes in professional sports.
In hockey, at the end of a playoff series, no matter how hard fought, the players line up to shake hands and congratulate each other on their play in the series. Jean Beliveau, who passed away on December 2, at 83, was one of the best players of his era but, perhaps more importantly, was also known as one of the finest men to play the game.
Jean Beliveau stood 6'4" at a time when most hockey players were under 6 feet tall. Despite his size, he was as graceful as any player in the league. His playing prowess was legendary. He was exceptionally skilled at all aspects of a hockey player's repertoire: skating, stick-handling, passing, and shooting. He played his entire career with the Montreal Canadiens and was the heart of the team during its Golden Era when it won ten Stanley Cup championships.
A True Gentleman
As stellar a hockey player as Jean Beliveau was, the eulogies and tributes upon his passing emphasized his demeanor off the ice. Player after player, teammate after teammate, stated the obvious, that he was an all-time great player. But in the same breath, to a man they spoke about his personality. Elegant, full of grace, giving, and classy were just a few of the many terms used to describe Mr. Beliveau.
Jean Beliveau's body was placed in a closed casket and the public was allowed to walk past in silent tribute. Such outpouring of emotion is usually saved for heads of state but Jean Beliveau had equal stature. In fact, along with thousands of average citizens who slowly paid their respects, both the Mayor of Montreal, Denis Coderre, and Quebec Premier, Phillipe Couillard, did so as well.
Couillard spoke about Jean Beliveau's readiness to speak with fans. Couillard also mentioned Jean Beliveau's importance given the time in which Jean Beliveau played in Quebec. It was a time when some Quebecers sought to secede from Canada. Jean Beliveau, no less fluent in English as in French, instilled confidence in young Quebecers not only as French speakers and Quebecers but also as patriotic citizens of Canada.
Reporter Kevin McGran told the story that when Mr. Beliveau was being urged to run for political office, McGran wanted to interview him. He asked a colleague how he might get in touch with Jean Beliveau. The colleague told him that Jean Beliveau's number was in the phone book! Mr. McGran told this story to iterate how much Jean Beliveau was a man of the people.
Geoff Molson, the owner of the Montreal Canadiens, had difficulty containing his emotions as he spoke to the Canadian press. Every newspaper, television and radio station, or online news or sports site in Canada led with the story of Jean Beliveau's passing. Many put together their own video tribute.
Dick Irvin, longtime Canadian sports announcer, mentioned Mr. Beliveau's desire to give back to the community. Although Mr. Beliveau retired from hockey 43 years ago, he stayed active in the Canadiens' organization but also throughout Canada. Mr. Irvin said that Jean Beliveau helped raise millions of dollars for charity throughout the vast breadth of Canada.
In one interview, Jean Beliveau said that every night he thanked God for giving him the ability to play the greatest game in the world. Based on the tributes attesting to Mr. Beliveau's greatness not only on the ice but off the ice we might all thank God for giving us Jean Beliveau.