There was a reference made here recently to the old penalty box at Olympia Stadium, and the Guy in the Red Hat who guarded it. He was a stadium attendant of some type, dressed all in red with a prominent red officers-type cap on his head, which would invariably go flying whenever penalized players — sent to sit next to each other in the stadium’s only penalty box after an on-ice conflict — would resume their battle. The only chance for peace … some chance … was the involvement of the Guy in the Red Hat, who for years at Olympia tried to enforce peace between the warring hockey players, with little result.
That memory led to another — that of the most unruly players ever to regularly inhabit the penalty box at Olympia. No, it wasn’t Ted Lindsay, who was the most unruly Red Wing. Nor Lou Fontinato of the Rangers and Montreal, nor Fernie Flaman of the Bruins (yes Virginia, there was a hockey player named Fernie) or Reg Fleming of Chicago. It was John Ferguson of the Canadiens, by far the most outlandish and obscene of the hockey goons in the last years of the Original Six. (I just had a daydream of Ferguson boxing the ears of Sidney Crosby, ahhh; let’s get back to reality.)
Now it should be said up-front that Ferguson wasn’t only a fist-fighter — the guy could play. His menacing presence obviously won a lot of space for himself on the ice, which helped in that category. But it was as a fighter that Fergy would probably be best remembered, because he was a wild man … and a strong wild man, to boot. The guy could be downright scary. I saw him almost kill Eric “Nester the Pester” Nesterenko of Chicago in a bloody playoff melee once circa 1964 (seriously), but that’s another story.
I need to say here that I had a very cool girlfriend in the mid 1960s. One of the things that made her so cool was that her Dad had four season’s tickets next to the penalty box at Olympia … seats that her VERY considerate old man never used. As a result, just trying to help out, I did. (Her father also got us row-5 tickets for the Beatles at Olympia in ’64, but that too is another story.) My cool girlfriend and I were at the Olympia one night around ’65 or ’66 when Ferguson got sent to the box. His response to this punishment was, well, unique, to say the least.
For the entire two minutes of his sentence, the effervescent Fergy stood — yes, STOOD — on the bench in the box, leaning over the top of the fibreglass wall and screamed … yes SCREAMED … at the top of his voice. For the whole two minutes. And what he screamed, over and over and over, is something you can’t print … not even today, when seemingly everything gets printed. All I can say … is that he kept screaming an eight-word mantra. Again and again, over and over, top of his voice. The lead-up word to his rant was “You,” obviously directed towards the referee. Then came the saying, beginning with two words that were hyphenized, then two more hyphenated words, all — as mentioned — highly unprintable. The closing four words, also directed referee-way, had “of” and “a” in the middle of the set. The other two, first and last, were also unprintable. Well, wait, maybe not. “Son” isn’t a bad word, taken by itself….
What amazed me, is that the game continued, with Ferguson screaming this terrible rant, over and over. The referee — can’t recall who it was–acted like he simply couldn’t hear the diatribe. If he couldn’t, he was the only person in the Olympia with that serious of a hearing affliction. People all ’round the lower bowl were watching in amazement, mouths agape, putting their hands over their children’s or their date’s, or their own, ears. Even the Guy in the Red Hat looked nervous, and embarrassed. Why the ref didn’t further penalize Ferguson confused everyone. It seemed weird.
My suspicion then, as now, centered on that quality of John Ferguson that won him a lot of space on the ice. I think the even the officials, like the players, were afraid of Fergy. Because he really was a scary guy. And because he, too, really could be … a “blank-blanking, blank-blanking … blank of a blank.”