Au Revoir Le Gros Bill: A Goodbye to Legendary Montreal Canadien Jean Beliveau

  • Graphic Laura Lalonde

The former Montreal Canadiens captain passed away last Tuesday night at the age of 83.

We will never know exactly how many autographs Mr. Beliveau signed for fans throughout his life. We don’t have statistics on how many handshakes and greetings he gave to fans, friends and even foes. We don’t know how many smiles he put on people’s faces, or how many times people were surprised by “Le Gros Bill’s” height.

In sports we don’t document these statistics, but for those he took extra time to reward their fandom, they will always have countless fond memories.

When an important athlete dies, the media will glorify his or her numbers and accolades. The person’s career highlights will be revisited, and briefly, a few words will be shared about his character and personality off the ice, pitch or court.

Beliveau is one of the few athletes whose persona actually transcended his playing career, yet the legacy he made on the ice shouldn’t be left aside.

Beliveau won 17 Stanley Cups as a member of the Canadiens—10 as a player and seven as an executive for the team. He scored 507 goals in his career and recorded 1,219 points over his career. He spent every year in the National Hockey League with the Canadiens, where he only missed the playoffs once.

Beliveau was so talented before reaching the NHL, that the Canadiens purchased the entire junior league he played in, just to acquire his rights.

But when the towering centre comes to mind, fans, journalists and other admirers bring up stories of Beliveau’s kind-heartedness. From making sure every fan left with a perfectly doctored autograph to the rivalries-turned-friendships that he kept with his opponents from the Detroit Red Wings or even the Toronto Maple Leafs.

My favourite story, of all the ones that have come out since Beliveau’s passing, is what happened after a rookie teammate threw his jersey to the ground after a game with the Canadiens. Beliveau picked up the jersey and walked towards the unnamed player, and told him that the sacred Canadiens uniform was never to touch the ground again.

Beliveau was truly the captain the organization needed for its glory days in the 1950s and 1960s, and he himself understood the importance of being a Canadien.

I have never met Beliveau, and I am actually quite saddened that I do not have a personal story, or even a photo, of me meeting “Le Gros Bill.” But my father had the opportunity to meet him years ago, and he was taken aback by his great and stoic presence.

Every time Beliveau’s name was spoken, thoughts of class and elegance soon followed, and there are very few athletes and sports personalities from any league today who exude these qualities as well as he did.

I, along with many Habs fans and players who have never seen Mr. Beliveau play, truly understand that the Canadiens organization, all of Canada, and the entire hockey world, have lost a notable icon.

We will miss you, Mr. Beliveau.

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