10 years ago today, former Detroit Red Wings enforcer Bob Probert passed away suddenly after suffering a heart attack.
As we were looking for things to help us remember Probert, we came across the following Facebook post from Don Cherry, who was recently thinking about his ‘buddy.’
Was thinking about my buddy Bob Probert a while ago.
In the early ‘80’s and ’90s, I did a show called Don Cherry’s Grapevine, where I interviewed mostly hockey players in front of a live audience. We taped the shows at one of our Grapevine Bars in Mississauga, Ontario. Once we booked a guest, we would let the public know who was coming on what date. The two biggest requests for tickets were Bobby Orr and Bob Probert. When word got out that Probert was going to be a guest on the show, the phone never stopped ringing. One of the waitresses who were in charge of the studio audience (she was not a hockey fan) asked who Bob Probert was; we told her he was the heavyweight champion of the NHL. She said, “You think he was the Pope from all the phone calls were getting about him.”
When the day of the show arrived, the bar was packed. We had to lock the door; there were so many fans trying to get in, all to see Bob. His beautiful wife Dani came to the show, and when Bob came on set, the crowd went wild. His hair was kind all over the place. I said, “Bob, what’s with the hair?” he said, “I’m having a bad hair day.” He stayed after the show and took pictures and signed autographs for an hour. Like all tough guys, Bob was quiet and kinda shy.
There is no doubt that in his prime Bob was the heavyweight champ of the NHL. Like the top gunslinger in the old west, every up and coming tough guy wanted a piece of Bob. Around 1988 I was in New Jersey watching a morning skate, and a young player came up to me and sat down. He was a monster, over 6’4″ 200lbs and introduced himself. He said, “Hello Grapes, my name is Troy Crowder, I play for Utica ( the Devil’s AHL farm team), and I’m as tough as Probert.” I said, “Sure, you are kid.” He said, “You watch, I’m going to make the NHL, and I’ll beat Probert.”
Some two years later, Troy and Bob had three beauty fights. Troy had been waiting in the weeds for two years to fight Bob. That was the world he lived in, everybody wanted to make their mark by fighting Probert. It’s a tough row to hoe.
A quick story about those fights: in the 1st fight in NJ, Troy got the drop on Bob and pulled his sweater over his head. Bob never wore tie-downs. I asked him why on the show about not wearing tie-downs. He joked he keeps forgetting. Someone from the crowd yelled he doesn’t need to. In the end, Troy cut Bob, and you’d had to give Crowder the nod. Weeks later, the Devils were in Detroit, it was the rematch. You couldn’t get the game on television in Toronto, so Ron MacLean and I decided to drive down to Detroit. We called for tickets, and the Wing’s PR told us there wasn’t a ticket available, and they were 3 deep in the media row, and all he had was 2 tickets at the very back row of Joe Louis Arena. So Ron and I took the tickets and head down to Detroit. As we were walking into the building, I saw the ref and two linesmen in the hallway. I walked up to them and said, “We drove all the way from Toronto to see these two guys go, when they drop the gloves you guys better not jump in and break it up.” They said, “Are you kidding?
We’re looking forward to tonight too.”
The PR guy wasn’t kidding, we were in the last row. The crowd was electric, and all you saw were Detroit fans wearing Bob’s #24 sweaters. Well, Bob and Troy didn’t disappoint, they drop the gloves not once but twice. Troy gave a good account of himself, but Bob easily won back the heavyweight title.
It’s sad to think Bob’s gone now. I know he had his demons, don’t we all. But I know he was a good husband to Dani and a good father to his children and isn’t that the most important thing? In March, I met one of his daughters, Tierney, to help promote a charitable motorcycle ride in Bob’s memory. She has her father’s good looks.
One last story of Bob. A photographer friend of mine, Silvia Pecota, was taking photos of Bob on his motorcycle. It was freezing, and it took a long time. Silvia is a perfectionist, and she takes forever to get what she wants. After a few hours, the session was finished. Silvia was checking everything out before Bob left, and she found out there was an issue with the camera or something, and they’d have to start all over again. Silvia was nervous having to tell a Bob Probert, the toughest guy in the NHL they had to start over again. Bob didn’t get mad or yell at her. He just shrugged his shoulders and said, “it happens,” got back up on his motorcycle and said, “let’s go.”
I am proud to call Bob a friend of mine, and I miss him.
Well said, Don.