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One Minute Remaining: Remembering Wirtz

by Harvey Wittenberg / Chicago Blackhawks
Sports fans are happy when their team wins and, naturally, the opposite when they lose. Who is the easiest to blame -- The players? Coach? General manager?

Well, in the case of many fans and many "media experts," when it came to talking about the Blackhawks, their target was frequently the owner, Bill Wirtz.

I knew Mr. Wirtz for more than 41 years, going back to before he became team president. I would hate to think that those who really didn't know him are glad that he is not around anymore.

The worst thing I could say about Mr. Wirtz is that he was a businessman. Is that really a bad thing? Most people I know don't like their boss or supervisor much, but in my 45+ years involved with the Blackhawks I can't ever recall any of his employees speaking badly about him or his treatment of them.

I hope you've read the comments by Hawk players such as Stan Mikita, Denis Savard, Dale Tallon and Bob Pulford, to mention a few. He treated the Hawks and his employees as family and never hesitated to help all in need.

He never sought praise and I can't remember him ever ducking blame. His charitable efforts have been well noted and many others have not been publicized. With the sudden death of former player Keith Magnuson a few years ago, he rushed to comfort their family.

He granted me two separate three-hour interview sessions a few years back when I was writing "Tales From the Chicago Blackhawks." He never ducked or skirted any of my questions.

He lamented the departure of popular Hawk players going back to Bobby Hull in 1972, which he wished had never happened. Just think, the top salary in the NHL that year was $250,000. Is it any wonder that when the new, desperate WHA offered Hull $2 million that the Hawks didn't match it?

He was sorry to see old Chicago Stadium go in favor of the new modern United Center and told me that there was nothing that could ever capture the atmosphere of the old Stadium.

Mr. Wirtz never pretended to be an expert on hockey and depended on the advice of his hockey staff regarding the selection of players, which at times did not live up to expectations. But let's not forget, under Wirtz the Hawks produced the NHL's second longest consecutive playoff run at 28 years.

I expect that many who didn't know Bill Wirtz will choose to remember him as someone who wouldn't allow home games on TV or spend enough money to buy a Stanley Cup. That's unfortunate, because his burning desire really was to bring winning hockey back to Chicago.

I feel the recent groundwork established by Dale and Savard will put the Hawks back on the path that Mr. Wirtz always wanted for the fans.

In closing, I remember the quotation, "Cowards face many deaths, the Valiant taste death but once!"

The Bill Wirtz I knew was valiant, and I'm sure his family will do whatever they can to bring back the honor of a winning Blackhawks team.

Just as Mr. Wirtz would have wanted.
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