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Hall of Fame

Bob Verdi 'blown away' by Hall of Fame honor

Longtime Chicago writer winner of 2016 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award

by Brian Hedger / Correspondent

CHICAGO -- When Bob Verdi thinks about his first season covering the Chicago Blackhawks, there are some memories that stand out.

He can remember the nerves he had before his first interview with Bobby Hull. He remembers feeling relieved when Hull bellowed, "Whaddya need, kid?" and recalls the ease of interacting with Blackhawks icons Hull and Stan Mikita.

But among the most prominent is a heart-pounding moment from his first road trip as Blackhawks beat writer for the Chicago Tribune, a position he held from 1969-75.

Working as the understudy to former Blackhawks beat writer Ted Damata, Verdi's nerves skyrocketed when he couldn't find his typewriter.

"Pat Stapleton stole my typewriter on my first road trip," Verdi said of the former Blackhawks defenseman. "I'm in the press box about 15 minutes before a game and I'm asking to borrow someone's typewriter. I'm going to get fired if I can't write this story, and all of a sudden there's a security guard who starts walking toward me with my typewriter, on the road."

Verdi, 71, doesn't remember the city where the incident occurred, but he still remembers his heart pulsing.

"I was in a panic," Verdi said. "Stapleton had conspired to steal my typewriter, keep it for a day and then get it to a security guy to bring it to me."

Verdi wrote for the Tribune from 1967-97 and wrote a weekly column until 2009. In 2010, he was hired by the Blackhawks as team historian.

He'll take a break from that job Monday when he receives the 2016 Elmer Ferguson Memorial Award for excellence in hockey journalism at the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Also being honored are Hall of Fame inductees Eric Lindros, Sergei Makarov, Pat Quinn and Rogie Vachon, and Sam Rosen, winner of the 2016 Foster Hewitt Memorial Award for excellence in hockey broadcasting.

"I was blown away," Verdi said. "There's guys on that award who covered hockey their whole lives and really dug in the trenches more than I did. I went over to baseball and didn't do [hockey] day-to-day for 30 years. Whoever voted for me to get this amazing honor must have gone back in the archives."

Through the years Verdi's memories remain sharp, and though the Stapleton joke wasn't funny at the time, Verdi holds no anger.

"[Stapleton] was a terrible prankster," Verdi said. "He had [former defenseman] Keith Magnuson traded five times. He'd start whispering in the corner of the room with [former Blackhawks defenseman] Bill White and Maggie [Magnuson] would be looking over. Maggie would say, 'What's going on?' and they'd keep whispering until Pat, with a complete straight face, would say, 'Oh, we can't tell you … it's too much.'"

Magnuson, invariably, kept pressing.

"Stapleton would then say, 'Well, Bill and I heard that you're going to be traded," Verdi said. "Poor Maggie. His head would drop and go back to his locker like he'd been shot. They did this to him time and time again. Stapleton and Bill White. They were awful."

By awful, though, he really meant great.

They were merely hockey people, to use Verdi's terminology, same as coaches, scouts and front-office executives. During his newspaper career Verdi wrote about every professional sports team in Chicago, plus national and international topics. But he has always held a fondness for hockey.

It's a big reason he took on his current role in 2010. He writes columns for the Blackhawks website and feature stories for the team magazine.

"My first real job was covering the Blackhawks for the paper," said Verdi, who also wrote for Golf Digest and Golf World. "I was spoiled. The hockey people, the players, the executives, the referees, the coaches, the writers, the broadcasters … it's just a different landscape. I thought all sports would be like that and they aren't. I don't mean to knock the other sports, but hockey's different."

Verdi is too. He's a master of delivering one-liners and is a gifted writer, but also is self-deprecating and approachable.

That's what first drew the attention of Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough when he was president of the Chicago Cubs. McDonough had read Verdi's work for years and knew him personally, but watching him interact with Cubs players sparked the idea of hiring him after being hired by the Blackhawks.

"The players respected him," McDonough said. "It was really the only time I'd ever seen our athletes, Cubs players, at batting practice … go over to the batting cage, say hello to him, talk about golf and talk about baseball. Because they respected and trusted him."

McDonough paused for a moment.

"There's an old saying that the good ones let the game come to them, and I think that is true with Bob," he said. "He never tried to force relationships."

That especially was true when it came to former Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz, father of current owner Rocky Wirtz. Verdi and the elder Wirtz, who died Sept. 26, 2007, had numerous sparring sessions. But Verdi, who nicknamed Wirtz "Dollar Bill" in the 1970s, eventually won the owner over.

"Mr. Wirtz was very upset about it for a while," Verdi said. "Then the fans started coming up to him at the stadium with dollar bills, asking him to sign them. He said, 'You know, I like that.'"

Verdi now likes his role with the Blackhawks, even if he's not fond of the team historian title.

It has given him access to hockey people again, and provided another means to write about the sport that got his career off the ground and earned him a number of honors, including being named Illinois Sportswriter of the Year 19 times.

Verdi said one of the thrills for him is seeing some of the names of other Ferguson Award winners, among them Damata, who won it in 1984.

"He took me under his wing," Verdi said. "I used to bug him all the time to go to games until finally he said, 'OK, fine. Come. Let's see if you can write at all.' That's how it started."

Forty-seven years and one "stolen" typewriter later, it's still going strong. 

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