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Meeting Your Childhood Idol

Randy Pausch, the Carnegie Mellon University professor, died yesterday from cancer. In his famous Last Lecture he stated that, “It’s really cool to meet your boyhood idol.” His was Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk or William Shatner. When I was growing up my favourite toys were my hockey cards. With them I was able to learn all about the players, the teams, the history of the game, etc. They were magical. The colours were vibrant and opening a fresh pack of cards let you tingle with the anticipation and, best of all, they were only ten cents per pack, so if you were lucky enough to have a whole dollar you were able to purchase a veritable gold mine of ten packs.

Hockey Night in Canada was the only opportunity to watch hockey, if I was allowed to stay up that late and have access to a television on a Saturday night. This left one inundated with games featuring the Montreal Canadiens and the Toronto Maple Leafs, neither teams were ones I cared for, so it was the opportunity to see those other teams that added to the excitement. I didn’t get to see my beloved Philadelphia Flyers very often, so I lived through the hockey cards.

My favourite hockey card was from the 1972-73 O-Pee-Chee set. It was Gary Dornhoefer who was a long time Philadelphia Flyer and my favourite player – my boyhood idol. As I grew and entered adulthood this fact never changed. I had never given much thought to ever meeting him.

Then, in the early 1990s, there was a large NHL golf tournament taking place near my home and I had to go. There was a list of players that were attending and I gathered hockey cards of each of them for them to hopefully autograph. Since the list of attendees was only partial, I took along cards of other players just on the off chance that they may be there. Then, at the last minute, I added a Gary Dornhoefer card only because it had frequently stated on the back of his hockey cards that he was the best golfer in the league. There were only current players announced as attending the tournament, but I couldn’t resist taking one of his cards.

The golf tournament was an eye opener of sorts. It really marked the beginning of my foray into collecting autographed hockey cards and it gave me a chance to realize that some of these players were actually not very thrilled to have to sign hockey autographs for their fans – the people paying their salary. It was also, on the other side of the coin, a pleasant surprise to learn that there were players that cared about their fans and went out of their way to please them. It was a good day.

Then, after it was decided that it was time to leave and I started toward the parking lot I saw Gary Dornhoefer on the green of the ninth hole. I stopped in my tracks and was speechless. I was in my late twenties and I felt like a small, awestruck child without anything coherent to say. I got him to autograph the hockey card I had and I even had a photograph taken with him.

Randy Pausch was correct: “It’s really cool to meet your boyhood idol.”

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