Sports·The Buzzer

The hockey card Gord Downie stole from

Thursday's edition of CBC Sports' daily newsletter, The Buzzer, looks at the hockey card that inspired an iconic Canadian song. Plus, Tiger is back and some Raptors got ripped.

How a 1991 Pro Set Bill Barilko card inspired Tragically Hip's Fifty Mission Cap

The Pro Set hockey card that inspired Fifty-Mission Cap, showing Bill Barilko scoring the Cup-winning goal. (Pro Set)

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When Gord Downie sang "I stole this from a hockey card..." he meant it literally

Going through some of my old hockey cards the other day (like the nerd I am), I came to Pro Set's 1991 NHL series. This was released at the height of the early-'90s sports-card boom, when about a dozen hockey sets came out every year. In terms of quality, Pro Set is pretty middle-of-the-road (it's no Upper Deck), so their cards aren't super-memorable.

But they made a cool thing in '91: a subset celebrating old-time players like Jacques Plante, "Phantom" Joe Malone and the Montreal Canadiens' Punch Line, and old-time curiosities like Original Six-era arenas and the guys who used to scrape the ice by hand before Zambonis came along. On the front of these cards is a black-and-white photo. On the back is a paragraph explaining what the player or the moment or the thing means to the history of the game.

Anyway, one of these cards (No. 340 in the set) shows a picture of Toronto forward Bill Barilko scoring his legendary overtime goal against Montreal that won the Leafs the Cup in 1951. It's a pretty cool photo — Barilko is diving through the air in a way that makes him look a bit like Bobby Orr after his famous Cup-winning goal in 1970.

But what really caught my eye was the last two sentences in the story on the back of the card: Unfortunately, it was the last goal of Barilko's career. He disappeared that summer on a fishing trip, and the Leafs didn't win another Cup until 1962, the year his body was found. Those bear a striking similarly to some of the lyrics in Fifty Mission Cap — the old Tragically Hip standard. It's almost word-for-word in places. In that song, the late Hip frontman Gord Downie also sings "I stole this from a hockey card." So this is the card.

Just to bolster the case: the card came out in 1991, and Fifty Mission Cap appeared on the '92 album Fully Completely. My half-assed internet research also led me to a couple of CBC stories confirming the link between the card and the song. This 2016 piece by music writer Bob Mersereau includes Hip guitarist Rob Baker's recollection of how the band was jamming one day while Downie noodled with some lyrics as he opened up packs of hockey cards. Baker says Downie started singing the words on the back of the Barilko card over the lick being played, and eventually formed them into the song we know today. Mersereau's story also notes that the card was written by a hockey historian from Moncton named James Duplacey (he's not credited in the liner notes).

There's also this touching story by Kate Bueckert. It's about a guy named Blair Babcock who attended Queens University, which is in the Hip's hometown of Kingston, Ont. Babcock knew someone who knew someone who was friends with the band, and she got them to autograph his Barilko card. In October 2017, shortly after Downie's death, Babcock auctioned off the card and raised more than $6,000 for various charities. One was named for Downie and another for Babcock's dad, who died a decade earlier of the same form of brain cancer that killed Downie.

Have an interesting/meaningful card of your own that you want to share? Send a photo of it to thebuzzer@cbc.ca.

The back of the Bill Barilko card, written by James Duplacey. (Pro Set)

Quickly...

The WNBA's reigning MVP will get paid after all. Elena Delle Donne went public with her frustrations after an independent panel of doctors rejected her request to sit out the upcoming season and still receive full pay. The WNBA is offering this arrangement to players with underlying medical conditions that could make them more susceptible to getting severely ill from COVID-19. Delle Donne has Lyme disease, but the panel decided she didn't meet the criteria for an exemption. In response, Delle Donne appeared on ESPN and also wrote a piece for The Players' Tribune (inasmuch as Players' Tribune pieces are actually written by the athlete) in which she said her doctor considers her immunocompromised and that she takes 64 pills a day to treat her condition. Delle Donne also expressed disappointment over being faced with a decision to, as she sees is, "risk my life… or forfeit my paycheque." It's unclear what impact her campaign had. But the coach and GM of Delle Donne's team, the Washington Mystics, said yesterday that she'll be paid whether she plays or not, and that this was always the team's plan after Delle Donne underwent back surgery in January. Delle Donne is still deciding what she'll do when the shortened 22-game season tips off next Saturday in Florida. Read more about her situation here.

Henry Burris headlines the new Canadian Football Hall of Fame class. In his 18 CFL seasons, the American quarterback appeared in five Grey Cup games and won three — in 1998 and 2008 with Calgary and 2016 (his final season) with Ottawa. Burris was named MVP of the last two. He also won the CFL's Most Outstanding Player Award twice and ranks third all-time in passing yards and touchdowns. The other players being inducted this year are offensive linemen Clyde Brock and Freddie Childress and quarterback Greg Vavra. Stampeders executive (and former coach) John Hufnagel and the late Saint Mary's University coach/athletic director Larry Uteck are going in as builders. Read more about Burris here.

Tiger Woods is back. Golf's biggest star is playing his first PGA Tour round in five months today at the Jack Nicklaus-hosted Memorial Tournament. At our publish time, Tiger was tied for 33rd with a score of even par through eight holes. Back issues forced the 44-year-old Woods to miss a few weeks before the tour's three-month COVID-19 shutdown, and he elected to sit out the first few events after the tour returned in mid-June. The 15-time major winner is looking to round into form in time for the PGA Championship, which tees off Aug. 6.

All three Canadian teams are still looking for their first win in the MLS is Back tournament. Vancouver blew leads of 2-0 and 3-1 and gave up a goal in stoppage time to lose their opener 4-3 to San Jose last night. Montreal also lost its first game (to New England) and Toronto settled for a draw vs. D.C. United. Montreal and Toronto face each other tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Vancouver's next match is Sunday night vs. Seattle. Read more about the Whitecaps' opening loss here.

A Canadian basketball coach is doing her best to create more diversity at the leadership level. Tenicha Gittens was bothered by the fact that not many Black people hold coaching positions in Canadian university sports. So when Concordia hired her as the head coach of its women's basketball team in 2015, she decided to fill out her staff with people of colour. "I was put in a position where I could hire who I want to," Gittens says. "And so I'm going to do my best to give Black people an opportunity. Because they don't get those opportunities." One of the challenges Gittens faced in getting into coaching was that she didn't see many people who look like herself doing the job during her playing days. "I never thought it was possible because, one, I'm Black and two, I'm female," she says. Read about how Gittens is trying to create more role models for young women of colour in this piece by CBC Sports' Devin Heroux and Jamie Strashin. The story is part of a series on the lack of diversity in Canadian sports that also includes a piece on Jeffrey Orridge, the CFL's first Black commissioner. Read that here.

And finally...

Some Raps got ripped. Frustrated by a nagging hamstring injury that caused him to miss 28 games this season, Toronto centre Marc Gasol worked with his trainers to shed a lot of weight from his 6-11 body. He won't say how much, but Gasol looks noticeably slimmer and teammate Patrick McCaw said he "couldn't really recognize him" when the team reconvened for training camp. Meanwhile, Canadian forward Chris Boucher says he added 15 pounds of muscle to his (extremely slender) frame, and coach Nick Nurse has praised Kyle Lowry for showing up in tip-top shape. This comes with the usual caveat that seemingly everybody in every sport claims they're in the best shape of their life at every training camp, but the Raptors appear serious about defending their title when the season resumes in a couple of weeks. Read more about Gasol's transformation here.

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