The hockey card Gord Downie stole from
How a 1991 Pro Set Bill Barilko card inspired Tragically Hip's Fifty Mission Cap
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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 email@example.com.
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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.
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