Here’s what Theoren Fleury said to the Calgary Herald‘s George Johnson on Friday night about the expected public reaction to Fleury’s attempted NHL comeback:
“I honestly don’t give a shit what people think of me. I don’t. People say I should get a life? Hey, worry about your own lives. This is mine. When you’ve gone through the 12 stages of Alcoholics Anoymous, you realize that you’ve got to be OK with yourself. I am. I’ve come to the realization that 50 per cent of the people like me, and 50 per cent don’t. Guess what? I’m hanging out with the 50 per cent who do.
“I’m a busy guy. I’m not doing this because I have nothing else in my life. I do public speaking. I work with Native people. With the Dream Centre. I’m doing this partly because I didn’t go out the way I wanted to. And partly because I’ve watched this for five years and believe in my heart that there’s still a place for me.”
Let’s face it, it’s so easy to casually dismiss Theoren Fleury and anything his name is attached to.
Let’s face it, the undersized and overactive Fleury is this close to being a Warner Brothers cartoon character on the order of Elmer Fudd, Speedy Gonzalez and Pepe Le Pew.
Fleury hasn’t played a National Hockey League game in more than four years and yet his name has never strayed very far from the headlines, usually involving stories that have everyone wondering: “Geez, what will that little runt do next?”
From his senior hockey adventures with the Horse Lake Thunder — a stint that inspired the following modest quote, complete with third-person reference:
“The only reason this (Allan Cup) tournament sold out was because of yours truly right here. We all know it and I’m going to say it: Once again Theo Fleury puts hockey on the map when it needs it the most” — to his overseas work with the Belfast Giants to his cameo stint with the Calgary Vipers, an independent minor-league baseball team, to a speculated reality TV show based on his fledgling concrete flooring company to his recent announcement that he’s contemplating an NHL comeback at age 41, much of Fleury’s life has that whiff of ripe Saturday Night Live scripts. Hell, Fleury’s infamous scrape with San Jose mascot SJ Sharkie pretty much was one of the classic SNL Land Shark skits, wasn’t it?
What’s more, Fleury’s troubled past makes it easy for people who have never met the little man to assume an air of smug superiority and join in the “Sideshow Theo” namecalling. If there’s one reason to refrain from piling on, it’s the opinions you get about Fleury from the people who knew him best. Just talk to anyone who knew him from the old days in Calgary, whether it’s Terry Crisp, his old coach; Cliff Fletcher, the man who drafted Fleury against the wishes of his scouting staff; Flames broadcaster Peter Maher or former teammates.
Oh sure, they shook their heads at his attention-seeking antics and expressed disappointment that Fleury too often and too spectacularly strayed from the straight and narrow, but listen to them closely and the genuine fondness they have for the little dude is unmistakable. One veteran Calgary writer, who takes pride in being a curmudgeon and is quick to point out the arrogant jerks and phonies in the sport, unabashedly admits he likes Fleury.
A couple of years ago, Fleury made a rare appearance at the Saddledome and even though he was the smallest man in the lobby outside the Flames dressing room, the former No. 14 was the centre of attention. The ensuing informal monologue was typical Fleury. Today’s game isn’t nearly as good as when he played, said Fleury. He claimed not to remember the last time he had skated. In short (no pun intended) Fleury insisted that he didn’t need the game and that he didn’t miss it a lick. He even went so far as to proclaim he hated hockey.
Moments after making his exit from the room, one of the bemused listeners remarked: “That’s funny, I saw Theo playing a pickup game at the community arena a couple of nights ago.” A nice act maybe, but Fleury wasn’t fooling anyone, probably not even himself. Sure enough, within a few months, word came down that Fleury was heading to Northern Ireland to chase pucks once again. Now he wants to do it in the NHL again.
Fleury’s comeback bid may be implausible. It may be impractical. Given his age and his still-unresolved disciplinary matters with the league, it may even be a few tiny degrees shy of impossible.
But in a week that many fans and even more media members are bemoaning the retirement of the colourful and quotable Jeremy Roenick, the possible second coming of Fleury isn’t such a bad thing, is it? The guy has already proven hundreds of scouts wrong by having a 455-goal, 1,088-point career. And while the claims that he’s been clean and sober for the past four years will be greeted with the expected amount of skepticism, Fleury has also proven wrong any of the doomsayers who predicted Fleury would be found lying in a ditch or in a dark alley soon after his separation from the security blanket that was his professional career. After spending time with people who know Fleury and continued to support him and wish him well despite all the dark clouds that always seemed to follow him and all the second chances he frittered away, it’s hard not to root for one more in-your-face chapter.
As ex-Flame Perry Berezan told the Herald: “Certainly, I’m going to root for him. I think most people will. You always want to see an underdog do well.”