Brett Hull Wanted Anything But Hockey
Dallas Morning News
ST. LOUIS - It was never supposed to turn out this way for Brett Hull, son of Bobby Hull.
Hockey was not his game. Or so, Brett, son of Bobby, thought.
The game of hockey has little use for overweight, under-motivated players who have no passion for skating and would rather plant themselves in front of the television than in the line of fire at an enemy goal crease. And if Brett, son of Bobby, had any problem with such a state of affairs, he never mentioned it to anyone.
Brett, son of Bobby, may have inherited his father's face, his once golden hair, his piercing blue eyes, his square jaw and his bulk, but his father's fire, he did not.
On ice, Bobby, son of the small-town Ontario, Canada, cement laborer, symbolized the best of his generation. Perhaps the greatest left wing ever, he was a goal-scoring machine, driven by an insatiable mania for work and blessed with a slap shot that blasted off his stick with the explosiveness of a Nolan Ryan fastball.
In hockey's world of machismo, Bobby Hull's was the truest of all grit.
Growing up, Brett, son of the scoring legend, preferred to play goaltender so he would not have to skate. He quit the game when he was 18 only to be coaxed back onto skates after he could not find anything else to do.
"Anything else," Brett Hull repeats, seated in the locker room of the St. Louis Blues, deep in the bowels of the ancient St. Louis Arena, "and we wouldn't be here having this conversation today."
Once in a while, however, fate can execute a double reverse on a son burdened by a name and lugging the genes of a legendary sports figure.
Brett Hull, right wing for the St. Louis Blues, has grown into the most feared goal-scoring machine of his generation.
Still, Brett Hull, son of Bobby Hull, adamantly contends he has not worked for what he has achieved on ice. Nor has it come from any father-son nurturing, for surely there was none of that in his life.
Brett, son of Bobby, hockey's legendary goal scorer, explains his happenstance thusly:
"Sometimes things are supposed to happen. What happened to me is not thanks to anything I did. Believe me.
"It must be a blood thing."
Bobby, 53, father of Brett, 28, agrees that the sciences are to be credited.
"I have raised cattle, and I know a thing or two about genetics," Bobby Hull often has been quoted as saying. "The biggest contribution I've made to Brett's success is providing him with the genes to do what he does so well."
What Brett Hull of the St. Louis Blues does so well is score goals.
Understand, Brett Hull is not the best hockey player of his generation. He does not come armed with the hardest shot. Nor is he among the smoothest of skaters. To put it politely, his offense is his best defense.
He is no Magic Johnson on ice. He doesn't have the the talent of the Los Angeles Kings' Wayne Gretzky or the Pittsburgh Penguins' Mario Lemieux, whose sticks double as magic wands and make those around them better. Brett Hull's game is all too dependent on those around him to get him the puck.
The 5-foot-10, 205-pound Brett Hull is incapable of those single-minded juggernauts down the ice - with the puck on his stick and damn anything in his way - that made Bobby Hull legend. Brett Hull is simply the best finisher in hockey, the game's premier goal scorer. He's the home-run hitter, the heavyweight whose knockout is always one punch away.
It's all in his wrists. No one has a quicker release once puck meets stick than Brett Hull. And when all is said and done, transferring the puck from stick into the goal is the name of the game.
Brett Hull has led the NHL in goals for three consecutive seasons. He scored 72 goals in 1989-90, 86 the next season and 70 last season. He began the 1992-93 season with the highest goals-per-game average (.797) in league history.
Only four NHL players have scored 50 goals in their team's first 50 games - considered the sport's ultimate individual accomplishment. They are Maurice Richard, Mike Bossy, Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull. Only Gretzky and Hull have done it twice.
One seemingly effortless flick of the wrist after another has made Hull the favorite son of hockey fans. Two straight years he has been their leading vote-getter on the All-Star balloting. Off to a relatively slow start this season, Hull, who scored 16 goals in the Blues' first 30 games, still had more All-Star votes than any other player.
In St. Louis, once there was Stan Musial. Now, there is Brett Hull.
There are plans to move the Blues from the 63-year-old St. Louis Arena to a state-of-the-art new home in downtown St. Louis, which properly could be called, "The House that Hull Built." In 1986-87, the season before Hull arrived in a trade with the Calgary Flames, the Blues played to 75 percent of capacity in their 17,000-seat home. Last season, they averaged 102 percent of capacity.
"I compare him to a slugger in baseball," says Ron Caron, Blues general manager, who was criticized after trading for an unproven and unpromising Hull late in the 1987-88 season. The Blues, the newspapers and talk shows wailed, had given up too much for a player of limited skills when they acquired him for veteran defenseman Rob Ramage and goaltender Rick Wamsley. They howled when the ex-Blues helped the Flames win the Stanley Cup next season.
But Caron thought otherwise. "Putting the puck in the net is a special skill," he says. "Brett's on ice, the red goal light is on, arms are in the air, people are out of their seats. Brett has that dimension. It's a gift not given to many. And, even more. He has a name that gives extra charisma to his achievements."
To understand Brett Hull's game, you have to understand his personality.
"I'm a laid-back guy," says Hull, before volunteering a contrast to his father's persona. "He's a wild guy."
Indeed, Bob Plager, Blues vice president who played against Bobby and coached Brett, claims the Hulls' personalities mirror their play.
"With Bobby, nobody wanted to get in his way," says Plager. "He skated with such a single-mindedness. Now Brett, he doesn't force; he finesses."
If Bobby Hull was hockey's "Golden Jet," surely Brett Hull is its "Stealth Bomber."
Brett Hull prefers to lie in wait, trying to find a hiding place in full view of packed arenas and away from the watchful eyes of opponents. Only when he feels the moment is right does he pounce.
"Brains make up for talent," says Hull, the NHL's most valuable player in 1990-91. "You can play in this league with a lot of brains and a little talent. All you need is a clue. There are too many morons running things in this league who think that to make it a player has to do 10,000 sit-ups. That's ridiculous. To make it, you have to have an understanding of the game."
Often that approach makes it appear that Hull, not paying attention to his teammates or opponents, is lost on ice. Early in his career, such scheming earned him a reputation as a loafer.
It made him a sixth-round pick in the 1984 draft. He was the 117th player selected after two outstanding years at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. it should be noted, however, that Canada's elite junior leagues, where most of the top prospects play, were not very interested in Brett Hull.
Typically, he says, it made no difference when he was drafted and by which team: "I didn't have any idea that the draft was even going on. I didn't pay any attention."
Perhaps Brett Hull seemed to care so little about hockey because his father cared so much.
"I never grew up saying, `I've got to be in the NHL, I've got to be in the NHL,' just because my father was," says Brett. "I never had that desire. I thought it would be neat if I could, but I didn't care less if I played or if I didn't."
Brett Hull says he never felt great pressure in the Hull house to play hockey. It was his brother, Bobby Jr., three years his senior, whom the world saw as a second coming. "He had the name. I mean, he was Bobby Hull Jr. Me, I was just Brett."
Bobby Jr., the oldest of the four Hull boys and girl, never made it beyond a free-agent tryout with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Brett was born in the summer of 1964, midway through his father's 15-year career with the Chicago Black Hawks. His father already had scored the then-magical 50 goals in a season once and would do it four more times before jumping to the upstart World Hockey Association after the 1971-72 season.
Brett remembers Bobby being gone most of the time to play hockey. When father was home and son played hockey, father often showed impatience.
Father, who as a boy got out of bed in the dark of morning to practice his shot, could not understand why son didn't show the same passion.
"The personality didn't come with the genes," Brett Hull says. "I am one of the laziest men in the world. I'm not into expending physical energy."
And when his parents' marriage deteriorated, Brett remembers seeing less and less of his father.
In 1977, his mother, JoAnne, filed for divorce in what would become one of Canada's most-celebrated cases. Mr. and Mrs. Golden Jet weren't Charles and Diana, but they were Canadian royalty. The divorce was drawn out and messy. Accusations flew. In a celebrated chapter, Bobby broke down the front door of his wife's home, demanding to see his children.
For most of the next decade, son would see almost nothing of his father.
Asked if he minded talking about his father, who has become more visible in his son's life in the last few years, and their relationship, Brett Hull smiles.
"I've been answering questions about him for the last seven or eight years," he says. "I have the answers down pat."
Brett Hull says he and his father have always had "a great relationship."
"It has always been that way," he offers, "even though at times it was distant and there were long periods we didn't talk and we didn't see each other because he and my mother stopped getting along."
Father sees more of his son now. Critics contend that father is trying to cash in on his son's achievements. At least one member of the Blues organization who has witnessed father-and-son reunions in the team's locker room describes them them as "forced and uncomfortable looking."
Son says that's not true. "We're OK," Brett, son of Bobby, says.
Brett Hull is in the middle of a four-year contract that will pay him $7.1 million. That may not be much for a good-field, no-hit shortstop, but in hockey, it set a standard that altered the salary structure of the game. Only the Great Gretzky rivals him for hockey endorsements and promotions.
There is talk that Brett Hull could have made more money by demanding to go to a larger market. There is talk that he could make far more when his contract expires and he demands to move on.
Brett Hull rejects such a notion.
"Sports should be all loyalty and tradition," he says. "How can fans root for a team where a player stays two years and is gone? That's why baseball has become a joke.
"Whatever happened to loyalty? Without loyalty, you have nothing."
Copyright (c) 1993 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.