The return to Maple Leafland of long-ago legend Davie Keon this past weekend was as meaningful to lots of NOW readers as a Thompson Twins reunion or rumours of reconciliation between the two main guys in Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
But to hardcore hockey fans or people who remember Pearson, Trudeau and Stanfield as politicians, not airports, the public appearance of dour Davie was steeped in significance.
When Keon toiled with the Leafs children left home at 18, not 28. On The Road was requisite reading and the highway, whether lonesome or carefree, did a lot of calling, with family or friends often lost or misplaced along the way.
In the 70s, Leaf-owning felon Harold Ballard unceremoniously dumped the hard-working player who was considered the heart of the last Leaf teams to win anything. Keon never forgave this and many other real or perceived slights, and for 40 years scorned all things blue and Leafy. His teammates from 1967 are said to have convinced him to suck it up and join weekend festivities honouring the last Leafs to win the cup.
Thousands of us who arrive early at the ACC Saturday, February 17, for pre-game ceremonies know what we want. We want absolution, for the issues to disappear so we can cheer like little kids again with uncomplicated conviction for our hockey heroes.
Keon slips into the ACC wearing an ankle-length fur coat that probably hasn't been out of the closet since he fled to Florida decades ago. I'm waiting for the ceremonies to start as Yolanda Ballard, the maple-syrup-soaked Anna Nicole of her day and wife of Keon's hated Harold, takes a seat behind me.
As each hockey hero strolls impressively to his spot on the red carpet, we all cheer, but we're holding back the greatest cries for Davie's redemptive return. Yolanda makes screechy and profane small talk, telling a seatmate about someone's problem with "sniff-sniff, you know what I mean?"
Allan Stanley, Bobby Baun and beloved Johnny Bower all wave enthusiastically as they exit the bench one after the other to centre ice.
When Keon begins his stroll, his lips crease without ever forming a smile. His arms remain below his shoulders, which would be great - and legal - if he were directing a puck into the net but fails completely as a resounding sweep of forgiveness or affection.
We are kids again, but not the ones liberated by their joy; we're the uncomfortable ones at a stilted family gathering. A mysterious, never-met uncle makes an overdue appearance, bringing emotional baggage but no gifts. We know it matters to our mother and some other grown-ups, but it's hard to tell why he's so special.
Yolanda is the out-of-control aunt, bellowing behind me as Keon surveys us. He's judging, not jubilant, eventually giving us the time-out sign, a gesture that feels bossy, not humble.
The much-anticipated applause is not thunderous, and briefer than any of us intended. When Keon disappears, it's a relief that allows the discomfort to disperse, and the game - much like a TV turned on to cut the conflict at a collapsing Christmas - allows us to move on. I feel bad for the other players overshadowed by the embittered "brother" whose contempt corrupts the "family time."
It probably isn't his fault. Like a disappeared son who's answered a crying mother's long-distance phone plea, maybe Keon never should have come back. The issues that kept him away haven't disappeared, and as much as he tried to hide them, he can't keep secrets from family. We all know each other too well.