Chris Chelios won the last of his three Norris Trophies as the NHLs best defenseman back in 1996. The award was presented to him in Toronto during the NHL Awards Show, and I was there to cover the event.
For years, I had hated Chelios. He was an incredible hockey player, but as captain of the Chicago Blackhawks, seemed like a real SOB.
My unabashed hatred for him caused a major riff with my mother and her side of the family. They were 100-percent Greek and loved Chelios.
In their minds, he did everything better than his hockey counterparts because he was a good Greek boy. They couldnt understand why I refused to embrace this Greek-American player as one of our own.
As with most families, whatever your nationality is, its the best. We all have an abundance of pride in our heritage.
I understand that, but the Greeks take it to another level -- or at least my moms family did.
They were quick to point out, the Greeks invented Western Civilization ... without the Greek culture, society could have evolved into a barbaric catastrophe.
So here I was in Toronto at the media reception before the awards show, standing right next to Chelios and members of his family.
Startled, my first thought was, Wow, do they look Greek.
After my initial reaction, Chelios gave me a look over and quickly walked away. I didnt care; I had nothing to say to this Blackhawks buffoon.
The awards show began and Chelios won the Norris. He was then ushered back to the media center for interviews.
Chelios offered some opening remarks and then started to field questions. He spoke in a monotone and seemed rather mundane about the whole event.
As he continued to speak, I became upset. I wanted to yell at him and say, Hey, you jerk, show some life. You just won the freaking Norris. Youre Greek. Speak with some eloquence. Your people created language.
Finally, Chelios was asked about Colorado winning the Stanley Cup.
He lit up, a metamorphosis occurred. With a glint in his eye and a smirk on his face he said, Anybody but Detroit. As long as it isnt Detroit.
When he made his Detroit comment, I thought to myself, I really cant stand this guy, but I wish he played for the Wings.
My opinion of Chelios changed because he laid it on the line. He didnt like Detroit then, and Detroit didnt like him, either.
Its odd how you respect someone who has the same disdain for you as you have for them.
Once he became a Red Wing, my understanding about Chelios "the athlete" really took shape.
He was a no-nonsense, belligerent blue-liner who played the game with an intensity unrivaled by many. His passion, intelligence and experience allowed him to play in the NHL for three decades.
He was so committed to his sport that when he first arrived in Detroit, he installed a big-screen TV in the Wings' sauna. He spent hours each day in the sauna, riding an exercise bike and watching television -- a feat that would have killed most mortal men.
On Tuesday, the greatest American-born hockey player of all time made the Hockey Hall of Fame -- an honor that in typical Chelios fashion he will downplay.
Its always been about the game for Chelios. Im sure he misses playing terribly.
My love for hockey came from my mother. She was the hockey fan of the family.
In early March, she died after a brief but overwhelming illness. And, honestly, it has been difficult for me to move forward.
Now my grief is starting to subside because I know she's celebrating a good Greek boy making it to the Hall of Fame.