(Hockey Player Magazine, May 2018)
“It’s improper to criticize someone 30 years later.” Bobby Clarke, Philadelphia Flyers
If I found Darius Fooberman on Facebook I’d hesitate friending him.
A garish bully during my bantam years, Darius stood nearly six feet without skates. With gear bag in tow his knuckles dragged as he walked into the arena. The oaf knocked over chairs and small kids sitting on them. Mrs. Fooberman, a square jawed bow-legged woman was shaped like a bowling pin and sported a bee-hive hairdo. She screeched to her boy, “Darius! You knocked over a kid. Pick up that brat!”
On the ice Darius resembled a Sasquatch wearing blades. With oily hair, pimples, and a face larger than a pie tin, Darius’ breath wreaked of day old pizza and hard boiled eggs. Like his mom, the kid was unattractive, arrogant, had poor manners and poorer hygiene. The Fooberman nut didn’t fall far from the family tree. I never saw Mr. Fooberman who supposedly lived a hermit’s life in the mountains, trapping grizzlies and eating their hearts.
Darius skated for a Denver travel team, the Hylanders, a roughened cadre of free range lads from steely blue collar families. The Hylanders rolled packs of Marlboros in their jerseys, their locker room wafting of menthol. My Falcons, an Air Force travel team, were squeaky clean military kids with cropped hair, freckles and pale skin. We were the sons of sergeants, majors and colonels. Smaller than our Denver opponents we were fast and scrappy but never backed down from anyone.
Our confidence stemmed from clever coaching. Coach Dave, a Minnesota native, was an Air Force police sergeant by day. Gentle with his words, Coach Dave was firm, sneaky, and tough. He taught the art of concealing dirty tricks, showing how to chop our opponent’s insteps between the ankles and shin guards and how to cross-check from behind without getting caught. Coach Dave encouraged us to take cheap shots when referees weren’t looking, especially when playing against huskier teams loaded with goons. Opponents retaliated and got called. “Act innocent,” he’d say, “Get the other guy in the penalty box.”
We absorbed Coach Dave’s advice like sponges. When it came to the Hylanders adrenalin pulsed through our veins. Stacked against them, we were underdogs. They were huge and mean and had Darius. The Hylanders were a rival we hated and loved to hate.
Not long into one game Darius chased me behind the net into the corner for the puck. We crashed into the boards, his pizza breath condensing onto my neck. The beast jerked his stick up my groin and I countered with an elbow to his face. Darius grunted. The ref whistled.
“You two,” he growled, “Two minutes for roughing.”
“Come on ref,” I complained, “The guy’s a hack.”
Darius grinned as we skated to the penalty box. Dried egg yolk covered his helmet cage. We took our respective seats which were separated by only the score keeper. I brushed yolk from my jersey and watched our teams play four on four. Darius stared at me as if he had a crush. I avoided eye contact like a junior high boy caught gazing at a girl. What a weird guy.
Half-way through the penalty Darius’ glowering set me off. I mouthed an insult. After our two minute respite we hopped onto the ice. Darius came after me. But this time I used his body as a shield from the ref and butt-ended my stick into his gut. He retaliated with an elbow. The ref whistled, lectured my foe, and sent him to the box for two more minutes of relaxation and contemplation. I skated past and whispered, “Poor baby, got caught…” and blew Darius a kiss. His eyes spun wild.
We traded wins and losses with the Hylanders that season. Every game was a brawl. Darius and I had many disagreements but he ultimately racked up more time in the sin-bin than I did. With the brain the size of a chiclet he was an easy mark. When I changed leagues the following year I lost track of the guy. By the time I reached high school he was a distant memory.
I’ve often wondered what happened to Darius Fooberman. In my years of playing hockey I can’t think of another competitor who impacted me as much. He was the first bully I encountered where I stood my ground. Of course wearing five pounds of padding helped.
Years later, as I recall his boorish mom, I realize that Darius did not come from privilege. The Foobermans, like them or not, did their best with what life threw at them.
I still throw a figurative elbow in situations where I’m trespassed. But if Darius Fooberman contacted me via Facebook I’d probably give him a look. It’s poor sportsmanship to criticize him so many years later. Bad breath and bullying aside, Darius toughened me up. Life’s too short to hold grudges.
But to this day I’m not a fan of hard boiled eggs.
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