The term "legend" gets thrown around loosely these days, but I'm comfortable in labeling former NHL defenseman Chris Chelios a legend and not feeling like I'm exaggerating. Chelios played an astounding 26 seasons in the NHL, ranking seventh all-time in games played. He won three Stanley Cups, two with the Detroit Red Wings and one with the Montreal Canadiens, made 11 All-Star teams and won three Norris Trophies. He's widely recognized as one of the 10 greatest defenseman to ever do it, and is arguably the greatest American-born player of all-time. So yeah, legend status.
Despite all these on-ice accolades, his most legendary, and most American, moment may have come when he was riding the pine during the 2009 Winter Classic. At the time, the head coach of the Detroit Red Wings was Mike Babcock, who was fired by the Toronto Maple Leafs on November 20 and has since come under fire for his alleged mental abuse of players throughout his career. The horror stories from former players have begun to flow in, including one Chelios told on Barstool Sports' Spittin' Chiclets podcast.
That year, the Winter Classic was played at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Chelios' hometown. The defenseman hoped to play in front of friends and family in what would be the only outdoor game of his career. Babcock wasn't having it, especially when former Red Wings GM Ken Holland and former Red Wings executive Jim Nill argued for Chelios to play. Here's the full exchange between Chelios and former NHL defenseman Ryan Whitney, one of the hosts of Spittin' Chichlets:
Chelios: He tried to healthy scratch me in the outdoor game in Wrigley Field against Chicago because he knew it was my hometown. Just things that were so unnecessary.
Whitney: When you say he tried to scratch you and what did you say? Like no chance?
Chelios: Oh well trust me I will say….Kenny Holland and Jim Nill for three days argued with him. So what Babs ended up doing was he suited up & D for the first time ever, first and last time. He suited up 7 D, put Anders Lilja in the lineup. And played me opening shift and then didn’t play me another shift the rest of the game. That was his way of, you know, showing Kenny and now Jim Nill, he’s not going to be told what to do.
Again, and you know it’s funny. I’m sitting there. Second period and my two sons were about 40 feet, you know, sitting on the boards and they’re looking at me going, what’s going on?
And I look at them. I tip my glass like you know my cup, to get me a beer. So my two boys were handing me beers the whole game. And then [Brad] McCrimmon tried to get me to go out there with a minute left to kill a penalty, I said not a chance.
Drinking beers on the bench as a player in the middle of an NHL game is, and I cannot stress this enough, LEGENDARY. A nice big middle finger to Babcock, and the best part one of the assistant coaches trying to get Chelios to go kill a penalty late in the game, AKA clean up the mess somebody else made. "Not a chance." Boss moves only from Chelios. What an American hero.