sweeping across the blue line in efficient churning strides, Ray Bourque
looked down ice for another blue jersey in a promising
he had done so many times for Boston Bruins he found a narrow momentarily
open path and rocketed a laser pass into the boards just where they begin
to curve around. Shoving his tall, rangy body in front of a smaller
defender, right wing John Kerry dug the puck out of the corner, crashed
his man into the boards with a wicked hip check, and snapped a centering
pass to Ken Hodge Sr., parked like a cop at a Dunkin Donuts by the right
corner of the net.
The stuff of fantasy, you say. A hockey rat’s
wet dream transferred to the fevered mind of an overworked presidential
candidate? Believe it or not, dear reader, the Dowbrigade saw the aforementioned
play with his own eyes, yesterday, at the John F. Kennedy Municipal
Hockey Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire.
John Kerry was making a rather unorthodox campaign appearance at a
charity game between the Bruins Legends and a team of local all-stars,
at a fund raiser for Manchester fire fighters. Jessica and
the Dowbrigade had driven up from Boston expecting another boilerplate
speech in front of a bunch of firemen and high school students, salutes
to a cheering crowd, some photo ops and then a quick dash to the motorcade
to the next feverish stop. So when the Senator himself took to the ice
in pads and uniform, skating effortlessly in graceful glides and sharp,
ice-spraying turns, obviously ready to mix it up in the real game, we
were moderately flabbergasted.
What if he slips, lands on his ass, and makes a fool of himself in front
of hundreds of voters and fans, the merciless hordes of the press, and
through them millions of Americans watching the Presidential race heat
up like a NASCAR showdown on a slippery track, waiting for the next meltdown,
flameout, or fiery crash.
Or worse, what if he pulls a ham string, twists an ankle, dislocates
a shoulder or worse yet, actually breaks a leg (all too common occupancies
for the aging weekend athlete)? Imagine aides pushing John Kerry around
to all his campaign stops in a wheelchair! Would America vote for a wounded
warrior? The Dowbrigade doubts it.
So it was something of a gamble, letting the candidate out on the ice
to mix it up with a highly varied collection of local high schoolers,
University of New Hampshire varsity players, ex-Olympians of both sexes,
course, the Bruins legends, including Ray Bourque, Ken Hodge Sr., Ken
Hodge Junior, Cam Neely, Bob Sweeney and Rick Middleton, all names to
be reckoned with from the dimly remembered infancy of my life as a Boston
And yet the candidate was obviously having the time of his life. He
was smiling and cheering and waving his arms, hugging friend and foe
alike, and yet clearly super-competitive, desperately wanting his team
to win even this meaningless, pick-up charity fundraiser game. He
was like a big goofy kid out there on the ice, but he did not look out
was a refreshing new insight on a candidate whose prepackaged TV commercials
make him look like nothing so much as all the other candidates whose
commercials are running concurrently on the other channels. All
dressed in variations of the same uniform, all plugging basically the
– trust me, I will defend your rights, together we can win back America
from the domestic bad guys and defend it from the foreign bad guys. They
are about as varied as the boxes of dry cereal stacked in the breakfast
aisle of the local supermarket; at first glance a cornucopia of different
colors, flavors and shapes, but in the final analysis all basically sugar
and air in a cardboard box.
The most striking thing was how Kerry carried himself with the grace
and physical self-confidence of the natural athlete. It has been quite
some times since we have had a real athlete in the White House. Ford
played golf, with disastrous results, Poppy Bush supposedly played
tennis, and his son seems to be constantly running either for or from
something, but both Bushes seem more like sloggers than stars.
We need to go back to Kennedy to find a national leader so identified
with sports and physical activity. In addition to hockey (Kerry
made varsity in prep school and at Yale) the Senator is a rabid
windsurfer, as evidenced by the free copies of the oversized, ulta-glossy
Windsurfer Magazine featuring you-know who on the cover and an
article entitled "The Windsurfer Who Could Be President."
Will Middle America buy a preppy jock as President? Don’t we already
have a preppy jock as president? Good questions, both.
are some eerie similarities between Sen. Kerry and the man he wants to
replace. Indeed, outside the JFK Arena was a charmingly eccentric
political activist in a huge sandwich-board sign on which was written
"Bush and Kerry: Secret Fraternity Brothers in a Blood Pact to Defraud
America" and making multiple references to the myriad connections between
the Bush and Kerry families and the shadowy Skull and Bones bond they
Be that as it may, there is clearly a difference in the nature of the
athleticism of the two men. Bush may know his way around a tennis court,
but he clearly seemed more in his element in the owner’s box of his Texas
Rangers than on the field. Kerry, again and again, has us seeing
afterimages in our mind’s eye, of the Kennedy’s playing touch football
on the Cape, or Jack lounging on his sailboat. Not only at play either.
The video of a young John Kerry sauntering through clearings in Vietnam,
with that same unconscious athletic lope, his M-16 swinging comfortably
at the end of his long arm unavoidably brings to mind the shots of JFK
at the helm of PT 109, worn and tan and savagely handsome, adored by
the men whose lives he held in his hands.
Bush, for all his Ivy pedigree and relaxed good looks (the man does
look good in a flight jacket), reminds nobody of Jack Kennedy. Kerry,
at least potentially, seems capable of capturing some of that old Camelot
magic, to convince a significant portion of the nation that he represents
that which is best in them, and in this country: A gifted, privileged
son of the royal class, who chooses to dedicate himself to the causes
and crusades of the common people. We long for nothing so much as a King
who passes as a Commoner.
What this has to do with athleticism is not entirely clear, even to
the Dowbrigade, but we’ve come this far so lets try to wrap this up by
wandering back to the point. In any roundup of the Democratic field, Kerry
clearly comes out on top in terms of athleticism and incipient jockdom. Consider
Howard Dean gives the impression that the closest he ever got to organized
sports was a rousing game of Ultimate Frisbee back in college. Dennis
Kucinich looks like he would break a wrist if he tried to swing a ping-pong
Clark looks to be in pretty good shape and could conceivably be called
a sportsman, if you consider calisthenics a sport. Edwards, unfortunately, looks (and acts) as though he’d be more at home in a cheerleader’s uniform than in a quarterback’s shoulderpads. Joe Lieberman and
Al Sharpton would have probably been neck and neck for absolute last
picked on the playground for dodgeball, with the nod going to Lieberman
on the endemic influence of racial stereotype.
It was good to see the leading candidate taking the time and physical
risk of playing a game and relaxing with friends at a time like this. Surely
the physical and mental benefits alone make it a worthwhile waste of
his time, but there may be fringe political benefits as well. As far
as the Dowbrigade is concerned, anything that makes these guys more human
and less robotic makes me more likely to take them seriously.