If the games can't make kids of us all, if under the layers of contracts and endorsements and other junk we no longer can locate the sweet core that got us to choose up sides and play in the first place, sports lose their meaning. In one incandescent moment, 63-year-old Scotty Bowman touched the heart of the matter.
Bowman, the coach of the Detroit Red Wings, knows hockey better than any other man alive—almost everyone gives him that—and last June, when he skated with the Stanley Cup, the soft 4 scrape of his blades resonated more profoundly than any postgame pronouncement of 1997. Bow-"V man had slipped out of his brogues and into his skates following the decisive Game 4 of the finals against the Philadelphia Flyers, so when the Red Wings took the traditional victory laps around Joe Louis Arena with the Cup, he was able to join the joyous medley relay with his own abbreviated loop. When Bowman took the Cup for a spin, as they say in Detroit, the decades melted away to reveal the boy within.
"I always wanted to be a player in the NHL and skate with the Cup," Bowman said of his gesture, which was as meticulously planned as his line combinations. "If we did win the Stanley Cup, I thought I might as well go for it. How many chances do you get?"
In Bowman's case, seven. That total of NHL championships is exceeded only by the eight of his mentor, former Montreal Canadiens coach Toe Blake, but for some reason Bowman doesn't seem to fit in the pantheon of North American coaches. The problem is, he has lacked a trademark. He doesn't have Red Auerbach's cigar, Bear Bryant's houndstooth fedora, Vince Lombardi's locker-room homilies, Don Shula's Mount Rushmore jaw, something distinctly and immediately identifiable as his.
Although Bowman has done it only once—and odds are he will not get another chance—his Stanley Cup skate late on a Saturday night can serve not only as a splendid shorthand for his career but also as a reminder to us all: In sports, our inner child should be allowed to stay up way past bedtime.