Maury Z. Levy

“I Sign My Name with My Knuckles!”

In Philadelphia Magazine (1970-1980) on September 8, 2009 at 7:59 pm


THEY HAD SLIT HIS THROAT SO many times now already, he was starting to get used to it. But cutting out his eye, that was something else again.

It was back in May in the next-to-last game against Boston, the Thursday before the Flyers won the Stanley Cup. Wayne Cashman, who skates for Boston, a team that used to stake its reputation on being rough and tough, was not being very nice at all.

Early in the game, he almost chopped off Bernie Parent’s head. A few minutes later, he swung his stick at Jimmy Watson. And then he punched Ed Van Impe in the mouth.

Finally, the Flyers put Dave Schultz on the ice. Dave Schultz is supposed to take care of these things. He is a policeman, an enforcer and a lot of other polite words. Mostly his purpose in life is to beat the shit out of people.

Wayne Cashman made some motions toward Dave Schultz. “He was going like this,” Schultz says, drawing a line under his eye with his finger. “I didn’t think he had to resort to that. I hoped he really wouldn’t try to cut out my eye.”

In previous meetings, Cashman had taken his shots at Schultz, usually with his stick and usually in the area of his head. He’d caught him in the throat at least once, but he’d never gone after his eyes.

Schultz had little choice but to do what he does. He grabbed onto Cashman’s jersey with his left hand. His left hand isn’t worth much on the ice. He is a one-handed fighter. Cashman got in the first few punches to the face.

“I’ll give the other guy those first couple shots,” Schultz says, “while I get a grip on him. Once I get my hand on his shirt, though, I take over.”

Schultz took over with a round of very hard right hands that snapped Cashman’s head back and filled his face with blood. Cashman tried to duck and wrestle himself inside, but Schultz went underneath and started scoring big with uppercuts. One of them knocked Cashman half­way into the air and he lost his balance and Schultz pushed him right over on his side and jumped on top of him and kept hitting him very hard about the head and body. By now, the ice was very full of blood, none of it Schultz’s.

The officials finally managed to pull them apart. It took two men to get Schultz away. Cashman finally got up. His jersey had been pulled all the way off and his face was very battered, but he was still standing.

“He must be pretty tough,” Dave Schultz said with a grin that still had some teeth in it. “Those punches would have killed an ordinary man.”

Then, before they finally got him off the ice to the penalty box, Schultz skated by the Boston bench to see if there were any more takers. It was an old custom of his that started three years ago when he was in the minor leagues, racking up a world’s record 392 penalty minutes in one season with the Richmond Robins.

The Robins were playing in Providence one night and Schultz got into a fight with their toughest man and knocked him out cold. He then made his motions to the Providence bench, looking for more action.

“You were going to take on the whole team?” he was asked.

“No,” he said. “I meant the whole town.”  

IT’S BECOME SOMEWHAT OF A SCIENCE With Dave Schultz, fighting. He thinks about it a lot. He spends most of his days having fights in his head. “If you’re going to fight on the ice,” he says, “the first thing you’ve got to be able to do is stand up. You’ve got to keep your balance on skates. And that’s not such an easy thing to do. So I grab onto the other guy’s shirt. If I start to go off balance, I can use him as a prop.

“It’s really not that much a question of strength. A lot of guys might be really tough, maybe twice as strong as me in real life, but they just can’t fight on the ice. It’s really just a matter of technique. I’ve got it pretty well figured out. First I grab the guy by his collar. That keeps him in one place. And if I grab him high like that with my left hand, it makes it hard for him to throw his right. And then I just start hitting him and holding him. You can’t fall in a fight. You fall and it’s all over.

“That’s how Cashman lost. But then I don’t fight like him. I don’t fight dirty. I don’t jump guys from behind and I don’t use my stick. The first thing I do is drop my gloves. You’ve got to get rid of that stick. I’ve been speared in the neck enough times to know that. You can kill somebody with that stick. And I’m not out here to kill anybody. Just to beat them senseless.”

IN A BOXING RING, he would make a medium-sized heavyweight. He’s 6′ 1″ and his weight wavers around 190. But he’s never been in a boxing ring. The best he can remember, he’s never been in a fight off the ice in his life, which is some 25 years now.

Certainly, he is a bull of a man. They don’t call him “The Hammer” for nothing. His muscles bulge out of his shirts. The floor pounds when he walks. And the droop of his moustache makes his mouth a scowl. But his strength isn’t in his arms or his legs or his mouth. It’s in his eyes. His eyes could kill you. They are beady wheels of fire that are not directly connected to his brain.

They work independently off a motor in his stomach. You can never feel comfortable with the man. You could be talking about the weather and his mouth could be smiling and his body could be relaxed, but his eyes just won’t stop staring through you. It is something that he has come to realize he cannot control.

“If I’m sitting on the bench,” he says, “and I see a guy taking a hit at one of our guys, something goes off inside me. I want to get back at that guy. Sometimes that’s all I think about. I get out here on the ice and I can feel it. There’s something happening inside me. I don’t know what it is. But sometimes I get so worked up, I don’t know what’s going on.”

Some people say there are times when Schultz just goes crazy, that his eyes and his stomach just take over his head so much that he doesn’t know where he is or what he’s doing. But that’s what he lives for and that’s what he gets paid for, over $50,000 a year.

“I think, about it all the time,” he says. “It’s my job. We’ll have a light workout in the morning and then I’ll come home and eat a couple of steaks and then I’ll just lay there thinking.

“Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m asleep or I’m awake. I guess I’m sort of daydreaming. And I’ll think about whoever we’re going to play that night. And I’ll think about whoever’s going to give me a rough time. I’ll go over it all in my head. I’ll see myself fighting the guy, I’ll see me grabbing his sweater and punching him out and pulling him down. And a lot of nights it works out just the way I dreamed it.

“And after the game I come home and I go to bed. And some nights I just lay there thinking. I can’t get it all out of my head. Like when we beat New York in the semi-finals, I came home and I got in bed and Cathy was laying next to me and I was thinking about Dale Rolfe. I felt sorry for him. The guy’s a good, honest hockey player, but he just won’t fight. And there he was on national television, in front of all those people, and he got the hell beat out of him. He must have felt awful.”

Cathy, his wife, a very fine Canadian woman who happens to be blonde, has tried all sorts of therapy with him. Once she got him very interested in model boats, but he kept wanting to build destroyers. Then she tried jigsaw puzzles. She bought him a Playboy centerfold puzzle. He put it all together, but before he could show it to anybody, he gave in to his sudden urge to bust it all up. They purposely bought a very nice split-level house in Cherry Hill with a swimming pool so he could try to relax. Someday, maybe, they will get around to filling the pool with water.

“A lot of people just don’t understand the concept of violence in hockey,” Schultz says. “They think it’s all made up, they think we’re faking those fights like the roller derby or something. Well, we’re not, and I’ve got the stitches to prove it. But the one thing I don’t want to do is hurt anybody. Or myself.

“The violence just becomes a necessary part of the game. You’re skating so fast, you’re going to crash into somebody. You go into the corners and you have to dig in. You have to establish your ground. You’ve got to throw your weight around. And your elbows.

“And we’ve got those sticks in our hands. Guys have been killed with those sticks. Nobody wants to use them. So fighting, beating the hell out of a guy with your fists, becomes the only sane alternative.

“Now nobody has ever told me to go out there and beat anybody up on purpose. I should make that clear. When I first came here, nobody took me on the side and said, ‘Kid, you go out there and fight.’ Like Coach Shero, he would never tell a guy to do something where he could get hurt. But it was kind of obvious what my role was going to be. They read the papers up here, too, you know. And everybody knew about all the fights I won in the minors.

“Look, there are three reasons why a guy makes it to this league. Either he’s agile or he’s a good skater or he’s strong enough to beat people up. Well, I’m about as agile as a dump truck and I never could skate very good. So I guess that sort of tells me something. They’ve needed some muscle up here for a long time.”

HOCKEY HAS BEEN A ROUGH SPORT all the way along. It’s just that in the past couple of years Dave Schultz and the rest of the Broad Street Bullies have helped make violence the national pastime. Schultz himself got into some 30 major fights last season, winning most of them and busting the league’s all-time penalty record, both in the regular season and the playoffs. People tend to have short memories. But Dave Schultz remembers watching National Hockey League games on television while he was growing up, one of five children of a Saskatchewan garage mechanic.

“A couple of years ago,” he says, “everybody looked at Boston, figuring they were the roughest team that ever played. Now maybe they’re thinking that about us. But you talk to guys who’ve been around hockey for a lot of years and they’ll tell you. You put us in the league 10 or 15 years ago and we’d be the least physical team around. It’s just that the game has gotten a lot tamer—just skate and score. You get a team like us that can intimidate other teams and you can wipe this league up now.”

For the Flyers, being tough didn’t always come easy. For a few years, they looked about as tough as the clown act in the Ice Follies. Then they tried to get some muscle on the team. So they put a couple of baboons on skates. There was only one problem. Those baboons weren’t agile. They couldn’t skate figure 8’s without falling down. That was okay. Except that they couldn’t fight either. And that sort of limited their usefulness.

One of them was named Earl Heiskala. Heiskala didn’t last too long. When your main mission in life is to fight and you can’t do that very well, people tend to catch on quickly.

“That’s the big thing you’re scared of when you first come up,” Dave Schultz says, “that somebody’s really going to beat you badly in a fight. A lot of guys never get over it. That’s what happened to Heiskala. Keith Magnuson from Chicago really unloaded on him. It took 20
stitches to close up his face; Heiskala never got over it.”

The Flyers have changed a lot since then. They started playing Boston style, trying to put together a team of toughs to surround a few really good skaters and scorers. They took Bob Kelly, who’d once scored a decent amount of goals, and made a hit man out of him. Then they went down to the farm and brought up Schultz and Don Saleski, and they finished off the demolition squad by picking up Andre Dupont in a trade with St. Louis. They were all very young and they were all very aggressive and they weren’t afraid to let everybody else in that league know about it.

Dave Schultz became the ringleader very quickly. Very early on, he got into a fight with Earl Heiskala’s old sparring partner, Keith Magnuson. Magnuson had a reputation of being one of the toughest guys around. He even improved his skills by taking boxing and karate lessons on ice.

He and Schultz started swinging in a television game two years ago. Schultz won a unanimous decision. Magnuson went off the ice with a bloody mouth. After they stitched up his lip, he just shook his head. “I never heard of that guy before,” he said.

But things like that don’t rest so easily in the National Hockey League. The next time around, Magnuson was ready. He and Schultz went at it again early. This time, Schultz broke Magnuson’s jaw. And the word about the Flyers was starting to spread.

“I think it’s because everyone is a fighter,” Schultz says. “If you know most of your teammates will help you out, then you’re not afraid. The other teams get scared. They know you’ve got some backup. That’s what makes a team tough.

“Like everybody knows that Bobby Clarke’s our best skater and our biggest scorer. Now a lot of guys will try to get him out of there, They’ll try to knock the hell out of him. But he can’t be worried about getting hit all the time and having to fight back. So that’s why I’m there. They mess with Clarkie and they’re messing with me.

“Sure I scored 20 goals this year, and I guess I’m skating a lot better than I used to, but everybody knows why I’m here. The Flyers used to get the hell kicked out of them. Poor guys. Well, I’ll be damned if that happens to any team I ever play on. I’ll take on five or six guys at once if I have to. I’ll take a punch in the mouth in exchange for a win anytime.

“It’s very simple. My asset is fighting, so I have to use it. I’ll take the punches for the other guys. If it didn’t help, then I wouldn’t do it. But I guess I’d also be out of a job.

“I knew that right from the beginning, back in Canada. My family never had any money. So I figured the only way I might make a few bucks was to play hockey. But I just wasn’t so good at too many things. I figured if anybody was ever going to hear about me, I’d have to start making some noise. So I started leaving my calling card around. I signed my name with my knuckles.

“When the Flyers drafted me out of the juniors, I went to training camp with them and I just looked around at these other guys. I figured, there’s no way I’m going to make it here unless I become a specialist. So when I went to the minors, I really started working on my specialty.”

He flexes his right hand and smiles. His eyes are still off somewhere else. His hands are like good steaks now, big and thick and meaty. Some people have likened them to hammers, which is how he got his nickname, which, like most other nicknames in sports, is stupid. The real strength is in his arms and his shoulders and his chest. They are all full and very firm. He is a tough man, Dave Schultz. A lot of people find that hard to understand—off the ice he talks very quietly. At least his mouth does. His eyes never stop screaming.

BECAUSE OF HIS TACTICS, because of his constant in­timidation (“You gotta let them know you’re not gonna take any shit”), Schultz is either loved or hated around the league. The geographic boundaries for this are very distinct. He is loved in Philadelphia. There is a very big fan club in town, which calls itself “Schultz’s Army.” Its soldiers wear real German helmets and Iron Crosses to the Spectrum. They worship him as the Red Baron of hockey. But you take him over the county line and you’re in big trouble.

In some cities, there have been deafening chants of “Kill Schultz, kill Schultz.” In Montreal one night he had to be given an armed guard. Somebody had called up a local radio station and said, “Schultz will never get out of the Forum alive.” He got out in one piece, which is more than you could say for one of the Montreal players who tried to tangle with him. It took eight stitches to close up his face.

In New York, they curse at him and throw light bulbs at his head from the upper deck. In Minnesota, they shot him with water pistols. And in Boston, somebody clobbered him with a beer bottle after he scored an assist on a winning goal.

“What really bothers me,” he says, “are the little kids swearing at me, Why pick on me? I’m only human. I’ve got feelings.

“People are always saying that we don’t deserve to be in the league because we’re all a bunch of animals and all we can do is fight. That’s a bunch of garbage. If they don’t like it, they don’t have to watch. I could care less. I can’t worry about what they say or what they throw at me. I’m playing for keeps out there. This is my life.”

The fans aren’t the only ones who’ve come down on Schultz. The league itself has even made some new rules aimed directly at him. They said that he can’t wear tape on his hands anymore. Any professional fighter is allowed to tape his hands before he puts on his gloves and goes into the ring. Schultz always considered the tape part of his equipment. But now the league says no.

“I use the tape to protect my hands,” Schultz protests. “Sure it might cut a guy a little easier, but there are two sides to that, If I hit a guy on the side of the head really hard, I’ll cut my own hand.”

The way Schultz sees it, it’s all part of a concerted effort to disarm him. He doesn’t like that. It’s bad enough everybody else in the league is trying to beat him to the draw.

“I’ve sort of become like the top gun in the West,” he says. “Like Billy the Kid or something. Now everybody’s out to beat me. If they lose, nobody pays much attention. But if they win, well, then they get a name for themselves, I’ve got to be ready all the time now. I just don’t know who I’m going to be fighting next, You’ve got to get mentally prepared for these things. If the other guy is more mentally prepared, even if he has less talent, he’ll be better than you.

“My mind is ready for whatever will happen. You have to have the ability to make a move without thinking about it. Or you’re dead.”

Dave Schultz is ready now. He’s battled his way to the top and he plans on staying there for a while, no matter who tries to knock him off—the players, the fans, the league.

And they can put down his fighting all they want, but there’s no way he’s going to stop. “I’ve never killed anybody,” he says. “I’ve never even had any serious incidents. I don’t know why people consider me a problem. You look at other guys in other sports. They’ve got problems. Like people I know in football and basketball and all the drugs those guys take.

“Well, I don’t take any drugs. I don’t do anything bad. I have my job in life and I go out there and do it the best I can. I just beat the hell out of people.”

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