With the death of Ottawa Sun columnist Earl McRae at 69 on Saturday, this week’s required reading is going to have to be Requiem For Reggie (Chimo). I have to say I haven’t seen anything of McRae’s more recent than that 1977 collection of his sportswriting, but I’ll be happy to exalt his memory based on re-reading his 1970 profile of NHL goal judge Eddie Mepham alone. In his spry introduction, Trent Frayne measures McRae’s acuity as a writer by how many of his subjects — including Derek Sanderson, Reggie Fleming, and Phil Esposito — were so startled by his perception in what he’d written about them, they refused to talk to him ever again.
I don’t know if Eddie Mepham had grounds for that. “Goal Judge” is a brilliant locket of a piece in which McRae picks up with him right after he’s become the Most Hated Man in Canada for not greenlighting what everyone thought was a goal for the Leafs but because Eddie chose not to move his right index finger half-an-inch north, no, sorry, no goal. McRae visits Eddie at home in Toronto, meets his wife, Myrt, sits down with for dinner. What does a goal judge eat on a game day? Two poached eggs on toast, coffee. Anything heavier would throw him off his judging, his wife confides. I can’t decide which is better, McRae’s description of the hand Eddie uses to buzz (and not buzz) goals or Myrt. Eddie might not want to complain about the pressure he faces, and the dangers of the job, but Myrt doesn’t mind. The boards at Maple Leaf Gardens, in front of Eddie, where he sits, are actually Zamboni doors, and when players bang into them, they bang Eddie’s knees, really bang them, and the guy at the other end won’t switch. It’s murder trying to see the goal-line, too, if you’re wondering, with all the players getting in the way and, plus, the fans do like to yell. McRae sits with him next game, Boston, 32 shots to judge, next to no controversy. Afterwards Eddie’s a mess, aching in knees and hands, parched, sweaty, doubting himself. Only once he’s home, can he smile, relax, with Myrt.