Paul Sullivan: Bobby Hull was a Chicago Blackhawks legend, but he leaves a complicated legacy

Paul Sullivan, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Hockey

Few things in sports were as memorable as a rush up the ice by the Chicago Blackhawks with Bobby Hull handling the puck at Chicago Stadium.

A goal by the man with the hardest shot anyone had seen, combined with the acoustics of the original Madhouse on Madison, led to a sonic explosion that may never be replicated.

It was that incomparable slap shot, once measured at 118 mph, that separated Hull from the other top scorers in NHL history and helped build his reputation as the greatest Blackhawks player of all time.

A statue of Hull outside the United Center, next to one of longtime friend and teammate Stan Mikita, exemplifies his importance to the franchise and its part in the culture of a storied sports town.

Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews led the organization’s revival in the 2010s and will go down as two of the most influential players in Hawks history. But for fans of a certain age, there was nothing quite like those Hawks teams of the 1960s and early ‘70s, when Hull, Mikita and Tony Esposito owned the town and play-by-play man Lloyd Pettit described the action with a breathless fury that kept you on edge every night.

Hull, who died at age 84, left a complicated legacy to be sure.


To his many fans and admirers, the stamp Hull left on the game, along with the contributions he made to charities over the years, including his involvement with the Special Olympics, should be the sole focus of reports on his death. He was generous with fans and the media, gregarious and loud, the proverbial life of the party.

But off-the-ice incidents, including allegations of domestic abuse by two of his wives, could not and should not be ignored when chronicling his life. Neither should a post-career interview with a Russian newspaper in which he allegedly praised Hitler and made racist remarks, though Hull issued a denial the next day and said he was misinterpreted.

Some legends weren’t meant to be icons.

Even so, the darker episodes of Hull’s past didn’t prevent the Blackhawks from making him a team ambassador or erecting the statue that still stands outside the stadium, showing Hull in his famous windup that terrified goaltenders with or without masks.


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