Chelios has no intention of calling it quits just yet
When he's not hanging in Malibu, Calif., with John Cusack, partying with Kid Rock in Detroit or jamming with Eddie Vedder in Chicago, Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios is breaking NHL records for longevity.
In this week's Facing Off, Chelios tells us who he thinks is the greatest American hockey player, why the Bears have a legit shot of bringing a Super Bowl back to his hometown and how he went from California surfer dude to two-time Stanley Cup champion.
Question from David Amber: You were born in Chicago, but moved to Australia and Southern California. How did you stay active in hockey?
Answer from Chris Chelios: I moved out of Chicago when I was 15. I was only in Australia for about seven months when my dad had this crazy idea to go into business there, but that fell through. As far as hockey goes, as soon I turned 16, I was just playing in beer-and-pizza leagues in California. One day, this kid from Canada gave me a number to call in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, and the rest is history.
Q: That's a pretty crazy road to the NHL.
A: Yeah, it is. I was playing hockey and I loved it, but I had no idea what was going on. Being in California, I had no idea what route I had to take, it was just a fluke situation. I met a kid on the beach, and before you knew it, I was playing junior hockey in Canada.
Q: You must have dominated those pizza leagues in California.
A: I was only 16 years old and I was playing against 35-, 40-year-old men. I wasn't so big, so it was good for me. It was really competitive.
Q: And now you're a 40-year-old man, playing against 20-year-olds.
|Fast Facts -- Chris Chelios|
• He was born Jan. 25, 1962, and is the NHL's oldest active player.
• He was drafted in the second round (40th overall) by the Montreal Canadiens in the 1981 entry draft.
• He leads all active players in games played and penalty minutes.
• On Nov. 24, he played in his 1,496th career game, passing Phil Housley for the most games played by an American player.
• Chelios is a three-time Norris Trophy winner (1989, 1993, 1996).
• He twice was appointed captain of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team (1998, 2006).
• He has played in 11 All-Star Games.
A: Yeah, the shoe is on the other foot. Now I know what those guys were dealing with when I was out there running around playing against them.
Q: I read you were a Blackhawks fan growing up, but a bigger Bears fan. Handicap the Bears' chances to win the Super Bowl this year.
A: I love them. They are all about defense. This is probably the first year we've had a quarterback put up good numbers. If Rex Grossman can keep putting up those numbers, I like our chances with that defense.
Q: A lot of people in Chicago don't have much confidence in Grossman. Can he take them to a Super Bowl?
A: He doesn't have to win games, he just has to be solid. It's nice to see the team throw the ball and not just rely on their running game and defense. Think back to Jim McMahon. He wasn't a great quarterback, but he was a winner. The guys played hard for him and he never made mistakes to lose the game for you.
Q: I know you played at Wisconsin, where you won an NCAA championship. Did anyone try to turn you into a Packers fan?
A: You know what, I married a Wisconsin girl, so both my wife and one of my sons are huge Packer fans. So, it makes for fun in the house during football season. It is such a great rivalry, except my in-laws are all over me. They get under my skin when the Bears and Packers play, but it's all in fun.
Q: You won your first Stanley Cup in 1986 playing in Montreal with a rookie named Patrick Roy. What do you remember most about that experience?
A: It happened very unexpectedly. We had a lot of good, young players. Along with Roy, we had Mike McPhee, Claude Lemieux and Brian Skrudland. Were we picked to win the Cup? Absolutely not. But we upset Boston early and then had some momentum to ride a hot goalie like Patrick, and before you knew it, it's my second year in the NHL and I'm carrying the Cup around and saying "Wow, this is easy."
Q: A few years later, you were traded from Montreal to Chicago for Denis Savard. In your opinion, who won that deal?
A: You know, Denis went to Montreal and won a Cup. We were friends, we actually played together for a little while when he was traded back to Chicago. I think in both cases, the trade worked. Denis got to return home; he grew up five minutes from the Montreal Forum. I got to go home to Chicago, and we had some pretty good years there with the team almost winning a Cup, going to the finals against Pittsburgh. Anywhere else, I would have been disappointed. But to go home to play in front of my friends and family, I was very lucky.
Q: You're the oldest player in the league, and you still play a huge number of minutes each game. What's your secret?
A: When I first started playing in the NHL, guys' careers were ending at 32. Today, the training has changed, the diet has changed, the facilities are better. I'm a health and fitness freak, and I love working out, and that's the only reason I am still in the league.
Q: In hockey, people look at you and say, "Wow, this guy is amazing, doing what he's doing at his age." In baseball, players like Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa have been accused of using performance-enhancing drugs. Why do you think that's the case?
A: In hockey, we haven't been tainted with that, we have testing. I think what happened in baseball was a wake-up call to us. We test three times a year, and the bottom line is, you can't do it. Hockey is not all about strength, whereas baseball is bat speed and strength. One summer, I worked out by playing softball and I never hit home runs. But after I put on 10 pounds of muscle, I started hitting home runs. So, there is a lot to be said for that. I don't worry about that stuff because I believe in hard work and I have never taken any muscle-enhancement stuff. The only thing I take now is Gummy Bear vitamins with my kids.
Q: At age 44, what is your offseason training like?
A: At my age, I can't run the way I used to, so I started mountain biking, surfing and other water sports. I train with guys in California.
A: Yeah, but I don't get into the crazy stuff. I don't surf the 30-foot waves. I do get a good workout with Laird Hamilton, a buddy of mine who is the big surfing guru. We work out every day, we do a thing called stand-up paddling. It's like sprinting on surf boards and you catch waves as you paddle into waves with an oar. It's the love of my life in the offseason. You're out in the ocean and it's a great exercise and it's becoming a fad out there. It's a blast.
Q: You spent seven seasons in Montreal, nine in Chicago, and this is your eighth season in Detroit. If you had to choose a team to represent when you are elected into the Hockey Hall of Fame, which team would it be?
A: I don't think you have to choose a team or a jersey. But if I could make a jersey out of all three of those teams and the Team USA jersey, that would be great. To be honest, because I was born in Chicago and I grew up in Chicago, that's where I would lean towards. Even when the fans in Chicago turned on me when I went to Detroit, it still doesn't matter. I will always be a Chicagoan. I call Detroit home now, we love it here, but Chicago is my first home.
Q: It was 16 seasons between your Stanley Cup championships. How different did the second Cup feel after all those years?
A: The first one was how it should have been. I was young, it was fun. I partied just like a 22-year-old is supposed to. The second one, 16 years later, was more relaxed. I shared it with my two sons and my daughter. I had them on the ice. It couldn't have worked out any better. There's not too many guys in the league who have kids my age who can experience what they did and remember it the rest of their lives. So, it worked out well getting to have the best of both worlds when I won the Cup. I really appreciate it.
Q: You trained to compete in the 2006 Winter Olympics as a bobsledder for Greece. What were you thinking there?
A: We were in Salt Lake at the Winter Olympics, and in the athletes cafeteria, I ran into two guys from the Greek bobsled team and they were mentioning that they were looking for funding and they were hoping to get a four-man team together. So, they asked me to try out. Just for fun, I had a few rides, and the next thing you know, we were locked out in the NHL and I had nothing to do, so I gave it a shot. I helped raise some money and gave them some exposure, so it was cool. I didn't realize how intense it is. I found out quickly there was a lot of hard work and a lot of training that goes into being an Olympic bobsledder, and I wasn't ready to make that commitment. Before I even had to make a decision, I was back playing in the minors for the Motor City Mechanics, so that effectively ended my bobsled career.
Q: What's worse: an open-ice hit from a guy like Scott Stevens or crashing in a bobsled?
A: The crash is pretty crazy, you just wait for it to stop. When you crash, you're going 65 mph down the track on your head for at least 30 seconds. That part of it wasn't enjoyable. Getting hit on the ice hurts a lot more, but the fright factor of going down the bobsled is huge. You have some death-defying moments when you crash, so it's definitely a scare.
Q: Who is the greatest American-born NHL player?
A: I have to go with Brett Hull. I know he was born in Canada, so maybe I should say someone else. [Long pause.] I don't know. Brian Leetch would have to be considered. Phil Housley would have to be considered. If I had to pick one? Well, I consider Brett Hull an American, so I would say him [laughs].
Q: What about Chris Chelios?
A: I would never vote for myself, you can't. Just to be considered as one of the top U.S.-born players is a huge honor. I would never have thought that my career would go the way it has. I'm proud to be born in America and that I have represented our country in four Olympics. I will never forget that. I know I have meant a lot to U.S. hockey and the kids in the U.S., so that alone makes me feel good.
Q: Your family owned a chain of Greek restaurants growing up and now you have a couple of Cheli's Chili Bar restaurants. How involved are you in the restaurants?
A: I'm there every day. I'm involved in all the day-to-day calls. I have good people working with me, so I have been hands-on but not to the point where it has interfered with my hockey at all. It's a difficult business to be successful in, but I've been really fortunate having watched my father and all the successes and failures he had. I learned a lot. It's a unique spot because you may run into some of the players. You may see Michael Jordan or Kid Rock at one of my restaurants. That's what I bring to these restaurants and bars. I have worked to helped revitalize the downtown Detroit core and people have supported my efforts. It has been great.
Q: You're buddies with John Cusack. What's your favorite John Cusack movie?
A: Probably "High Fidelity" and "Pushing Tin." Those are my favorites. I have known John for probably 17 or 18 years; he's a great guy. He has done a bunch of girly movies over the years, which are totally against what he believes in, but you have to make a living. So, when you're in his situation, you have to take it. We're good friends. We spend summers in Malibu together.
Q: You also are friends with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. Is he a big hockey fan?
A: Absolutely not. He went to his first game last year in Vancouver. He's watched a few games on television. He watched me win the Cup in Detroit in 2002 on TV. As we've become good friends, he has started to follow the game a little more, but no, he wasn't a hockey fan. He grew up in Chicago on the North Side and moved to San Diego as a teen. Funny thing is, we grew up surfing in the same place in San Diego and I actually knew Eddie before he was Eddie Vedder the "rock star." It's pretty crazy.
Q: So, you've been friends since you were teenagers?
A: Not exactly. Like 25 years ago, he moved to Seattle and I moved to Moose Jaw, and we never spoke again for more than 10 years. Then, one night, he is out with Dennis Rodman in Chicago at a restaurant, and we're staring at each other, and he says "I know you," and I said, "What's your name?" He says "Eddie," and I say "I think I know you from San Diego." He didn't know me as Chris Chelios the hockey player, and even at the restaurant, I didn't realize he was Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. I am a Pearl Jam fan, but his hair was different and I never imagined Eddie Vedder being that small. He's probably about 5-foot-4. So, one of the security guards comes up and says, "That's Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam." I was like, "Jesus, now I remember, we worked at the gas station across the street from each other." It was really a crazy situation how we met after all those years of not talking.
Q: You're also pals with Kid Rock. What's a night of partying like with him?
A: You better be ready and you better hold on to your hat. If there is anything going on in Detroit, he is right in the middle of it. He was with us during the run to the Cup in 2002. He was in the dressing room after the game. He actually threw a concert for the team after we won, for the club and our friends and families. He's a super guy. If you're a professional athlete, you can't keep up with Kid Rock, you don't even try. Every year, he helps me out with my golf tournament. He is awesome. I think he is misunderstood. You need to really sit down and have a beer with the guy to find out what he's all about.
Q: You've played more than 1,500 NHL games. What stands out as the most bizarre thing you've seen in a game?
A: When Jiri Fischer collapsed, it was the most frightening and bizarre incident. It terrified me to watch a kid like that actually have his heart stop and die for over a minute, and then be revived five feet in front of my eyes. That is something you never forget. By far, that was the most traumatizing thing I have had to go through as a pro athlete.
Q: In the two decades you've been in the NHL, give me your All-Chelios Team (three forwards, two defenseman and a goalie).
A: OK. In net, I'll give you three goalies, if you don't mind. Patrick Roy, Eddie Belfour and Dominik Hasek. On defense: Ray Bourque and Larry Robinson. At forward, there are four guys: Mark Messier, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Yzerman and Mario Lemieux. I had to pick a few extras, but when you're great, you're great. I had a chance to play with or against all of those guys, and it is incredible to be able to say that.
Q: What scenario makes it more likely that you will retire at the end of this season: if the Wings win the Stanley Cup or if the Wings don't win the Stanley Cup?
A: I don't have any intention of retiring after this year, so it wouldn't make a difference if we won or lost. Right now, I take it game by game. I'm not one of those guys who believes you have to go out a winner. I want to leave the game when I can't enjoy it and compete at a level where I help my team.
Q: Conceivably, could we see you break Gordie Howe's record and become the oldest player to play in the NHL?
A: Day by day [laughs]. Realistically, no, but I'm not going to say I can't do it. I mean, Gordie Howe did it and records are made to be broken. Some day, someone may do it, and if I happen to be that guy, fine. If not, I lasted a pretty long time.
ESPN reporter David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.
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