Commentary

Reg isn't Reg without Paul Newman

Updated: September 28, 2008, 2:59 AM ET
By Terry Frei | Special to ESPN.com

And the No. 1 star ... Paul Newman.

The great actor and man died of cancer on Friday, and reactions and tributes are pouring in.

In "Somebody Up There Likes Me," he gave a knockout performance. His talent sizzled in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." He made all the shots in "The Hustler" and took home the Oscar in the sequel, "The Color of Money." He played the hell out of his roles in "Hud" and "Harper." He deserved the checkered flag for his work in "Winning." Raindrops kept falling on his head, but the fall didn't kill him in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid." He pulled the con off with aplomb in "The Sting."

But, to many, his best and most memorable work was as Reg Dunlop in "Slap Shot."

The words came from Nancy Dowd's script.

The inspiration and many of the lines came from her brother Ned's experiences and tape recorder before he played Ogie Ogilthorpe in the movie.

The performance was all Newman.

It was so unforgettable for those who saw it, they most likely have seen it a thousand times on cable, on Beta or VHS, on DVD, and most important and most numerous, in their minds.

It was so unforgettable and the movie was so great, the plans to remake it are ludicrous and even more troubling than the straight-to-DVD sequels. But after the success of the ridiculous "The Longest Yard" remake, anything can happen in a movie marketplace too often reliant on short memories or no memories at all, on former "Saturday Night Live" troupe members (some of whom can act and some of whom cannot) and on stupidity.

"Slap Shot," the '77 original, was so memorable -- largely thanks to Newman -- that even the barest of outlines or references to lines summons the scenes and Reggie's wicked grin.

Dunlop, despite what some of the fans screamed, didn't stink:

• As sportscaster Jim Carr would have agreed before asking the listeners to keep the questions within the boundaries of good taste, Dunlop represented the old guard of the Federal League -- and did it well.

• Sportswriter Dickie Dunn reveled in Reg's praise, offered with a newspaper in one hand and a beer in the other. Reg read: "'To see the three Chiefs make a scoring rush, the bright colors of their jerseys ... flashing against the milky ice, was to see a work of art in motion.' That's good writin', Dickie."

• After noting that they brought their toys, Dunlop challenged the Hanson brothers to show the Chiefs what they had ... besides foil.

[+] EnlargePaul Newman
Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesPaul Newman, who starred in "Slap Shot", died of cancer Friday at age 83.

• From the bar, Dunlop went home with the lady in the red dress and won at least $5 in the process. Every one of the Chiefs thought he was the greatest. At least that's what he told the lady in the red dress -- his estranged wife.

• Dunlop refused to admit defeat after the announcement of the mill closing.

• He couldn't name names, but Dunlop let it slip to Dickie that a senior citizen's community in a southern state was in the market for a hockey team and could be the Chiefs' salvation. And he knew that if Dickie wrote it, and endorsed it, everyone would think it must be true and begin fantasizing about snatching off-ice diversions in F-L-A.

• Dunlop learned enough about Charlestown to know that the dog in the statue saved Charlestown in the 1938 flood. That disclosure didn't exactly impress Lily Braden.

• Dunlop riled Dave Carlson into being "a killer" (and "a mess") by playing on his sympathies and getting even obtuse Dave to notice "an expression of sadness" on his face.

• Dunlop's pep talks were better than Knute Rockne's. Sometimes, he asked the boys to play it smart, but when it got beyond that, he was inspiring. "Tonight, we got our fans with us! They spent their own dough to get here, and they came here to see us. All right, let's show 'em what we got, guys. Get out there on the ice and let 'em know you're there. Get that [bleeping] stick in his side, let 'em know you're there. Get that lumber in his teeth, let him know you're there!"

(Can I get a "Hallelujah!"?)

• Dunlop ran a tight enough ship that the Hansons knew they should listen to "The Star-Spangled Banner." All the way through. No matter what the referee was threatening.

• Dunlop claimed he hadn't been able to call Francine because he was on the phone every waking moment with the guy who owned the Chiefs ... or so he said, until he found out the owner was a woman, Anita McCambridge, who he couldn't talk out of folding the team for a tax write-off, and he offered his thoughts on how her son might turn out.

• When Dunlop wasn't drinking beer, he was drinking Canadian Club and water.

• Wearing No. 7, he skated well enough to pull it off.

• In a taped game-day radio appearance Dunlop had told the boys to listen to, he told host Jim Carr (whose rug was in place) about his plans for an opponent so adept at using his stick for carving that he was called Dr. Hook: "I'd like the folks to come down and watch us cream them punks from Syracuse ... I am placing a personal bounty on the head of Tim McCracken. He's the coach and chief punk on that Syracuse team. ... A hundred bucks of my own money for the first of my men that really nails that creep."

(Can I get another "Hallelujah!"?)

• Dunlop hated "Lady of Spain."

• Finally, he told the boys he wanted to win the championship, but that he wanted to win it clean. Old-time hockey. Toe Blake. Dit Clapper. Eddie Shore. Playing it straight. Not like clowns, goons, freaks in a sideshow.

(And we never found out what happened after he went to the Minnesota Night Hawks.)

Yes, the performance was all Newman.

One regret is that Newman made "Winning," a 1969 release, first. That piqued his interest in auto racing, and he ended up the influential co-owner in Newman-Haas Racing on the open-wheel circuit.

If he had made "Slap Shot" first, maybe he would have ended up an NHL owner, talking sense into his brethren at key moments.

Farewell, Reg.

Farewell, Mr. Newman.

You can't be remade.

Terry Frei is a regular contributor to ESPN.com. He is the author of the just-released "'77" and "Third Down and a War to Go."

Terry Frei

Special to ESPN.com
Terry Frei is a columnist for the Denver Post. He is also the author of "Third Down and a War to Go" and "Horns, Hogs, and Nixon Coming."