(WECK 1230) — To be frank, the passing of Rick Martin doesn’t cut me like some jagged piece of emotional glass. To me, Rick was a fellow golfer who smoked cigars, drank and talked with the same locker room mouth I developed hanging out with Brian Carter, Chris Kuta and Tony Gorney in the Kenmore East room before practices at Lincoln Arena in Tonawanda.
But it doesn’t matter that Rick will always be someone I respected because he dominated the same ice I grew up hoping would be my work place. No, what matters is that Rick Martin painted the memories of so many families and friends with his in-person heroics and cathode ray presentations.
I’ve been contemplating the role of sports in our lives for a long, long time. It came to a head watching new Sabres owner Terry Pegula tear up as he searched for Gilbert Perreault in the audience of his debut press conference as team owner. Here was a grown man with a beautiful family and self-made billions of American dollars choking up because another man who used to dazzle him with knives strapped to his feet was now welcoming him to the club. Terry used to be an average kid with dreams of the big time, dreams that were painted by the French Connection amongst other things.
It’s why people who barely, if at all, knew Richard Martin were crying Sunday when they learned of his death. It’s why they were calling him Rico as if he were their childhood friend.
And you know what? He was. Rick gave moms and dads who couldn’t always relate to their growing kids a conversation starter. Maybe that wasn’t his plan all the time — there were goalies and girls and dollars and frivolity aplenty — but it’s what he did. Rick’s smile after besting a defense and goaltender were the same as Sabres fans at home. They all wanted Buffalo to win, Rick just had a more direct and pivotal role in that potential victory.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we constantly fight what Cornel West calls “the death shudder,” those timely reminders that our time on Earth has a most certain expiration. Whether we channel that shudder into motivation, choke it deep down within our guts or use it somewhere in between is irrelevent. It’s what has me here in a Connecticut hotel room opining about hockey’s connection to the here, now and hereafter instead of sleeping. Sports help us live life just as religion and politics can, it’s just a much less divisive conversation topic (unless of course sports is your religion, but that’s a discussion for another day).
I love Rick Martin, but not for any reason more poignant than what he meant to people who matter to me. To my beloved Gram, he is a star in the history of her favorite team. To my dad and mom, he was a prolific goal scorer during their courtship. To me, he was a hockey player who played when my uncles were growing up and could tell me a heck of a tale on the golf course or bar afterward. To my son, he’ll be a legend whose name hangs in the rafters of HSBC Arena… one that brings different stories out of the mouths of different faces, but served to build this goofy, violent and beautiful sport into the Buffalo cultural giant it is today.
So while his sudden passing gives pause to all Sabres fans regardless of whether they watched him skate 1,000 times or zero, the truth is that No. 7 helped us share in the divine comedy of life by being a representation of Heavenly talent carting a piece of lumber around a sheet of frozen water.
I’ll be damned if he didn’t do it well.
May God bless Rick Martin as well as his family and friends during this tremendously emotional time.