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A hockey story from Chicago redeems the fantasies of every sports fan. April 5, 2018
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Have you ever had a Walter Mittyesque daydream about unimaginable circumstances putting you, say, at the free-throw line for the deciding shot of an NBA game, or at bat in the ninth inning with runners in scoring position? A story last week gives hope to every slob who ever fantasized about being pulled out of the crowd to replace the injured star, vindicating his decision to wear an authentic jersey in the home team’s colors or carry his baseball glove to the game.

Scott “Fozzy” Foster, a 36-year-old accountant, plays goalie for Wight & Company in one of Chicago’s many amateur ice hockey “beer leagues.” In his younger days, he played four years of Division I college hockey, where he probably blocked shots from some former and current NHL players. Still, it’s been a long time since he faced elite competition, and on Thursday, March 29, at the United Center, Foster found himself tending goal for the Chicago Blackhawks as a result of injuries to the three goaltenders on the Blackhawks’ official roster. To the surprise of many, including devoted followers of the sport, teams in the National Hockey League employ “emergency” goalies, who attend their home games in case unforeseen circumstances leave the team in need of a body in the net. They get these guys from local beer leagues and, evidently, it’s possible that they will actually play. (Another emergency goaltender dressed for the Los Angeles Kings earlier this year but didn’t get into the game.)

In this case, with the two primary Blackhawks goaltenders injured, a minor leaguer started the game; Foster dressed as his backup. Sure enough, the minor leaguer suffered muscle cramps, and Fozzy was called into action, blocking seven shots in 17 minutes, without surrendering a goal. He became an instant hero to hockey fans and anyone else with a guilty appreciation for truth cornier than fiction.

Strange as the concept of emergency goalies may seem, the reasoning makes some sense. Teams don’t want to risk injury or unnecessary embarrassment to regular position players by putting one of them in goal. A high-level amateur can provide a credible-enough skill set for the game to go on. But it’s still delightfully ridiculous: letting a spectator suit up in a major professional sport because he has the only decent set of leg pads within 20 miles of the arena.

The Foster episode reminds us of a time before American sports became such a hyper-corporate, slickly professional product. Organized sports were once played by locals—often by guys associated with a particular company or industry. The Green Bay Packers were founded by a couple of meatpackers, including Curly Lambeau, who solicited money for uniforms from their employer; the Chicago Bears, originally the Decatur Staleys, were made up of workers at the Staley corn starch factory. Even as late as the 1970s, before salaries exploded, it wasn’t uncommon for professional ballplayers to work off-season jobs. Richie Hebner, who played his last season with the Cubs in 1984, dug graves to make extra money. An organic connection tied teams to their towns. Now, playing is reserved for millionaire outliers. The rest of us just watch.

Fozzy Foster’s is a great American story because it demonstrates the abundant opportunity still available to the persistent in the United States. America remains a land of second chances, of shameless audacity. Foster doesn’t have to play another minute of NHL hockey; presumably, the movie is being written as we speak. Can Ed Norton still play 36?

Photo: Dmytro Aksonov/iStock

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