Takin' a T/O with BT: Why Pat Burns is the Strongest Man I Know
By nature, media people and scouts can be pretty loud. Whether it's gabbing about the latest game, going over prospect lists, or just telling jokes and sharing a laugh about draft-day hi-jinx, it can get pretty noisy in a room full of them.
But Pat Burns shut them up.
Pat Burns can shut them up without even being there.
He didn't grab their attention by blowing a whistle, banging a stick on the ice, or yelling at guys to "hustle" or "shut it". Burns doesn't do that anymore. The instances where he can summon the booming tones that shook the foundations of Montreal, Boston, Toronto, and New Jersey are few and far between...if they occur at all.
No. Pat Burns did it by being himself. By being light-hearted, casual, sometimes comical...and brave.
Today he showed a face that's been hollowed, a voice that's been pinched, and hair that's been thinned thanks to a battle with cancer he's chosen not to fight.
Can you blame him though? Burns has fought the disease twice already and won, but like Brett Favre, it just keeps coming back, and like Lance Armstrong, it refuses to accept defeat.
He beat colon cancer in 2004 and liver cancer in 2005. Today he lives his life with lung cancer, a battle he decided to forgo, and an ultimatum he decided to meet head on.
But despite the visibly draining disease, Burns appeared in Quebec today as the building of an arena was announced. The Pat Burns arena.
If you ask Burns, he admits readily that he probably won't be around in 2011 when the arena is completed. It takes a brave man to accept an inevitability that he's soon to meet. Some don't ever come to grips with the d-word.
Flying in from Florida, Burns was clear on why he wanted the arena built: Not for his benefit or memory, but to help promote and encourage hockey in youngsters and the community.
He doesn't know if the city of Stanstead, Quebec will ever produce a Wayne Gretzky, Sidney Crosby, or Mario Lemieux, but he hopes so. And he hopes to look over them as they make their home proud in an arena supported by and named after a man too selfless for words.
As the only three time Jack Adams award winner, he's surprisingly calm and accepting of his fate. He's gotten closer to his family and he's gotten closer to God, but despite not coaching he still hasn't left the game he loves.
The man is more committed than a Golden Retriever to the sport, and more passionate about Hockey than Rick Reilly is about Golf. How else do you explain that? When he's up for it, he still goes out on special assignment for the New Jersey Devils from his Florida home.
It's his aura in the game of hockey that will always be honored: 500 wins, a Stanley Cup, and a place amongst the top-ten of coaching wins without one amongst the top-ten games coached list.
And we can't forget the moustache. Or the hair. Or the body.
He's not in the Hall of Fame. Yet. Maybe you're even amongst the group that believes he should get early exemption so he can enjoy one last moment in the sun, even though he's doing all he can to enjoy his time in Florida.
Through a TV screen today, Burns' captured a nation for perhaps the last time, stopping those that recognized him in their tracks. Some were almost brought to tears.
But as Burns says: "You don't cry because it's over; You're happy because it happened."
Postscript: The photo used for this article doesn't depict what Burns looked like at today's press conference, but it embodies what our mind fills in when we hear of what he's going through and how he faces it. In so many ways he's still that wry, witty coach who was a winner everywhere he went.
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