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  April 29, 2000



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Carter a true role model


By BRET "The Hitman" HART

 The Calgary Hitmen have built a reputation for playing their hardest and best when things get tough, and tough doesn't even begin to describe the spot they're in for tonight's showdown at the Saddledome with the Kootenay Ice. I'm so stressed about it that I really don't know how these boys handle the pressure. What a lousy break that three of their top guys, Moran, Brendl and Beech all got hurt.

 It isn't just the white-knuckle stress leading up to tonight's game that's getting to me but also it's dredged up all sorts of feelings from last year. The same day the Hitmen lost the Memorial Cup finals, my brother, Owen, lost his life.

 I was en route from Ottawa to Los Angeles and there in the Air Canada lounge I ran into Vince Carter. I'd become a fan of his when I went to a Raptors game with Paul Jay (filmmaker, Wrestling With Shadows) last winter. I was just sitting in the stands enjoying myself when this big dinosaur mascot guy came and grabbed me with no warning during intermission, planted me at centre court, shoved a ball in my hands, told me to hold it still and close my eyes. OK, so I figured, what a rib, they got me! I don't know what this is about, but how hard could it be -- although the close-your-eyes part should have tipped me off.

 Next thing you know, this raptor-man was doing a running leap onto a spring board, he pounds the ball out of my hands and it bounces right into the hoop. I'm glad I peeked but I have to admit I would have had a hard time staying still if it wasn't for the fact that I've had worse-looking things than that barreling towards me.

 Watching Vince Carter that night, I got the feeling I was seeing the next Michael Jordan and it gave me goosebumps up and down my arms. During the game, the players were waving at me and then someone came and got me from my seat and took me into the locker room to meet everybody and it was a lot of fun and very cool.

 The next time I saw Vince Carter was in the Air Canada lounge in Toronto after the Hitmen were defeated for the Memorial Cup by one goal in overtime. I told him all about the Hitmen and what had happened and he told me about how he and others are working hard to build momentum for a game that has a surprising lack of support in this country, considering that basketball was invented by a Canadian. I had a copy of Shadows in my bag and gave it to Vince. That's when he fessed up that he's been watching wrestling since he was a kid.

 We boarded different planes and I left impressed with how unpretentious a guy he is. I can imagine that, a few hours later, when he heard on the news along with the rest of the world, that Owen was dropped to his death from the rafters of Kemper Arena, he must have thought, "But I just saw his brother ..."

 A couple of months later, I ran into Vince Carter at the Special Olympics. I was impressed with how genuine and heartfelt his condolences were. That he was there to help out such a noble cause speaks for itself when it comes to describing the type of person Vince Carter is.

 Another time, I stopped by the Air Canada Centre before a game and when I asked for Vince, they told me he'd 'rolled' his ankle the night before but was still going to play. Well, next thing you know, he came all the way out to see me just to sign a basketball for my son because he remembered that I'd mentioned that Dallas admires him.

 I'm pleased to see that when wrestling changed to soap opera, my kids changed the channel and found role models in real sports and I hope your kids do the same.

 I'm not knocking wrestling when I say that, it's just not for kids any more. Wrestling has changed to the point where David Arquette, a 150-lb. actor, is WCW champion. And Vince McMahon "won" the title from Hunter Hearst Helmsley, who he took years building into one of his top stars -- and it doesn't even matter any more. Being a wrestling champion used to be a symbol of who was the best wrestler. Now they hand the belt to whomever will get the most people to tune into the storyline that Monday night. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. Purists can complain, but the truth is ratings have never been higher. I just wish they'd stop calling it wrestling because that's not what it is any more. I wonder, what are the aspirations of young men just starting out in wrestling if it's not to be champion?

 Winning and losing are sometimes confusing but one thing that never changes is the unbreakable bond between real sports heroes and loyal fans.

 The Raptors are two games down in the playoffs, so this is a great time to tune in and check them out.

 And as for the Hitmen, I hereby call to action all my fans in and around Calgary who have never been to a Hitmen hockey game -- and especially those who have been -- to come out to the Saddledome tonight! Cheer and stomp and bring your signs and your friends and the kids and grandma.

 It's time to make some noise for the boys.

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