When Ted (Teeder) Kennedy was the best player for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the years following the Second World War, sports heroes were portrayed as unassuming gods, quiet and reserved off the ice but merciless competitors once the puck was dropped.
The sporting legend was fictional as often as not but, his contemporaries say, not in Mr. Kennedy's case.
He was the embodiment of an era when hockey players were expected to give all they had to the team without concern for the size of their paycheque or endorsement opportunities.
"He was a great guy and an absolutely great leader," said Howie Meeker, who played on the wing beside Kennedy in the late 1940s. "He was tough as nails and there's never been a harder worker in every game. Maybe Wayne Gretzky might come close.
"You would be ashamed if you didn't go out and work as hard as he did. He was never I or me, it was always we or us."
In the days when the NHL was operated by such taskmasters as Maple Leafs owner Conn Smythe and head coach Hap Day, who expected even their fans to adhere to a dress code, Mr. Kennedy was the perfect choice as Leaf captain.
He was not the most skilled player but he was the smartest, which along with his work ethic made him the best player. He expected his teammates to follow suit.
"He was the Leafs," said Bob Haggert, who was hired by Mr. Day as an assistant trainer in 1954 and watched Mr. Kennedy closely in his last two seasons with the Leafs. "He was Conn Smythe, he was Hap Day, he was that era all rolled into one.
"Those were the days when you wore a shirt and tie to the rink every day. Teeder was the consummate captain. When he walked into the dressing room at Maple Leaf Gardens, everyone knew he was the captain. He was in charge and he took players on personally if they didn't measure up.
"Maybe some guys liked him and maybe some guys didn't. But he was the boss in the dressing room."
The quintessential Leaf died yesterday morning in a nursing home in his hometown of Port Colborne, Ont., of congestive heart failure. He was 83.
"It was just a wearing down of the body," said his son, Mark Kennedy. "The last three days, things became pretty serious so it wasn't really a surprise for us. We'd been told maybe a month ago that there weren't too many more weeks or months left."
Mr. Kennedy spent 12 full seasons with the Leafs after joining them at the age of 17 late in the 1942-43 season. He made his debut at a young age because many players were away fighting in the war.
He played centre and became the Leafs captain in 1948 and in 1955 won the Hart Trophy as the NHL's most-valuable player. No Maple Leaf player has won it since.
The Leafs won five Stanley Cups while Mr. Kennedy was on the team, including three in a row from 1947 to 1949. He retired after the 1954-55 season, saying he was worn out, then made a 30-game comeback in 1956-57 and retired for good.
In 696 NHL games he scored 231 goals and had 560 points. He was elected to The Hockey Hall of Fame in 1966
When he arrived in Toronto fresh from the ranks of a Port Colborne senior team, Mr. Kennedy's hockey skills did not dazzle anyone. He skating was laboured but he was a genius at anticipating the play and firing accurate passes to his wingers.
"He worked and thought the game out so well he became a great player," said George Armstrong, who joined the Leafs as a 19-year-old rookie in 1949 when Mr. Kennedy was in his prime. "He was a great passer and he was tough as nails."
Mr. Meeker was considered the best skater on the Leafs in those days but, he said, Mr. Kennedy managed to get around the ice just as quickly.
"He went from A to B just as fast I could because he went through people," Mr. Meeker said.
Mr. Kennedy also projected an aura of calm competence which made him an enduring favourite of the fans. Long after his playing days were over, fans remembered the drawn-out cry of "Come onnnnnn Teeder!" which was bellowed in quiet moments by a fan named John Arnott when the Leafs were in trouble.
"When the Leafs needed to win a draw in the other team's end there was only one person to take it and that was Teeder," Mr. Haggert said. "You would have that fellow hollering 'Come onnnnn Teeder,' and the fans would get going.
"When he came on the ice, you knew everything would be okay."
Mr. Kennedy was a great favourite of Mr. Smythe's, which was a lingering irony because of the way he became a Maple Leaf. Mr. Smythe's second-in-command with the Leafs during the war years was Frank Selke. When Mr. Smythe was away leading his own battalion in World War II, Mr. Selke made a trade with the Montreal Canadiens for Mr. Kennedy's rights.
The trouble was, Mr. Selke never cleared the deal with Mr. Smythe, who was infuriated. Even though Mr. Kennedy became his favourite player, Mr. Smythe never forgave Mr. Selke, who eventually left the Leafs and built the Montreal Canadiens dynasty which won five consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1950s.
After Mr. Kennedy retired, he tried coaching but it did not last. He put in a long stint in the trucking business and then turned to horse racing, which was a life-long passion. He operated a thoroughbred training centre and then worked for the Ontario Jockey Club for many years as a steward and director of security at the Fort Erie race track near his Port Colborne home.
TED (TEEDER) KENNEDY
Ted Kennedy was born Dec. 12, 1925 in Port Colborne, Ont. He died there yesterday at 83 of congestive heart failure. He leaves his wife Doreen, son Mark, two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
With a report from The Canadian Press