It’s been 30+ years since I worked the NBC hockey telecasts with Ted Lindsay, the Hall of Fame left winger. It was a joy to work with him and a thrill to skate with him during our popular pre-game shinny matches with local media teams around the NHL.
One day we talked about his remarkable comeback with Detroit at the age of 39 – four years after he’d retired from hockey as the third ranked scorer in NHL history.
“My old linemate, Sid Abel, saw me playing with some oldtimers and asked me to consider playing again with the Red Wings. Chicago owned my NHL rights but I relished the idea of winding down my career in Detroit.
“So Abel bought my rights from Chicago and there I was on the opening night of the 1964-65 season wearing number 15 for the Red Wings.”
Lindsay received a standing ovation when he skated to left wing. His appearance irked NHL President Clarence Campbell who called his return to hockey “a black day for the league.”
During that era, most players dropped out of hockey in their mid-thirties. Lindsay had toiled for 13 years with Detroit, helping them to seven consecutive league regular seasons titles and four Stanley Cups. His manager, Jack Adams, traded him to Chicago when he discovered Lindsay was attempting to form a Players’ Association. Lindsay played three seasons for the Black Hawks but his heart told him he would always be a Red Wing. So he quit the game in 1960.
His comeback in 1964 was truly remarkable. Playing on a line with 23-year-old Bruce MacGregor and 21-year-old Pit Martin, he tallied 14 goals and 14 assists at a time when 20-goal seasons were reserved for only the most prolific scorers.
Lindsay’s leadership was a major factor in Detroit’s rush to the head of the NHL standings after pre-season polls indicated they were destined for fourth or fifth place. The Red Wings won 25 of their final 39 games to capture first place.
By then, Clarence Campbell had issued a public apology to the fiery winger. “Lindsay has done what I thought to be next to impossible. His comeback is one of the most amazing feats in professional sport.”
Lindsay’s comeback ended in the Stanley Cup playoffs when Chicago his former team ousted the Wings in game seven of the Stanley Cup semi finals.
Lindsay was intrigued with the idea of playing again in 1965-66 but a ploy by Maple Leaf general manager Punch Imlach pushed him back to the sidelines.
“Imlach claimed me in the waiver draft even though he knew damn well I’d never play for Toronto. He was just trying to screw me. So I walked away for good.”
He did as a player. But he returned as Detroit’s general manager and interim coach in the late 1970s.
Now 80, Lindsay works out vigorously every day. A back operation several years ago left him with two metal rods and a dozen titanium screws in his back.
Today, forty years after he tossed his skates aside, Lindsay’s popularity with Detroit fans rivals that of Gordie Howe and yes, even Steve Yzerman.