Dear Loyal Readers,
In late 2003, a good friend of mine, Jeff “Tiny” Bourne, passed away, at the all-too-young age of 47. At his funeral, I was asked by his family to give one of the eulogies. Years later, with their blessings, I wrote a story about him, which you’ll see below.
Last night, his daughter, Lexi Bourne, wrote me the following: “Hi Mr. Bacon! [Yes, she still calls me Mr. Bacon] I had shared your blog post about my dad a couple of years ago and it came up on my memories. When I clicked on the link it said, ‘page not found.’ Any way you can send me the article? I love reading it, especially this time of year! Thank you and Merry Christmas to you and your fam!”
Her brother, Brett (“Bubba” to us), agreed. So we decided to run the story again today. I hope it has some of the meaning for you that it does for us.
Happy Holidays, Loyal Readers.
After giving us November off, Old Man Winter has decided to come back with a vengeance. That’s okay. I like the snow, I can deal with the cold – and I love the hockey.
You can play pond hockey, drop-in hockey or beer league hockey, but for me, the best hockey is the pick-up game at Michigan’s Yost Arena on Tuesday nights.
The game features some of the best players in the area, most of them former Michigan players, many of whom played pro hockey. It’s by invitation only, and I only got invited because I knew the guy who ran it, Jeff Bourne — more commonly known as “Tiny,” thanks to his 5-6 frame.
Tiny’s dad was Canadian. So it was only natural, after they moved to Ann Arbor, that he and his younger brother, Roger, grew up playing hockey in the Bourne’s back yard.
Tiny wasn’t a great player, but he loved the game. Every year, Tiny tried out for the Ann Arbor Pioneer high school team, and every year he got cut. Every year, that is, until his senior year, when Roger – who was already much bigger and better — was just a freshman, trying out alongside him.
Sure enough, Roger made the team that year. But so did Tiny. When they were driving home, Tiny told Roger he knew why the coach finally took him.
So I can drive you to the rink.
But Tiny didn’t feel slighted. He was thrilled – thrilled to finally make the team, and thrilled to watch his brother play, even while Tiny rode the bench. Tiny liked to point out that they were one of the most productive pair of brothers in Pioneer history, totaling 201 points. Roger got 200 of those, and Tiny added the one.
Roger went on to play at Michigan. His biggest fan, by far, was his big brother, Tiny. Well, his little, big brother.
Roger returned the favor by introducing Tiny to Laurie, one of Roger’s classmates. They hit it off immediately.
She said, “You’re just like Roger!”
“No,” Tiny said. “Roger is just like me!”
They had two kids, Brett and Alexis. Tiny had a college degree, but he shelved his career plans to make more money working in an auto plant. He handled their money amazingly well, and set them up in a beautiful home on the outskirts of Ann Arbor.
His passion, though, was hockey. He coached his son’s teams, he coached his daughter’s teams, and he organized our skates on Tuesday. And that’s where I got to know him best.
Tiny ran the show. Most former Michigan players eagerly joined – but just because you were a hot-shot player didn’t mean you automatically got an invitation. More than a few big names never got a regular spot — and a few nobodies like me, did.
Tiny and I had, on paper, almost nothing in common, from our passports to our politics. Tiny was a Canadian, a rabid Republican, a passionate Pioneer. I am an American, a stubborn independent, a loyal River Rat. But none of that seemed to matter.
The nicest thing Tiny ever said to me, and he said it often, was this: “Bakes, you’re a great guy… for a River Rat!” Amazingly, from Tiny, that meant something to me. Tiny had a way of drawing people to him, and to the game he loved – me included.
Six years ago, between Christmas and New Year’s, Roger was skating the puck down the ice, and Tiny, playing defense for the other team, stopped him cold. It was a great play.
It was also Tiny’s last play. He returned to the bench, sat down, and fell forward. He was just 47 – and he was gone.
At Tiny’s funeral, you’d think it was a service for a famous Red Wing, there were so many people there – from Jeff Daniels and Red Berenson, to Tiny’s teammates at Pioneer to the girls on his daughter’s hockey team, sitting together, wearing their blue jerseys.
Tiny might have loved hockey more than it loved him. But that never stopped him. Every year, he got better, and every year, he drew more people to the game.
What did Tiny get out of it?
To answer that question, all you had to do was look around that church.
* * * * *
Please join the conversation, but remember: I run only those letters from those who are not profane or insane, and who include their FULL name.
My latest book, “ENDZONE: The Rise, Fall and Return of Michigan Football,” debuted at #6 on the New York Times’ Bestseller List, and is still going very strong.
THE PAPERBACK VERSION, WITH 57 PAGES OF NEW INTERVIEWS WITH HARBAUGH AND OTHERS, IS NOW OUT. LITERATI AND NICOLA’S HAVE SIGNED COPIES OF BOTH HARDCOVER AND PAPERBACKS. THANK YOU!
Radio stuff: On Friday mornings, these commentaries run at 8:50 on Michigan Radio (91.7 Ann Arbor/Detroit and Flint, and 104.1 Grand Rapids), and a few minutes later, I join Sam Webb and Ira Weintraub LIVE from 9:05 to 9:25 on WTKA.com, 1050 AM.
I also join Michigan Radio’s great Cynthia Canty on her afternoon Stateside show every Monday for a few minutes, and occasionally on NPR’s Morning Edition, and the afternoon Here & Now show. Check ’em out!
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