Reid on NHL: Kevin Morrison, style & substance

You can have your Wayne Gretzky rookie card; you can have your Mario Lemieux rookie, too. I’ll take that huge box in the corner that you don’t even look at, you know, the so-called ‘common cards.’ Those are the cards I love. They take me back to my childhood and sometimes well before it. They may not be slick by your definition, but they sure are by mine.

I’m talking about huge sideburns, male perms, mullets, moustaches, style and, occasionally, horrible air-brushing. These cards have stories; they help define an era. This blog aims to get the story of these great cards from the very men that are on them.

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This card is awesome. It’s a time machine on cardboard. There he is: a 27-year-old Kevin Morrison — Smiling, styling, a WHA All-Star. Top of the world, ma.

“Everybody around town, they laugh when they see the picture because now I got the grey hair and it’s kind of laying flat on my head. It doesn’t stand up anymore, it’s too old. They can’t believe that the hair and moustache was me,” Morrison said from his hometown of Sydney, Nova Scotia.

Oh, but it was him. The great thing about this pic of Morrison is that he got the double treatment from O-Pee-Chee. His all-star card is the same as his “normal” card, No. 10 in the set. The fine folks at O-Pee-Chee just took a mid 1970s “American All-Star” font, slapped it on, and an All-Star card was born. One picture, two cards.

Morrison remembers the day the picture was taken. No big whoop … good thing he just happened to be looking his best.

“It was just a regular day after practice. I had to get prettied up to go out, you know.” The new look, according to Morrison, was much needed. “The hair I had before that, I used to look like Meathead from All In The Family.”

So Morrison took the new look to the streets of San Diego. He looked good. He also took it back to his hometown of Sydney in the off-season. No offence to the people of my home province, but we’re not exactly known as cutting edge when it comes to style. But just like he had to do on the ice from time to time, when it came to style off the ice, Morrison had to set the tone as well. The curls on this card were just a small part of his rocking look.

“I had a big pink Cadillac with the hair and the fu manchu, so I looked like a real uh … a … uh … pimp.”

And if you look at this card, Morrison is clearly wearing a San Diego Mariners sweater — with sleeves. He did not sport the sweater, nor the sleeves, behind the wheel of his big pink caddy.

“I had the sleeveless suits, the whole thing. That was the fad then.”

Which of course, begs the question: What is a sleeveless suit?

“Just like a vest, it’s a suit with no arms in it. We had the safari look, that’s what was big in the ‘70s.”

And in the ‘70s, Morrison was a pretty big deal on the ice as well. He put up some great numbers in the WHA. The big blueliner racked up a career high 81 points for San Diego in 1974-75, the second of his three straight 20-plus goal seasons.

“I had a few pretty good years in WHA; scored the 20 goals three years in a row. That was a pretty big feat for a defenceman.”

Aside from the sleeveless suit, another thing this card fails to capture was just how tough a player Kevin Morrison was. He put up huge offensive numbers in the WHA, but during his time in the World League Morrison did not spend a huge amount of time in the penalty box. His 143 penalty minutes in San Diego in 1974-75 were the most he ever had in the Rebel League.

That’s because Morrison was a little more of a rebel in his pre Rebel League days. In 1970-71 with the Eastern League’s New Haven Blades, Morrison spent just under six complete hours in the penalty box: 348 minutes. How did those PIMs evaporate once Morrison made it to the World League? He says it’s pretty simple, really.

“I kind of fought a lot of the tougher guys that came out of that league that advanced, like (Dave) Schultz and a few of the other guys. So when we got to the higher leagues I’d kind of proved myself against those guys, so they pretty much left me alone.

“I’d probably had maybe eight or 10 fights a year, if that. I didn’t really have to go out and establish myself every year so that made a big difference. Being in the earlier leagues … I’d already fought most of them so it didn’t have to be done again.”

But on occasion it had to be done again. No matter who the opponent.

The late Steve Durbano was a legendary tough guy in the 1970s. NHL or WHA, it didn’t matter where or when, Durbano was usually ready to go.

If you’ve ever cruised through old WHA footage on YouTube, you’ve likely seen it. And if you’ve ever wondered who the guy was standing in the penalty box that nailed Steve Durbano with one of the cleanest rights of all time, the answer is Kevin Morrison.

That was Morrison, then with the Indianapolis Racers. Durbano was with the Birmingham Bulls. Durbano wanted a piece of Morrison. Morrison got a piece of Durbano.

“That whole skirmish happened and the linesman came over and the referee came over and said, ‘Don’t do anything. I’m only going to give you two minutes, and you can come right back out on the ice.’

“But he kept coming at me, coming at me and kept hollering at me. And then all of a sudden, he kind of glanced me with one punch and I said, ‘Enough of this. I don’t care if I get kicked out of the game or not. I can’t put up with this anymore,’ so … I hooked him.

“I got him right on the chin.”

The shot counted, it was clean, it was flush. Kevin Morrison could beat you on the ice, he could beat you in the alley. And yes, he could beat you while you were standing on the ice and he was standing in the penalty box. It had its advantages.

“You can get a little better foothold,” Morrison joked.

Morrison looks smooth on the card. He was smooth on the ice. He was smooth off the ice. He had his own look. So did just about everybody else. Morrison said he wasn’t the most outlandish guy in a cast of WHA characters. A lot of players had their own sense of style, that’s what comes back to Morrison when he sees this card.

“Billy Goldthopre, we used to call him Ogie Ogilthorpe, from the movie Slap Shot … his (hair) was almost the width of his shoulders. Mine was a baby one compared to his.”

Morrison also proudly remembers just how good the hockey was in the WHA. What the league meant to hockey then, and perhaps more importantly, what it means to hockey now.

“These guys today that are making the millions and millions of dollars can thank the WHA. That’s something that they don’t do. They don’t even recognize us and that’s the sad part.

“It’d be nice to be 22 again.”

Yes, if Kevin Morrison was 22-years-old today, he’d likely be in for a great payday.

No doubt he’d drop a few bucks on a nice ride or two. And while you may be sitting around wondering what happened to that box of old cards at your mother’s place, Morrison wonders about some ‘70s items he used to collect. You traded cards, he traded wheels. The pink Caddy, it’s long gone.

“I traded that in for a Lincoln. Every other year I’d trade. I had the Lincoln and then I had an Eldorado. I always loved the big pimp cars.”

Hopefully, he kept the sleeveless suit to go with the cars.

If you have a card that you would like to know more about, hit up Ken on twitter @SNKenReid.

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