Brett Hull scored his 611th NHL goal the other night to move into sole possession of ninth place on the all-time list. Just as interesting, though, was who he passed on the list: his father, Bobby, the legendary “Golden Jet.”
Two Hulls among the top 10 goal-scorers in NHL history. Unbelievable, huh? You have to ask yourself: Are Bobby and Brett Hull the best father-and-son duo in any sport ever?
I’m inclined to say yes. Name another father and son who are ranked in the top 10 in an important statistical category. Home runs in baseball, rushing yards in football, points in basketball no fathers and sons there. Heck, it’s unusual enough that Brett even made it to the pros, never mind surpassed his father.
I remember driving down to Newport News, Va., once to interview Mike Yastrzemski, Carl’s kid, who was then playing for the Class A Durham Bulls. Mike was struggling at that point, hitting about .260, and his manager, former big-leaguer Harry Bright, helped me understand why.
“I saw Rogers Hornsby’s kid,” he said. “He couldn’t play a lick. Hank Greenberg’s was terrible. Mickey Mantle’s kids played a year or something in D ball and that was it.”
Translation: Good genes can only get you so far.
A couple of days later, I was talking to a rookie with the Prince William Pirates named Barry Bonds offspring of Bobby. “Baseball’s a lot better now,” he told me, “and the people in the stands don’t see that. It’s a lot easier said than done. People boo players’ sons and sit there and say, ‘Well, he’s not like his dad.’ A lot of times, you want to give them your uniform and have them come down and hit. It’s not that easy.”
No, it isn’t. Which makes Brett Hull’s feats all the more remarkable. He doesn’t play at all like his dad. As Brett says, “The first thing you should notice is, ‘Holy cow, this kid can’t skate a lick, and his father was one of the most graceful guys to ever play the game with power and speed.’ And I’m the dead opposite. I play the game more from the brain as opposed to the body.”
But there’s more than one way to score 600 goals in the National Hockey League. You can skate over, around and through defenders, or you can find some open space in the offensive end, wait for a pass and, when it comes, whip the puck past the goalie. That’s what Brett has made a living doing for the past 16 years and it undoubtedly will earn him a spot alongside his dad (Class of ‘83) in the Hockey Hall of Fame.
In case you were wondering, the Redskins have only one second-generation NFL player recently acquired guard Jay Leeuwenburg. Jay’s father, Dick, played one season in the league, in 1965 with the Bears. There were six future Hall of Famers on that Chicago team Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Doug Atkins, Bill George and Stan Jones. But none of them had a kid play in the NFL like Dick Leeuwenburg did.
“It’s a pretty rare thing,” Jay says. “It’s something I’m very proud of. I changed my number this year [to 57, the number his dad wore] to kind of honor him. Because there’s no telling how much longer I’m going to play.”
His father could have played more than that one year, says Leeuwenburg. But when the Bears traded him to Pittsburgh not exactly a garden spot in those days “he decided it would be better for his family if he went into business. The money in pro football was a lot different back then. You could earn just as good a living doing other things. My dad had graduated from Stanford and gotten his business degree at the University of Chicago while he was with the Bears. He didn’t have to play football.
“And he never pushed me to play it. He wanted to make sure it was something I wanted to do. I had to discover football on my own, and then I would go to him for advice every now and then.”
OK, no sense in putting it off any longer. Here are my top five father-son combinations in sports history: (A word of caution: You Unser fans are not going to be happy.)
1. Brett and Bobby Hull It’s hard to argue with two 600-goal men.
2. Bobby and Barry Bonds Both could run, field and hit for power and Barry’s closing in on 500 dingers. (Another, more unfortunate, similarity: Neither has played in the World Series.)
3. Archie and Peyton Manning Leeuwenburg says I’m jumping the gun on this one. “I think you’ve gotta give it a couple of more years,” he says, “because three years doesn’t make a career.” But I’m already sold on Peyton as a long-term great quarterback, and Archie one of my boyhood idols was Roger Staubach without the supporting cast.
4. Calvin Hill and Grant Hill Calvin rushed for 6,083 yards, mostly with the Cowboys. Grant who had the good sense to play a safer sport is one of the NBA’s brightest stars (and just entering his prime).
5. Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr. Griffey Sr. was overshadowed by other members of the Big Red Machine, but he still batted .296 lifetime and played in three All-Star Games. Junior is arguably the greatest player of his generation and has a shot at Hank Aaron’s home run record.
Honorable mention: Gordie and Mark Howe, hockey; Ken Norton Sr. and Jr., boxing and football; Old Tom Morris and Young Tom Morris, golf; Dub and Bert Jones, football; and Felipe and Moises Alou, baseball (suggested by my 10-year-old).
Anyway, those are my picks and that’s my column. Drop me a line if there are any egregious oversights.