When many folks reach the age of 80, they’re either rocking back and forth on their front porch or leafing through photo albums of days gone by.
Not Joe Watson.
On Friday morning, the Flyers’ “original” defenseman was lacing up his skates for one last time in preparation of the forthcoming Flyers-Bruins Alumni Game at the Wells Fargo Center that evening.
Wearing a wry grin, Watson took a lot of good-natured kidding from his teammates. Hockey Hall of Fame defenseman Mark Howe, who’s no spring chicken at 68, seemed to be leading the chorus.
The locker room resonated with laughter.
If there’s anyone who doesn’t mind having the joke played on him, it’s Joe. When you have Stanley Cup championship rings on each hand, it’s “let them have at it.”
“I wasn’t really going to do this,” said Watson, who joined the NHL expansion Flyers in their first year of play back in 1967. “Then (Flyers Alumni president) Brad (Marsh) came to me and said, ‘Joe, if you play, it will be seven decades of Flyers hockey.’ He pointed out I’ve been five decades with the Alumni and two decades as a player.
“I said holy (expletive), really? He said yeah. So I said, ‘OK, we’ll play in the game and that’s what I will do.’ I’ll do a few shifts and hopefully get involved.”
No doubt younger brother Jimmy, also playing in the Alumni Game and a member of those two ‘70s championships teams, will be cheering him on.
Thing is, Watson has defied the hockey analytics not only because he’s kept himself in great physical shape but because he’s maintained a wonderful passion for the game. It’s that love for the sport which makes him somewhat unique.
Watson has been around hockey so long that he remembers meeting an eight-year-old kid by the name of Mark Recchi at a teaching clinic in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada back in the 1970s.
“Mark and Bobby Nystrom (the Islander who finished off the Flyers in overtime in the 1980 Stanley Cup Finals) came to the clinic at the same time. So this (Recchi’s induction into the Flyers Hall of Fame on Saturday) is really nice because I know the family since Mark was eight years old.
“I know Mark is going to come and play in my golf tournament this summer in British Columbia. I’m looking forward to seeing him. It will be great time.”
Recchi won Stanley Cups with three different teams (Pittsburgh, Carolina, Boston) as a player and two more with Pittsburgh as a player development coach.
“He’s done well whichever team he’s worked for,” said Watson. “He did his share for the team. In his career, he was a heck of a player. Just look at all the points he got (1,533). From seeing him at age eight to where he’s progressed, it’s a beautiful thing.”
Several players told me games like this are meaningful because everyone gets to share old memories. From the 1973-74 Stanley Cup team, only five players are no longer here but that list will inevitably grow larger as the years go by. That’s why these games are so special.
No one has to remind Joe.
“Obviously, I’m going to be 81 soon and this is my last game,” he said. “It’s participate and have a good time. I’ll come back in the future and take part in the (off-ice) festivities. You get to see people you haven’t seen in quite a while. Some of these guys I’ve never played with and a few I’m meeting for the first time.
“I know it’s going to be a wonderful experience for all of us. Who knows? Some of us might not be around in a year or two. You might as well enjoy it while you can.”