has a vivid memory of the night he played against Gordie Howe
for the first time.
"I'll never forget it," he told me recently. "It was my first game in the NHL. Well, my second one actually, because I sat on the bench throughout my first game, which was against Montreal at the Forum. I almost got to play in that game. With two minutes to play we (Chicago) were losin' 7-2. Coach Billy Reay looks down the bench and yells, 'Esposito, get out there'!"
"Well, I was disappointed I hadn't taken a single shift, so I shouted, 'Okay, Coach, do you want me to win it or tie it'?"
"He yelled back, 'Sit down, (bleep)'."
"Two nights later we're in Detroit, and who do I find myself standin' next to when I get on the ice but Gordie Howe. Geez, he was my boyhood hero. I'm lookin' at Gordie Howe. What am I doin' out here?"
"Just before we're ready to face off, Bobby Hull
yells at me,
'Watch that old (bleep, bleep, bleep)'! With that Gordie blinks once or twice and gets a little grin on his face, and that's when the puck is dropped. I'm still lookin' at him, thinkin' this is unbelievable, when bam! he gives me an elbow in the mouth."
"I stagger back and say, 'Why, you old (bleep), you'! Then I spear him a good one and we both get penalties."
"In those days, in the penalty box, the players sat close together with a cop or an usher or somebody in between them. So I'm sittin' there holdin' a towel to my split lip and I'm real upset with big Howe. Without thinking, I lean across the guy between us and say to Gordie, 'To think you used to be my bleepin' idol'."
"Howe snarls back, 'What did you say, rookie'?"
"Quickly I say, 'Nothin, Mr. Howe, not a word'."
"To this day, I'll never forget that look."