Whether it’s the Blues or sports in general, we toss around the term legend rather hastily. Most of the time it has to do with discussions over statistics or championships, or some combination.
However, there are some people that become more than that for a franchise or even a city. We’ve seen it in other sports.
While Stan Musial had the stats to back up his greatness, he transcended the game in St. Louis. It’s likely more people knew about Stan the Man because of stories that got passed around as actually saw him play.
It’s thought of as blasphemous to speak of the Chicago Cubs in a positive light, but Ernie Banks is another man that went beyond the numbers. He earned the nickname Mr. Cub because of his connection to the team and the city more than just winning games or getting hits.
That’s what Bobby Plager was for the St. Louis Blues. He wasn’t synonymous with the team outside the city or the hockey bubble, but he meant everything to the people involved with the franchise in one form or another.
Plager was never a superstar, but he and those he played with formed what would become the theme for the Blues franchise. He and his brother Barclay Plager were two of the founding members of the Blues.
Bobby would always say Barclay was the more talented of the two and he was recognized as the heart and soul of the team, so much that his number was retired. Bobby took a little longer to get his number in the rafters, but it was not for lack of deserving.
Similarly, Banks was never the absolute most talented player the Cubs ever had. Their franchise probably had bigger names, known to more fans across the country, but it was the mentality Banks had along with his talent that connected. He’s known more for his undying passion for the game and saying “Let’s play two” than his two MVP’s.
Plager is in that same mold. As a player, he brought that old-school mentality that the logo on the front of the sweater meant more than the name on the back.
Plager didn’t take nights off. Unless he was injured, he took the ice and represented the Blue Note with pride.
That was something he carried into his retirement years. He loved this franchise and the sport.
Plager was just a leader in so many ways. He played with grit and determination on the ice, formulating what the Blues have become known for even decades later, just as Musial was part of the Cardinal Way, as a premise if not a name.
Plager led as a coach. He also led in terms of staying in St. Louis.
Not only was Plager a founding member of the franchise on the ice, but he was a founding member of the Blues Alumni, which is one of the biggest and best alumni groups in the NHL. Growing up in Ontario, nobody would have faulted him to go back home once he was done, but he settled in St. Louis and so many others stayed too when they were done.
The man never failed to find a spare moment for fans either. Whether it was just stopping to take a picture or tell a joke or, as Jamie Rivers told us, spend several hours talking with a family at his restaurant, Plager loved the people and they loved him.
He was one of those ex-players you just knew. Kids, who never saw Plager play and some who’s parents were barely around when Plager played, still knew him.
Chris Kerber told a story on the day of Plager’s passing about how his daughter said Bobby Plager was her favorite player when the Blues won the Cup. That’s how much he was still a part of that team.
Even new players immediately respected the man and what he stood for. There’s no better example of that than Ryan O’Reilly telling Plager he was going to get Bobby his parade when O’Reilly was handed his Blues uniform at an icebreaker event. That story still chokes me up at how perfect it ended.
Plager became the unofficial gatekeeper of the team. After Paul Stastny came to town, Plager would give all the new members of the team their new jersey.
Plager never thought himself bigger than anyone or anything. When current or recently retired players brought their kids into the locker room, he would make sure to form relationships with those kids. Rivers told of how he would ask his sons how practice had gone and if they were enjoying themselves.
Plager commented about how sweet it was when the Blues finally won a Stanley Cup. While others might have reminisced about missed opportunities or regret, Plager said that the 2019 team winning one was just as good as if he’d won his own. He was the kind of man who you believe when making that kind of statment.
Both of them looked up to Plager and had relationships with him. He was almost the Godfather of the franchise, though in a good way. He was like everyone’s uncle or grandfather.
There are so many people with so many Bobby stories. Even as someone who never met him, he just had that personality that you’d feel welcome around him.
All the best to his family during this difficult time. At least now, he will be with his brother Barclay in more than just a banner in the stadium. They’ll both have the best seat in the house now.
Bobby lived a full life and raised a wonderful family. Even so, thank goodness he got his parade before the end. He deserved it for all he’d done for so many.