Only in the gifted mind of Gord Downie could Derek Roy replace Bobby Orr.
It was the spring of 2007, and the Sabres' two-year run into the hearts and imagination of hockey fans was in full swing. Buffalo and Ottawa were playing in the Eastern Conference final, but May 18 was a rest day. The attention of many locals turned to Erie, Pa.
Legendary Canadian rockers The Tragically Hip had a concert in Warner Theatre. The hall was packed with fans in Sabres gear, and the eclectic lead singer knew it.
During the song "Fireworks," which starts off by detailing a young man's transition from hockey to girls, Downie paid homage to the Sabres. The original lyrics, "You held my hand and we walked home the long way, you were loosening my grip on Bobby Orr," suddenly and shockingly became, "You held my hand and we walked home the long way, you were loosening my grip on Derek Roy."
Amazingly, there's video. (Warning: One instance of graphic language.)
I covered practice the next morning and told Roy about the lyric swap. The Sabres center was flabbergasted and honored.
Downie and The Hip took their tribute to Buffalo and the Sabres one step further during the encore. The Sabres' rollicking entrance theme during those days was the Rolling Stones' "Street Fighting Man." The Hip tore into a raucous cover for their penultimate song, and the Buffalo crowd ate up the anthem.
According to SetList.fm, it was the only time the band ever played it.
Those memories (and many others) came flooding back early Tuesday morning when The Hip announced Downie has terminal brain cancer. He has battling since the diagnosis in December.
"So after 30-some years together as The Tragically Hip, thousands of shows, and hundreds of tours ... we’ve decided to do another one," the band said on TheHip.com. "Details and dates will be coming this week."
It will surely be an emotional summer for Downie, the band and their fans. Memories will be made, and hopefully they remain as vivid as that night in Erie.