Who remembers the term “Original Six” hockey? I do, I do!
One family! How on earth did that happen?
|James E Norris Sr (US Public Domain)|
Worth multi-millions and using his successful grain business as a foundation to force his way into pro sports, Norris bought the bankrupt Detroit Falcons and the team’s arena--the five-year-old, 15,000 seat Detroit Olympia--in 1932 for a mere $100,000. One of his new employees was son James D Norris, hired to learn the ropes of running a hockey team. Big Jim’s next move was to rename the team: He came up with the Detroit Red Wings in honor of the Montreal amateur hockey team he had once played for called the “Winged Wheelers.” Of course, the new Detroit logo (an auto wheel attached to a bird wing) was the perfect fit for the industrial metropolis, being that it was the Motor City.
With loads of Norris cash now available for coach-GM Jack Adams, the Red Wings were able to build a farm system and purchase high-caliber players, so much so that within five years of Norris buying the team, they won back-to-back NHL championships, the first American team to achieve such a accolade.
|James D Norris (US Public Domain)|
In 1944, when Chicago’s owner Frederic McLaughlin died, Norris saw to it that Black Hawks president Bill Tobin, along with a number of partners could purchase the team. Although Tobin appeared to be the head on paper, most knew he was a Norris puppet using Norris money because son James D Norris was one of Tobin’s syndicate, while still remaining Vice President of the Detroit Red Wings. Another partner-to-be was Arthur Wirtz who had been Big Jim’s business partner up to that time, going back to the original purchase of the Wings in 1932. As with James D, Wirtz remained a Wing executive at the same time he had his fingers on the Hawks. Talk about a conflict of interest. By now, due to Big Jim’s influence, the joke was that the NHL stood for the “Norris House League.”
For the next decade, Norris Sr ignored the Norris-Tobin-Wirtz ownership and the family investment in the Chicago Black Hawks. The Red Wings were the important club. Furthermore, the Wings got the better part of any trades between the two. For the next 14 years, Chicago (by now the laughingstock of the NHL) made the playoffs only twice.
Upon his death on December 4, 1952, after his teams had won five Stanley Cups, Norris’ interests remained within the family. James D Norris gave up his Vice President position with the Detroit Red Wings to concentrate solely on the Black Hawks, as did Wing executive Arthur Wirtz. For the next two decades, the Wirtz-Norris partnership ran the Black Hawks until James D died in 1966.
|Bruce Norris (US Public Domain)|
Although heading to the Stanley Cup finals five times from 1956-1966, Detroit didn’t win another Stanley Cup once Bruce Norris took the Red Wings over; while brother Jim and partner Art Wirtz finally won a championship in 1961, thanks to the steady netminding of Glenn Hall and stellar play from young stars Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, and Pierre Pilote, three prime examples of a revamped Black Hawks farm system.
|Marguerite Norris (US Public Domain)|
All three Norris men are enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame. Although Marguerite isn’t, she probably should be. She had more common sense and a better business head than her “Old Boys Club” brothers, certainly better than Bruce, who literally destroyed the Red Wings. Between the years 1967-1983, the Wings made the playoffs just twice. It got so bad at one point in the 1970s that Detroit fans referred to their team as either the “Dead Wings” or the “Dead Things.”
One thing was for certain: Had Marguerite been president in 1957 she would not have given permission to trade All-Stars Ted Lindsay and Glenn Hall. It was one of the worst deals the Wings had ever made in their history and the one that Bruce lived to regret.