Yesterday, Gord Downie, lead signer of the Canadian rock band The Tragically Hip, announced on his band’s website that he has terminal brain cancer.
Hockey is not often the subject of songs, but this sad news reminds me of a song by The Tragically Hip called “Fifty Mission Cap,” which is actually about a Pro Set hockey card issued during the 1990s.
Card number 340 from the 1991-92 Pro Set Hockey set shows Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Bill Barilko, flying through the air as he scores the series-clinching goal in the 1951 Stanley Cup Finals.
The back of the card further explains that later that summer, Barilko disappeared during a fishing trip. In an eerie coincidence, the Maple Leafs did not win another Stanley Cup until 1962, the year Barilko’s body was found.
Not long after this card was issued, The Tragically Hip released their album “Fully Complete” in 1992. This Pro Set hockey card served as the inspiration for the song “Fifty Mission Cap,” with Downie singing:
I stole this from a hockey card
I keeped tucked up under
My fifty-mission cap
The full song, which is just over four minutes, can be heard here:
Sharp-eyed collectors may recognize that photo of Barilko; a hand-colored version of the picture was originally used on a 1951-52 Parkhurst card “The Winning Goal.”
But it was the card issued 40 years later that would inspire a rock band to tell a new generation of hockey fans about a hockey hero gone missing. ■