Virginia Fogarty walked slowly toward her son's coffin. There lay Bryan, her youngest. The tie -- the one she had picked out for him -- fit snugly around his massive neck. Big fella, she thought. A big fella from the day he was born. She was still numb. When the funeral director offered Mrs. Fogarty an hour with her son, alone, she simply nodded. Tom, her husband and Bryan's father, stayed outside the parlor, too emotional to approach. He waited with dozens of people -- teachers, neighbors, friends, coaches, former teammates. Wayne Gretzky's brother Glen was there, representing his family -- the Gretzkys live a five-minute walk from the Fogartys in Brantford, Ontario. Outside the funeral home, reporters gathered in their dark coats and breathed heavily into the chilly air. It was March. Snow was expected. Hockey weather. Mrs. Fogarty reached into the coffin and stroked her son's forehead. His hair, often so wild, was perfect that day. That's how she would remember it. She ran her fingers through Bryan's curls and grabbed tight at the roots as her tears fell. Bryan, she thought, you never should have left home.
-Maurice Filion, former Quebec GM, who drafted Bryan Fogarty with the Nordiques' first pick in 1987, six picks ahead of Quebec's second selection, Joe Sakic
He wasn't real boisterous. Not a big loudmouth. He just smiled a lot and had this Santa Claus belly laugh. I loved to hear that laugh.
I don't think there was an ounce of badness in this person. You wanted to help him. He had the puppy eyes that always wanted to cry.
Any story on Bryan has to go through me. And I won't allow it. I do not want to talk about it any further.
I remember looking at the stuff and saying, "What's that going to do to me?"
Right from Day One, everyone knew. He was a star. From the time he put skates on, he was better than everyone else. We had seen Wayne. Wayne had to work at it. His game was outsmarting everybody else. Fogarty's game was outperforming everybody else. That's like comparing a Volkswagen to a Corvette.
You couldn't take your eyes off him. At some games, there were 30 or 40 scouts there. They couldn't believe the hockey sense and the puck control. He was two passes ahead of everybody else. Just uncanny. You only see that a couple of times in your lifetime. His draft year into the OHL, Adam Graves went six, Bryan Marchment went 12, Brendan Shanahan 13, Jody Hull 14. And he went first.
People loved him, but he didn't have such a high opinion of himself. Every night before tryouts, he would have a terrible headache because he was afraid he wouldn't make it.
He said he used to play for a coach who would bring beer into the dressing room after the game. The coach wanted to please the 20-year-olds. We win by three goals -- two cases. Four goals -- three cases.
I was 15. He was 15, maybe 16. We were both underaged ... playing with 20-year-olds. We both loved Ozzie, Black Sabbath. We both had the big hair -- the hockey 'do. We both had the pressure and the aspirations. We used to go to this place called The Manor. We'd drive with the older guys. They'd let us slip in the back door. The place had freaky colors -- purple and yellow. There was a pool room, shuffleboard, a diner in front, and some nights, they had strippers in the back. We'd order pitchers -- that's all we could afford. I could tell he was no stranger to the drink. I guess we connected that way, too. You relate hockey and
having a beer. It's guys being guys. That's just the game.
Once we had the day off and we drove up to Quebec. He had that black Ford Tempo, Tippy's Tempo. We used to call him Tippy because he was always tipsy. We were drinking beer. Foges gets pulled over and has to take a Breathalyzer test. Foges passes the test, which was an absolute miracle. He got his license suspended for 24 hours. So it's February. It's cold. We have no money. We find this apartment complex and buzz until someone lets us in. Then we just crash in the stairwell until the janitor kicks us out. On to the next complex. Then we hustled back to Kingston. We made practice. No one even noticed!
I was in his foursome at one of Gretzky's fund-raisers. He would tee up, wire it and guzzle it. After two holes, he had six beers. He was making a fool of himself. He was slicing, hitting a tree. One of 'em came right back at us. The Quebec exec there was more upset about Fogarty than he was about his own golf game. There's our No. 1 pick.
He brought so many people into the bar with him. Everybody wanted to be seen with him. Everyone wanted a piece of Bryan Fogarty.
He had enough critics. What he needed was a cheering section.
Playing with the Niagara Falls Thunder in the Ontario Hockey League he scored 47 goals, smashing Bobby Orr's goal-scoring record for defensemen by nine goals, a record that still stands today.
At the banquet, Bryan won every award. He came over. He was crying. He said, "How did you know this day would happen?" He gave me the tickets to Hawaii that he won. I said, "When you make your millions in the NHL, then take me to Hawaii. But Bryan, you have to stay off the booze."
Bill always said Bryan was like a wild horse. You had to let him go. But you can't do that in the NHL.
It was his first year in Quebec. He hit two trees because he fell asleep. If he wasn't in such good condition, he would have been dead. Pierre Page, the Quebec coach, used to call me and ask, "How do you get this guy motivated?" That seemed to be the question of his life.
We had him clean for seven weeks. I hosted the AA meetings. And as a lot of alcoholics do, Bryan would lean over to me and say, "I'm not like that guy. That guy's a deadbeat." Then they sent him to Halifax. And they roomed him with a guy who was a drinker. A wise guy. They put him in a hotel with minibars. I got a call from a friend of mine up there. Bryan's been drinking. I went up there. I knocked on his door. He opened it. "Maxie!" And all these empty nips were all over the room. I was so embarrassed for him. And sad for me. I said, "Bryan, this is up to you now."
I was in his apartment. Just talking. I was having a beer, but he wasn't. He told me he saw his chances weren't so sure anymore. He was playing with men now. His antics were catching up with him. The team wasn't winning. It didn't need another problem child. People were second-guessing his game. He told me, "I need to conquer this. I gotta do it now or it's not gonna happen."
He goes out to Chez Dagobert, this club in Quebec. And who does he go home with? The coach's daughter. Bryan had no idea. He almost fainted when he found out. It's symbolic. Of all the women, how do you find that one? That was the straw that broke the camel's back in Quebec.
He didn't like to be singled out. But he always was. He was most embarrassed to make a mistake, afraid of being belittled. Going from the NHL down to farm teams -- that made him feel belittled.
He's someplace, Kansas City maybe, and it's the middle of the night. He has no money, and he needs to get home. He calls me. My wife gives me the phone. I hear a voice: "Maxie!" I'm half asleep. I say, "Hullo? Hullo? Is this the Boogeyman?" And the voice says, "No! No! It's not the Boogeyman. It's the Fogeyman!"
The pressure was just too much in the minors. He said that the expectations were beyond anything he could handle. Coming from the NHL, they expected something Bryan felt he couldn't deliver.
Bryan was with somebody in downtown Brantford. They were into the wacky tobacco. The police came along. There was some cocaine in his pocket. The police told him he had to go home. He starts walking along the railroad tracks, thinking they would lead him home. He thinks he sees a Holiday Inn. So he decides to go for a swim. Except it's not the Holiday Inn. It's his high school.
It was more heartbreaking than shocking. Everyone knew Bryan had thrown everything away. He could have been one of the best hockey players. Now, to humiliate himself and his family was most unbecoming for a man of his stature. For those of us who had skated on the same ice as him, it was one more slap in the face.
I read about that and thought, "Fogey's lonely. He's realized hockey's over. He went over the edge. He knows his dream is done." I said, "I gotta give Fogey a call." And I didn't.
When Bryan's sister passed away a couple years ago, I had a nervous breakdown. I was in the grocery store. I was in the pet aisle. I started to slap my face. I couldn't breathe. I thought I was dying. I said to myself, "Come on, breathe!" I finally left the cart there and came home. That's when I went to the doctor. I had this disorder. Social anxiety disorder. My mom suffered from it too. I got to talking to Bryan about it. He said, "Mom, that's me. I have that most of the time. I could be driving along the road, and I have to stop because I can't make a left turn. I can't handle the national anthem. I want to get out of there. It's like standing on a railroad track, and you can't move." Bryan had a very severe form of it. And for him, who was in the limelight all the time, it must have been devastating. The drinking, he said, calmed the anxiety.
Alcohol is commonly used to relieve anxiety. Then it becomes a cause of worsening anxiety. The alcohol initially reduces social discomfort, then it makes it worse. It becomes a vicious cycle.
He hated to be late for school. Once I was late dropping him off, and he wouldn't go in. He stayed outside on the school steps all day.
In 1987, when he was eligible for the draft, I brought him to Detroit. We took him out for lunch in Windsor. Just to see what kind of 18-year-old he was. It didn't take me five minutes to know he wasn't someone we were going to draft. He kept banging his fork on the table. I could tell he was a very nervous kid.
Anything to do with pressure, he couldn't stand.
I had bought him books on life after hockey, but he said, "It's all I know." There wasn't anything anyone could do for him. One time I went to rehab with him. A counselor told Bryan, "If you don't stop, you're going to be dead." That really upset me. I thought it would shock Bryan, but it didn't. He didn't want to live, I don't think.
It wasn't a shock. Not at all. We're all guilty.
By having a beer, Bryan was able to do those things he was shy about doing. Bryan just wanted to be your buddy.
He needed the beer, but it was his demise. The profession, the lifestyle -- he couldn't handle it. He wanted the hockey, but it was so hard the way he was. The inside of Bryan and the world around him didn't seem to meet.
Mats Sundin told me this: "Bryan Fogarty could skate faster, shoot harder and pass crisper drunk than the rest of us could sober."
He was the best player I have ever seen. He had a heart of gold. He'd never hurt a fly. He'd do anything for you. He just couldn't help himself.
I miss him. Especially at this time of year, I still feel like he just went away to hockey.
This article appears in the September 30 issue of ESPN The Magazine.
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