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Considering his abrassive, elbows-up, fists-flying style of play on a hockey rink, it’s no surprise that opponents — and even opposing coaches — wanted to hurt Rob Ray.
When you pile up 446 penalty minutes as a rookie, being hated is simply part of the job description.
But one Calder Cup-winning coach, Jimmy Roberts, was so enraged by Ray’s antics he reportedly offered money to any one of his players who took Ray down.
And so the Jan. 5, 1990, game between the Rochester Americans and Springfield Indians in Springfield, Mass., was billed as the “Bounty Bowl.”
While controversy swirls today in the NFL about the bounty scandal involving the New Orleans Saints, the concept is hardly new in pro sports.
“When I heard about it,” Ray recalled on Monday, “I asked Boxie (then-Amerks coach John Van Boxmeer), ‘What the heck is this bounty thing all about?’ I was a kid, I didn’t even know what a bounty was. He said, ‘That just means you’re doing your job.’ ”
Ray’s job then, and for the 14 NHL seasons that followed, was to rile and anger opposing players, be it with huge checks, biting words or heavyweight fights. He ranks sixth all-time in the NHL with 3,207 career penalty minutes in 900 games.
As a first-year pro with the Amerks in 1988-89, Ray set an American Hockey League single-season record by piling up 446 minutes in penalties. He did contribute offensively, though, with 11 goals and 18 assists in 74 games.
The next season, he was on an absurd penalty-minute pace: 335 minutes in just 43 games. His exuberance in a Dec. 31, 1989, game in Rochester against Springfield enraged Roberts.
Ray fought Chris Pryor near the Springfield bench and, as they were separated, he and an animated Roberts exchanged words. “I just told him he was next,” Ray said afterward.
Ray was finally led away by the linesmen but, as he departed, he blew kisses at Roberts.
“I showed a lot of respect for my elders,” he said Monday.
Five days later, the teams were to play in Springfield. Word filtered back to Ray through the player grapevine that Roberts put a $200 bounty on his head. Roberts denied the claim.
Ray was quite sure some Springfield player would have wanted to make their coach happy.
“Back then $200 was a lot of money,” said Ray, who works as an analyst on Buffalo Sabres broadcasts. “You signed for $25,000, $27,500 and $30,000 (the standard three-year, entry-level AHL salary); everyone pretty much signed for the same thing.”
No one had a chance to collect Roberts’ money, however. The Sabres recalled Ray on the morning of the game.
Ironically, then-Philadelphia Eagles coach Buddy Ryan was accused of putting bounties on Dallas Cowboys players, including quarterback Troy Aikman, in a Thanksgiving 1989 game. The NFL never found evidence to support the claim of Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.
While it is common for players to put up money on the dressing room grease board or bulletin board to provide added incentive for his teammates to help him beat his former team, Ray said he knows of no bounties in the NHL.
“You may joke about it but we’re not animals, we’re not trying to maim each other,” Ray said. “The NFL points fingers at us; they should look in the mirror.”