“Sports are Dumb” is a series about the most unbelievable “straight out of a movie” moments in sports history. Today we look at the story of Jaromir Jagr and his 11 point game.
The 2007 John Grisham novel “Playing for Pizza” tells the story of a disgraced quarterback who throws 3 interceptions in 11 minutes during a playoff game to end his NFL career. Seeking more opportunities for work, he lands himself a job playing for the Parma Panthers of the Italian Football League with a contract that involves more promises of beer and pizza than actual dollars. The story is one of learning to put money aside and instead play for the camaraderie and love of the game (plus maybe some great local food). What brave hero could possibly top that heartwarming tale?
Enter Jaromir Jagr.
During the 94-95 NHL lockout, Jagr would see himself go on a journey to the depths of professional hockey leagues. What makes his story so much more unbelievable than that of Grisham’s protagonist Rick Dockery is that Jagr wasn’t some third string athlete who blew it in a playoff game. It was quite the opposite; Jagr was already a bonafide NHL star and only getting better. The Czech hockey player was fresh off a 99 point season and only two years removed from winning back to back Stanley Cups. He was one of the games elite players, and he was only 22 years old.
When the lockout first started Jagr was one of many European NHL players to go play for their hometown teams. He suited up for TJ Kladno of the Czech league, the team he played for as a teen before being drafted into the NHL. In 11 games with Kladno, Jagr scored 22 points. During that 11th game though, Jagr was injured with an ankle sprain and Kladno being the respectable team they are told the star winger to stay off the ice for a while.
HC Bolzano, however, was not a respectable team.
HC Bolzano was a team in the Italian League – a league so bizarre that a player once used a lighter to set his opponent on fire mid game. Even more bizarre is that teams in this league had money to spend. Just a few years prior, future Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had invested in hockey and brought over Jarri Kurri to play a season for Devils Milano fresh off winning his 5th Stanley Cup in Edmonton.
Jagr was offered $60,000 to be HC Bolzano’s mercenary for 6 games. The team was in the middle of a Champions League-esque competition called the Six Nations Tournament against other teams from non-traditional hockey markets such as Italy, France, and the Netherlands. HC Bolzano wanted to win this tournament, and they weren’t against bringing one of the greatest players in the world into their semi-pro tournament to do it. The plan worked; Jagr dominated most of the games he played in, putting up 16 points in six games and delivering the Six Nations Trophy to HC Bolzano. Now Jagr had gotten to play for his childhood team and even won some silverware, with rumours that the NHL lockout was ending soon he was likely on his way back to North America.
Then one more call came in.
Jagr was contacted by his friends and former Kladno teammates Vladimir Kames and Petr Fiala to come join them playing for Schalke, a second-tier German league team playing in 1. Liga, the level below Germany’s DEL. Team management said that as much as they’d love to have a star play on the team, they couldn’t afford to pay Jagr; even putting him up in a hotel would be tricky. But much like our John Grisham’s hero, Jagr cared less about the money and more about playing a game he loved and eating some good food along the way. One of the most valuable hockey players in the world let this second-tier German team know that he could crash on his friend’s couch and would be happy to play for some good local food and beer.
To put this into perspective, this is like if MLB went on strike and then Mike Trout came to play for the Hamilton Cardinals of the independent Intercounty Baseball League while getting paid in maple syrup drizzled pancakes and a local craft brew.
Jagr made an absolute mockery of the game being several tiers of skill above every player on the ice. He scored within the first 30 seconds of the game and then decided to rest his ankle and focus mostly on passing the puck, performing his best Gretzky impression essentially just bouncing the puck off teammates sticks into the net. Sixty minutes of game time later Schalke had won 20-3 with Jagr adding ten assists for eleven total points in what would be his only German league game. After the game, Jagr stuck around and signed autographs with his friends before being treated to a plate of schnitzel served with fries, mayo, and beer.
Within two weeks the NHL season had resumed and Jagr was back playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins. That season would see him winning the scoring race and finishing 2nd in MVP voting. Jagr would go on to earn over $100,000,000 in his NHL career but could anything ever compete with the glory of that cold January night of schnitzel, beer, and dunking on locals?
No, probably not.