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‘Gump’ Worsley & ‘Fiery Phil’ Watson went to war. Who won the battle?

Legendary netminder Lorne Worsley battled over booze and bellies with coach Philipe Watson during their openly hostile Rangers relationship. But who won out when all was said and done?
The Hockey News

The Hockey News

If there was one mutual hockey hate that never diminished over time, it featured an English-Canadian goalie named Lorne ‘Gump’ Worsley and a French-Canadian coach, Philipe Henri ‘Fiery Phil’ Watson. The minuscule netminder got his nickname because he closely resembled a popular comics page character named Andy Gump. Watson’s moniker also was well earned because of his temper. The seeds of their eternal enmity were planted by Watson after Worsley – then a glistening Rangers prospect – was invited to the Blueshirts training camp in 1949. The very first Watson-Worsley bout curiously was an unexpected liquor-drinking event. “Phil pulled out a jug,” Gump remembered, “and said, ‘I hear you’re supposed to be quite a drinker. Let’s see if you can drink me under the table.’ We matched slug for slug and, finally, Watson wound up under the table.”

The Hockey News

The Hockey News

Watson, who became coach of the AA New York Rovers – with Gump as his goalie – should have known better. As Worsley noted in his autobiography, They Call Me Gump, “I got caught up in the city’s fast life and almost ruined my career. We ran from bar to bar in those days – and you know how many bars there are in New York. About 10,000. After most games, we’d go out drinking and stay until the joints closed at four in the morning. We were young and figured we could get away with it.”

Hangovers notwithstanding, Worsley did get away with it. From the Rovers, he eventually moved on to the Rangers and won the Calder Trophy as a rookie in 1952-53. All was copacetic until Watson became Rangers coach in 1955, and the blood feud resumed. One night after Gump won a big game and was sitting at his locker, Watson yelled across the room, “Worsley, you think you’re a hot s--- now. YOU STINK.” Gump did suffer a stinker of a game from time to time. Even he admitted that. Exhibit A took place on the night a lowly Blackhawks team rallied from a two-goal deficit to tie New York 6-6 at The Garden. Chicago’s hero was a normally light-scoring forward named Hec Lalande who delivered a hat trick. Infuriated, Watson marched into the dressing room like a drill sergeant and told newsmen, “When a dopey Frenchman like Lalande scores three goals in one game, how good can our goalie be?” Adding insult to insult, Watson further stung Worsley: “We can’t win games with a goalie who has a beer-barrel belly.” Upon hearing that, reporters sped to Gump’s stall and brought-up the coach’s put-down. With a knowing chuckle, Gump shot back, “Shows you what a dope we have for a coach – beer is the poor man’s champagne. I only drink Johnny Walker Red.” Watson once threatened to fine any player he caught boozing in the vicinity of Madison Square Garden. Did Worsley worry? Never. Right after Phil’s dressing room harangue, Gump grabbed the Rangers practice goalie, Joe Schaefer, by the hand and escorted him to the 322 Club, a tavern across from The Garden. “We can’t go in there,” Schaefer protested, “Watson is sure to spot us.” Not to worry, assured Gump. “Phil’s so dumb he’ll never think to look in here.” Phil didn’t, but on other occasions his revenge was harsh and often untimely. After a home loss to Montreal, he entered the dressing room and screamed, “Nobody take off your uniform. We’re going back on that ice to do a little skating.” Worsley: “Some reporters still in the press box writing their stories couldn’t believe it. No coach had ever done such a thing. Up and down the ice, he had the guys skating; then side to side. Not long after that we went into one of the worst tailspins in history and, on the final night of 1958-59, we missed the playoffs.” Early in the 1959-60 season the feudists went at it again and, this time, Worsley delivered his KO to end all verbal knockouts: “I was here, Phil, when you came, and I’ll be here when you’re gone.” As it happened Watson was fired in November 1959, replaced by Alf Pike. Meanwhile, The Gump slumped, and eventually was traded to Montreal, winning his first Stanley Cup in 1965. As for Watson, he was hired as coach by the Bruins, failed in Boston and ultimately disappeared over the hockey horizon. Shortly after the Habs’ 1965 Cup win, Gump was personally feted near his home in Beloeil, Que. “They held a parade in my honor,” Worsley recalled. “Out came the town’s only fire truck and police car, all scrubbed and polished. “And as I rode down Laurier Boulevard in a convertible – proud as hell – I was mumbling away, ‘If Phil Watson could only see me now!’ ”.
This feature appeared in the August 17 edition of The Hockey News magazine. Get in-depth features like this one, and much more, by subscribing now.


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