Sunday, October 17, 1999
The Battle of Jericho
WWF's Chris Jericho trades in
hockey for life in the ring
By SHERRY ROSS
Daily News Sports Writer
His hair is longer than Jaromir Jagr's (we're talking last year's coif). He's
prettier than Ron Duguay. He talks faster than Paul Kariya skates. The son of
'70s Rangers stalwart Ted Irvine, he has the right pedigree.
Chris Jericho is the perfect package to save the National Hockey League from
its post-Wayne Gretzky blahs. It's a pity hockey lost him to wrestling a dozen
Chris Jericho doesn't play hockey so much anymore, but he still isn't afraid to
drop the gloves.
At a brawny 6-0, 230 pounds, Jericho is a far cry from the scrawny high school
right wing who traded in his skates for weights at age 16. The lion-maned
grappler has proclaimed himself on a mission to rescue the World Wresting
Federation from its doldrums, but he has his blonde roots in another sport that
could use him even more.
When he was a kid known as Chris Irvine, Jericho was in the crowd at Madison
Square Garden watching his dad play for the Rangers. Irvine was a member of a
line with Pete Stemkowski and Bruce MacGregor, which until the Cup win in
1994 gave Rangers fans one of their greatest playoff thrills when
Stemkowski scored a triple overtime goal against Chicago in 1971. But Irvine's
kid didn't always appreciate watching his dad's heroics.
"I was 3 or 4, and I used to hate going (to games) for two reasons," Jericho
says. "I hated it because it was too loud. I used to have this little wool knit
Rangers jacket, and I would pull it over my head because people were screaming.
And the other reason was because my dad would never look at me. Why isn't he
waving at me when he skates by with the puck?' Now I know how neat it really
was, and what an achievement and accomplishment it was."
Instead of covering his ears, Jericho now encourages the roars, his flamboyant
entrances punctuated by "Y2J" theme music and fireworks. But like most NHL
fighters, who are fierce on the ice and friendly off it, Jericho in person is a
soft-spoken, smiling guy who talks about his on-stage persona in the third
"I invented this character in 1994 in Canada," says Jericho. "That's when I
first started dabbling with him. On and off for the last two years, I've been
honing the character. I found out a long time ago it was a lot more fun to make
people hate you than to make them like you, even though it's cool when people
like you. It's neat for me because it's the exact opposite of my personality in
real life. But no one wants to see a real personality in the ring. You have to
create the character. That's what people come to see."
Jericho's father, Ted Irvine, starred for the New York Rangers in the 1970s.
Jericho was born in Manhasset, Long Island, and grew up there, as well as in
St. Louis (where Irvine was traded in 1975); Winnipeg, where the family lived
in the off-season and where his father now works as a financial planner
(Colorado's Joe Sakic is among his clients); and Calgary, where Jericho moved
at age 19 to pursue his career.
An only child, Jericho began playing hockey at age 5.
"I scored my first goal and they gave me the puck and I didn't understand the
significance of it. I told them I had enough pucks at home and I threw it back
on the ice," he says. "My dad made me go and get it. That night, he scored his
150th goal, so we have a little plaque at home that says Chris' first goal
and Ted's 150th NHL goal.'"
By age 16, though, Jericho knew that his career path would diverge from his
"I wasn't very skilled but I always had a very Theo Fleury-like attitude,"
Jericho says. "I was always trying to make the hits or add a little bit of
extra spark to the team. I was kind of small at the time. My last couple of
seasons, when I got a little bigger, I was more of a hitter and a grinder."
Jericho hasn't completely given up hockey. He plays in a senior men's league
near his Clearwater home. "I grew up in Canada so I know the basic rules," he
says, "the basic to-dos and not-to-dos, and a lot of the other guys don't know
any of that, and it drives me nuts. Don't pass in front of your own net!
Cross the blue line before you shoot it in!' They must not like playing with me
because I'm constantly yelling at them about how bad they are and how many
mistakes they're making."
Jericho even moved from Orlando to be closer to an NHL team. He frequently
attends Lightning games, and remains loyal to the Calgary Flames (a team he
adopted after his Winnipeg Jets fled for Phoenix) and the Rangers.
The Garden, where Jericho will perform on Oct. 30 with the WWF, remains a
special place. There is a black-and-white photo*** in the hallway outside
the Rangers dressing room that captures the moment of the triple OT goal, and
though Ted Irvine is obscured in the picture, Jericho knows he was there.
"One of the perks for me to come to the WWF is that I always wanted to wrestle
at the Garden and at the Winnipeg Arena. As it worked out, I got to work in
both places in the space of a week," he says.
His MSG appearance this summer was memorable for the wrong reasons, though.
"What I was supposed to do was go out to the ring, do my entrance where the
bombs go off, and do my talk about how I came to save the WWF," he says. "What
happened was, I started and people were booing and it was going real good, and
then the microphone died. They gave me another microphone and it died. They
gave me a third one and it died. The people laughed at first but after that, I
lost them. And all the time (WWF chairman ) Vince McMahon was standing 20 feet
away, watching me make a fool of myself. It was a less than auspicious debut at
the Garden. But it will be great to go back there because the crowd goes crazy.
"And I think about what seat I used to be in when I would try to cover my