Former U and pro hockey player Todd Okerlund, who was also a member of the 1988 U.S. Olympic team, has had his heart stolen by a very young man -- his 22-month-old son, Brady.
Okerlund's made an astonishing transformation from ladies' man to "Dada" and committed partner of Brady's mom, Patricia. The businessman behind Classicwrestling.com and the ad agency Okerlund Inc. doesn't even mind changing diapers.
We talked about the current NHL lockout as well as Todd's hope that his son won't pursue a hockey career or other "knucklehead" sports -- although dad would be fine with his son following in the footsteps of his grandpa, wrestling announcer Mean Gene Okerlund. Our interview was conducted while trying to contain and entertain a very busy, absolutely adorable toddler, as you can see at startribune.com/video.
Q How do you see the current NHL labor dispute?
A I think the NHL's had a great run. Like all pro sports, they need to find a balance between the ownership and the players. But hockey is not the popular sport that football, baseball, basketball are. So I think they need to get back to the table and keep the game going. Otherwise, they risk damaging the brand for the long term, nationally, for a great niche sport.
Q Can you foresee the day there won't be fighting in hockey?
A Yeah, there probably will come a day, in the future. As all the rinks get big and there's more of an emphasis, it's a world league now -- a lot of skill. Bigger rink, less violence, or at least less fighting. It will always be a physical game. You hit every day, year-round. It's a tough way to make a living.
Q What's behind the fighting -- too much testosterone or a lack of maturity?
A I actually think it's history. It's always been a part of the game, and part of the reason was they never wanted a guy to two-hand another guy over the head with a stick. So they would settle their differences with their fists. It's been going on a long time. But with masks and everything now, it kind of seems obsolete, except for a few certain guys. Every teams has an enforcer, usually, and they try to keep the other guys honest and send messages when that needs to be done. Intimidation is still part of the game, no question about it.
Q What was your concussion experience when you played hockey? Did you have many?
A No, not really. I've got a hard head, a thick head.
Q Who was the greatest player of your era and how would that player succeed today?
A Oh, I'd say Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. They were head and shoulders above the crowd. Fantastic players. They'd both succeed, and they are both doing well in business today. They transitioned from pro hockey very well.
Q You had no idea how your life would be transformed by having a baby, did you?
A Nope. You never do until it happens to you. People can tell you about it, but until you actually go through it, I don't think it hits you. There is no way to explain it.
Q How many times has Brady spritzed you when you've been changing a diaper?
A Once or twice, but he's pretty good and I'm fast. I don't get paid by the hour. You've got to cover them. And spritz is a good word, C.J. Not blasted or hosed but spritzed. I'm going to use that.
Q Any signs that Brady will be either a rassler or a hockey player?
A No. He's not going to be a knucklehead. He's going to do something like golf, tennis -- or how about skiing? No contact sports. He probably has a future in something he enjoys, but hopefully noncontact sports. [Wrestling] is noncontact sports, so wrestling would be OK.
Q You were known as a man about town. That's changed?
A That changes. I did 20 years starting in the 1989 in the Warehouse District, and Target Center, all the other stuff; 20 years on the avenue was enough for me. And I worked it for 20 years -- the Nighttime Mayor. That was fun, but your life span's pretty short. I'm very committed to mom [as in Brady's mom]. There's no skirt-chasing. We enjoy having fun with men and women, equally. Right [he said looking at Brady and adding]: We like mom and dada, grandma and grandpa.
Q Have you ever allowed a woman as much control over your life as Patricia?
A No. But it keeps you together and it keeps you in sync and it keeps you focused, having a baby. There's no question.
Q So, when's the wedding?
A At a date to be determined. Just a matter of time. I don't know if mom will have me [he said to Brady].
Interviews are edited for space and flow. C.J. can be reached at email@example.com and seen on Fox 9.
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