Buffalo74 has touched on this subject before, in the Ultimate Buffalo Sabres Factoid Miscellany, but for those of you intimidated by the prodigious size of that post, here’s a retelling of the tale. It’s also a timely topic, as the coming President’s Day holiday on Monday marks the 37th remembrance of Horton’s loss.
Horton was hesitant to sign for his last, tragic year in Buffalo.
His donut empire was growing, and at 43, he was the second oldest player in the league, (just months younger than netminder Gump Worsley). But Punch Imlach realized he needed Horton on the blueline, and offered him another one-year contract.
The deal was sealed when Imlach offered Horton a 1973 De Tomaso Pantera sports car as a bonus.
On February 20, 1974, Buffalo was visiting Toronto, hoping to steal two points and help gain enough momentum to propel the team towards a playoff spot. Horton played his typical game, despite playing with a broken jaw (the result of a deflected slapshot during the previous day’s practice). The Sabres lost 4-2, but Tim was still named the game’s third star.
“He was hurting too bad to play a regular shift in the third period,” recalled Imlach. “We faded without him and lost the game to the Leafs. After the game, he and I took a little walk up Church Street and had what was our last talk.”
“He was down in the dumps because he didn’t like to miss a shift and he felt he had cost us the game. I got on the bus with the team. Tim drove the ‘cursed’ car back to Buffalo. He didn’t make it.”
In the early morning hours of February 21st, a report came over the Ontario Provincial Police radio of a sports car moving at high speed through the Burlington area along the QEW. An officer near Vineland saw the car fly past him and tried to follow it, but he couldn’t keep up. He estimated the car was going at least 160 kmh (100 mph).
Some time around 4:30 the morning of February 21, 1974, Horton’s Pantera hit an elevated sewer grate and flipped several times, throwing him from the vehicle onto the highway near St. Catharines. Horton was killed instantly.
After the loss, his business parter, Ron Joyce, created the Tim Horton Children’s Foundation. The foundation reflects Horton’s love for children and his desire to help those less fortunate. This year the Foundation will serve close to 14,000 children from economically disadvantaged homes.
Tragedy can be ironic, confusing, and devastating. 37 years later, however, Tim Horton is still doing one of the things he always cherished – helping folks out. Next time you are at the HSBC arena, take a peek up at his #2 hanging from the rafters, and whisper a thank you.