I'm sure some of you will remember this incident that took place back on Oct. 11:
At the time, it was impossible not to laugh a little. After all, who couldn't get a chuckle out of what looked to be a rather proper lady giving the NHL's No. 1 bad boy a piece of her mind. It was hard to get her out of my mind too. After all, she probably had a story to tell, one that plenty of other folks would like to hear.
And boy, does she have a story to tell.
(Editor's note: Some of the language that follows is extremely graphic and is not suitable for younger readers.)
First, I called the Nashville Predators. Their PR office told me they had no idea who the lady in the video was. Then, when I wrote about it for FanHouse, I appended a short note asking if any of our readers knew her identity. About 24 hours later, I got a note from a young woman named Morgan Teveit who wrote that she knew the woman in question and was "proud to be her daughter." She added that her mother was a tremendous fan and would be eager to talk to me. She even provided me with her mother's phone number.
And then, in a swirl of a thousand other things, I forgot about it. Until Wednesday night, that is, when I got Sandie Griffith on the phone.
The mother of two daughters, she's just shy of her 60th birthday. As a native of the American South, she didn't grow up with hockey, but happened to marry a man from Michigan who did. He turned her into a fan. She's been a Predators season ticket holder from Day One, and those seats near the visiting penalty box belong to her and her husband.
Mrs. Griffith's relationship with Avery began a number of years ago when he was still playing for the Los Angeles Kings. According to her account, Avery was up to his usual tricks when Nashville's Darcy Hordichuk decided it was time to hold Avery accountable, and challenged him to drop the gloves. Avery, as is his wont, declined to dance.
From here, I'll hand things over to Griffith's daughter, Morgan. The following comes from an email exchange we had back in October:
Avery wouldn't fight and all he would do was cower away and cover his head "like a turtle". When the newspaper printed a picture of Avery covering his head like that, my parents said he looked just like a turtle trying to hide, so they started called him "Turtleman". Then, the next time Avery came in town to play, my parents were prepared. They took the newspaper photo of him covering his head and had it blown up and had multiple copies printed, and brought the poster-size photos with them to the game and taped them up to the glass on the penalty box and held them up when he'd skate by. When he finally saw the picture, he was absolutely livid. Ever since then, they give him a hard time and call him Turtleman."He is a pest and he's a dirty player," Griffith told me on Wednesday night. "He cannot control himself when confronted ... it doesn't matter what the situation is, he cannot control himself ... I've seen this over the years, it's kind of been like a joke."
"But this last incident ... his language to me was so foul and so crude that I cannot even believe that it was coming from his mouth," Griffith told me.
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Fast-forward to Oct. 11, 2008, the night the Predators hosted the Stars in Nashville in what eventually would be a 3-1 win for the home team. At 8:36 of the first period, Avery got into a tangle with Nashville's Dan Hamhuis, among other extracurricular activities. Avery initially received five minutes for fighting and a game misconduct. As Avery skated to the penalty box, Griffith was waiting for him.
"He came up behind Dan Hamhuis and cross-checked him, and I went to the box," said Griffith. That's when she asked him, "aren't you going to turtle up?"
Griffith insisted to me that while she taunted Avery, she never used foul language. So what was Avery's response? According to Griffith, Avery said, "You're nothing but an old f**king c*nt, I wouldn't even c*m in your face." After which he sprayed her with his water bottle. It was following that incident that the refs assessed Avery a second game misconduct, and Griffith is pretty much convinced Avery's reaction to the confrontation with her was the reason.
"I'm an old hockey fan, I can accept foul language, that's not the problem. But this was beyond anything that I can even imagine," Griffith said.
On Tuesday night, I sent a note to the Dallas Stars asking them about the incident. They declined to comment, and referred me to the NHL. John Dellapina, the league's Director of Media Relations said that the league was aware of the incident, though a league representative has yet to talk to Griffith.
When I asked if the incident would be taken into account at today's hearing into Avery's conduct, Dellapina said, "In any matter such as this, the totality of the actions throughout the player's career is taken into account."
A call on Wednesday morning to Avery's agent, Pat Morris, was not returned. Avery's Los Angeles-based publicist declined to comment.
So what was Griffith's reaction when she saw the news about Avery's lewd comments in Calgary?
"My daughter sent the article. Very frankly, I wanted to get in touch with (NHL Commissioner Gary) Bettman and say you need to have a talk with this guy. He has major problems, this is beyond hockey and beyond hockey talk."
When I asked her what an appropriate punishment was, Griffith said, "I really don't know. I'm trying to distinguish between the hockey and the hockey stuff and his foul inconsiderate behavior, on the other hand. I cannot imagine Bettman wants someone like Avery to represent hockey in the US. I just can't imagine that."
When I mentioned that Avery had issued an apology, she was quick to cut in: "He doesn't mean that, it's a pattern of behavior with him." That conclusion would seem to be supported by a report from ESPN.com's Scott Burnside on Wednesday evening.
I also asked her about Avery's contention -- and the contention of many others -- that hockey sorely needs bad guys and Avery is simply playing a role. "I totally agree that hockey needs bad guys, we need enforcers ... He is not an enforcer," Griffith said. "He is a low class son of a bitch. What he's talking about has nothing to do with the game of hockey.
"This is a game, this is a sport and what he is showing is not gamesmanship, it's not sportsmanship, it's low-class behavior. It's like Pacman Jones ... You can just never change that behavior. That kind of personality has no place in hockey."
Then there was a more delicate question. I mentioned that a number of observers of the game were concerned that the speed with which the league acted against Avery seemed to indicate they were more concerned with the image of a player than the actual safety of players on the ice. In particular, I mentioned the rash of hits from behind and to the head we've seen again this season and how the league seems reluctant to do anything about.
Griffith agreed that she could understand that point of view and that she was concerned with the safety of the players too, and that the league might not be doing enough to prevent potentially career-ending injuries. She's a proponent of no-touch icing, and made sure to mention that, "boarding just makes me crazy."
"But," she added, "the Sean Averys and their attitude and their attitude toward women are unacceptable."
When I asked her what sort of players she was a fan of, she quickly mentioned Predators Jason Arnott and J.P. Dumont, but took special pains to talk to me about Jordin Tootoo. "He's the same sort of instigator (as Avery). I cannot imagine him talking to a 60-year old woman the way that Sean Avery talked to me."
"He is low class, I cannot imagine my daughter bringing someone like that home. I can't imagine being his mother and being proud of that sort of behavior. Who raised him?"
Before saying goodbye, Griffith left me with one parting shot at Avery.
"If he's suspended indefinitely, I hope I can say that I was a part of that. There are rules of behavior and he crossed the line. I really do not like him."