When Mary Lou Pilous was a seventh-grader in St. Catharines, Ontario, her father, Rudy, arrived home one spring day with some souvenirs from his job in Chicago.
Rudy Pilous, the last Blackhawks coach to win the Stanley Cup, had just made franchise history April 16, 1961, and had a bundle of team photos posed in front of the silver chalice to prove it.
"He gave me a stack and said, 'Would you like to take these to school?' so I did and it was like I was giving out million-dollar checks," Mary Lou recalled from her home in West Palm Beach, Fla. "I was the most popular girl in school. I came home and said, 'Dad, do you have any more of those, because my friends really like that picture of you?' "
Suffice to say Pilous never felt as appreciated in Chicago, where he qualifies as perhaps the most significant sports figure largely forgotten in the city. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville, two victories away from hockey immortality in town, already has a nickname and a persona that has been embraced more than former Hawks players recall Pilous ever was.
"Rudy always was overshadowed, and I'm not entirely sure why," said Stan Mikita, a member of the '61 Cup champions. "Behind the scenes, he was the guy who kept the composure and made us laugh by keeping us loose and making us believe we could win it all."
Consider that only five men have coached or managed one of the five major Chicago professional sports teams to a league championship in the last 50 years: George Halas and Mike Ditka with the Bears, Phil Jackson with the Bulls, Ozzie Guillen with the Sox ... and Pilous.
Pilous, who at 46 was five years younger when the Hawks won the Cup than Quenneville is now, went 162-151-74 from 1957-63. But the only place Pilous was headed after reaching heights here was the unemployment line. In the two seasons after the Cup title, Pilous' simple wide-open style allowed the talented Hawks to return to the Cup finals in '62 and finish second in the regular season in '63. Yet the Hawks fired him anyway.
And this was before sports-talk radio and the Internet.
A rift with then-GM Tommy Ivan led to the dismissal that embittered Pilous, according to friends and family members, so much that he vowed never to set foot in Chicago Stadium again. Mary Lou Pilous believes her father stayed true to that pledge before he passed away at 80 in 1994.
"My dad didn't talk about that much, but I remember him saying Ivan was always nervous he wanted his job as GM, but he had no desire," Mary Lou said. "He no more wanted to do that than fly to the moon, but they fired him anyway. I think he wished he could have stayed a lot longer. He loved Chicago. Winning the Cup there was the pinnacle of his career."
At breakfast tables and computer desks all over the Chicago area, some people still are asking, "Rudy Who?"
Besides being the Blackhawks' last Stanley Cup-winning coach, Pilous is regarded in hockey circles as an innovator who was the first coach to pull his goaltender to add an extra attacker -- a ploy he used to tie a junior-league game with 12 seconds left in 1954.
They remember Pilous as a quick-witted comedian who used humor to reduce the stress of the season, such as the time he told the Hawks during a trip to New York, "I don't want you western farm boys to get a sunburn on the roofs of your mouths standing out here in the sunshine staring up at the tops of those tall buildings."
They know Pilous as the guy who introduced the NHL to the idea of a morning skate, originally intended to make sure a young, carousing group of Blackhawks had a reason to get up after late nights on the town.
"That was the worst rule in the world," Bobby Hull said, snickering.
But to Mikita and Hull, Pilous always will be the guy who forced them to quit high school football and taught them what being a professional hockey player meant. Both legends got to know Pilous as teenagers on their way to the Blackhawks.
Before Pilous came to Chicago, he coached the St. Catharines TeePees, a junior-league team he owned in the Ontario Hockey Association that was affiliated with the Blackhawks. It produced the likes of Mikita, Hull, Pierre Pilote and Phil Esposito.
Coaching the core of the Hawks championship team when those players were juniors improved their listening -- and thus their overall play once Pilous got elevated to the Hawks' job in 1957.
"Rudy was my junior mentor, and I hadn't learned to play the game properly yet," Hull said. "I wanted the biscuit all the time, and he didn't think I should get it as much. He was a great teacher, and you have to give him credit and appreciate what he did to win the Cup."
Hull respected Pilous' hockey knowledge so much that when he defected to the Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association, he recommended his former coach when the team needed a GM. It was when Pilous was an executive for the Jets that he achieved infamy that often overshadows any notoriety he received for winning the Cup.
Nelson Skalbania, the owner of the WHA's Indianapolis Racers, needed money to keep the franchise afloat and was dangling Wayne Gretzky-for-cash trade offers. Calling Gretzky too small and slow, Pilous passed.
At least when Pilous went into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1985, a career that included nine championship seasons at different levels overshadowed that one goof. The coach responsible for that one, magical Hawks season 49 years ago deserves a more honorable hockey legacy than that -- even if he's little more than the answer to a trivia question in Chicago.
"All the other places Dad went to, nothing ever topped the Stanley Cup," Mary Lou said. "Years later, we'd watch on TV as the winning team skated around the ice with the Cup and he'd say, 'You know, your dad's name is on that Cup.' "
Indeed it is, neatly engraved on the side, indelibly etched into Blackhawks history.