May 21, 2018 is a significant date in Chilliwack history.
That was the day the Chilliwack Chiefs won the Royal Bank Cup, the first national title in franchise history, captured on home ice at the then-Prospera Centre.
It was also the last time I ever watched a Chiefs game with Jacob Bestebroer.
I sat with JB that day in the corner suite just over the Zamboni entrance, as we’d done through a few playoff games that season.
By this point he’d already gone through hell and back in the first of his two bouts with cancer.
His weight was way down and there were days when it was a titanic struggle just getting out of bed. Cancer punched him in the face, kicked him in the gut and beat him down.
Each time he rose again.
In the calm, stoic way that he approached everything, Jacob took every shot cancer threw at him and kept coming.
No matter how bad he was hurting on the inside, he never once let on how bad things really were.
“I’m back on a new round of chemo next week and they need to adjust my pain meds,” he’d say in a matter-of-fact way. That would be followed by 30 seconds of silence as his friend tried to think of an appropriate response, and that would be followed, mercifully, by several minutes discussion on 1980’s wrestlers.
As we sat in the suite that night we talked about the usual things.
JB was the only man who knew more about Toronto Blue Jays minor leaguers than I.
As a father of two girls around the age of my own daughter, he’s also the only man I ever compared notes on iCarly and Sam and Cat with.
“You ever get into True Detective?” he’d ask once in a while.
I never did.
I regret that now.
We talked about the NFL, his beloved Seattle Seahawks and my beloved Green Bay Packers. He was never irritating about that, even after Brandon Bostick happened.
We were in a pick-em pool together, so naturally we compared notes on the weekend games, and he ran a few prop bets by me. He loved making small bets on football, and at one point in the last two years gave himself the nickname ‘The Parlay Kid.’
Lazy linguist that I am, I started calling him PK.
We had our disagreements on certain topics — his disdain for Star Wars, his complete apathy towards Disneyland and his belief that the Canadian Football League was a second rate bush league.
But that’s the way with great friendships.
I don’t know if I ever changed his mind on the CFL, but it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Our conversation that night was a little strained.
Jacob was nervous in a way I’d never seen before.
For more than 20 years the Chiefs were a huge part of his life. He was a scout, a radio colour man, a do-it-all guy and the team’s biggest fan.
He had an encyclopedic knowledge about the Chiefs and the BCHL. If ever I had a question, an answer was just a text message away. Many times he’d send me a note while he was on the air.
“Chiefs just set a franchise record for fastest three power play goals.”
As a fellow stat head, I loved it.
When Chilliwack captain Wil Calverly scored early in the third period of the RBC Cup final to tie the score at 2-2, and Corey Andonovski netted the go-ahead goal just under four minutes later, Jacob’s mood changed from tense to hopeful.But he still wouldn’t allow himself to get excited until Tommy Lee scored at 12:20 to make it 4-2.
At that point we both knew the Chiefs were going to win, and with about five minutes to play, Jacob left the suite to get down to ice level.
The story, if I’m remembering correctly, is that a by-the-book Hockey Canada security person wasn’t going to let him on the ice without the proper lanyard.
Thankfully, I believe it was Andrea Laycock who was nearby and told the security guard to let him through.
I made my way down to ice level soon after and as the Chiefs started passing around the RBC Cup I remember saying to Barry Douglas, ‘We’ve got to get that thing into Jacob’s hands.’
Barry already had a plan.
First chance he got, he took the RBC Cup out of a player’s hands and gave it to JB, setting up a photo I’ll always cherish.
In typical Jacob fashion there’s no big grin.
In one of the great moments of his life he’s still reserved and low key.
But it was in the eyes.
If I had to make a comparison, it’d be to becoming a father for the first time. In his look there was a mix of joy and pride, and in that moment he was exactly where he was meant to be.
I’m forever grateful that I was there for that moment.
I’m forever grateful he had that moment.
It’s going to be tough slogging for a long time without him.
At Friday night’s Chiefs game I kept glancing at my phone, looking for a text message that wasn’t going to come.
Just this morning, driving in to work listening to the Around the NFL Podcast (which JB recommended to me way back when), I had a melancholy moment.
It’ll be that way every time I look at a hockey/football/baseball card.
Every time I do a deep dive into 1980s WWF matches on YouTube.
Every time I walk through the doors at the Chilliwack Coliseum.
It hurts bad now, and I can only hope it hurts less over time.
But all those things that remind me of him are good too, because I don’t want to forget one of the best friends I ever had.
Rest easy JB.