AFL Round 20 – St Kilda v Western Bulldogs: Lenny and me

St. Kilda versus Western Bulldogs

1:20 pm, Sunday, 10 August

Etihad Stadium


Today is Lenny’s day. And it’s my day, too.

The Saints’ beloved 16-year veteran, Lenny Hayes, is retiring at the end of the season, spurring waves of accolades and tributes, culminating in today’s game at Etihad against the Bulldogs.

My celebration is a bit more private — just one witness — but no less important to me: Today I am walking by myself on a cane!

Lenny and I both can tell tales of perseverance. He came back from two knee reconstructions and is as good as ever this season at age 34. And who can forget how he played the game of his life in the drawn 2010 Grand Final against Collingwood and, teaming with Brendon Goddard, nearly willed St Kilda to a premiership.

I have come back from a sudden, overwhelming illness — Guillain-Barre Syndrome — that attacked my immune and nervous systems and reduced most of my muscles to jelly. The past 9 weeks have been spent laboriously regaining strength and flexibility, muscle by muscle, step by step and stretch by stretch — with the seemingly tireless efforts (though we both know better) of my wife, Debbie (with me today and every day) — and the help of manifold doctors and therapists. I’ll need another couple months to regain close to normal, but off the walker and onto the cane, even part-time, is a HUGE step. So today we all rejoice, and I start like so many summer Sundays, watching my Saints in the wee hours streaming live on my computer (I missed four games, including three pastings, while in hospital). From Indiana I missed the “I Love Lenny” T-shirts, posters, merch and memorabilia, banner competition, faux digital photos with Lenny himself, the members’ “I Love Lenny” wall and the postgame Lenny lovefest (though I found the #ILoveLenny hashtag frenzy on Twitter).

On field it seems understated, like Lenny himself, except for the obligatory giant banner. And unfortunately, after a crackling start, the Saints seem understated too as their defense and intensity flatten and a one-point deficit turns into a 27-point mountain at the end of the first term as the Doggies’ Jake Stringer, Adam Cooney and Stewart Crameri exploit mistakes (a recurring theme). Tribute indeed?

It becomes 34 points before Riewoldt scores off a free and Curren steals a goal from a tangle of bodies smothering another kick to Nick. A bit of hope. But false hope is another  theme as the Saints charge closer repeatedly only to be done in by an errant kick or a defensive lapse. Story of the season, but expected with this young roster. Today will not be Freo II. Oh, Lenny tackles and side-steps and even kicks a goal (fourth of the year). And then, down 36 with about seven minutes left, comes the final push — goals by Murdoch, then Weller, Gwilt, Billings — and it’s 109-98 with four minutes left. Maybe THAT was the tribute to Lenny, because this day ends in disappointment with the star’s modest victory lap at the end, applauding the Saints’ supporters as the Bulldogs line up, and then he trots off the ground.

Today, no miracle. But Lenny was never about miracles, just an honest day’s work and an air of humility. Maybe that’s why he’s so beloved. You can take inspiration from champions to accomplish whatever you want. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned this summer, it’s that there are no miracles. You take nothing for granted. You become a champion one day at a time, whether on a practice field or in outpatient therapy. I’m far from a great athlete, but I have spent 2½ months rebuilding my body from scratch well enough to walk on a cane on this day. And though the Saints lost, that’s how I celebrated today with my beloved Debbie, with a couple laps around my family room. And then tomorrow back to work – I have so far still to go — in therapy. I think Lenny would be proud.


St. Kilda                                   3.1       7.4       10.6     15.9     (99)

Western Bulldogs                   7.4       10.6     13.10   18.14   (122)


St. Kilda: Gwilt 3, Curren 2, Steven, Ross, Weller, Newnes, Schneider, Hayes, Riewoldt, Billings, Murdoch, Bruce

Western Bulldogs: Stringer 4, Cooney 3, Crameri 3, Higgins, Macrae, Stevens,  Bontempelli, Picken, Hrovat, Campbell, Darley


St. Kilda: Armitage, Gwilt, Dempster, Steven, Ross, Gilbert, Hayes

Western Bulldogs: Stringer, Crameri, Bontempelli, Cooney, Higgins, Murphy

Umpires: Fleer, Leppard, Harris

Official crowd: 30,095

Our Votes: 3 Stringer (WB), 2 Cooney (WB), 1 Gwilt (StK)

About Glenn Brownstein

I'm a red, white and blue supporter of the red, white and black who became a footy fan through ESPN telecasts in the 1980s and a buddy who founded the American version of the game. Yup, I chose the Saints, but I'd like to think they chose me, too.


  1. Neil Anderson says

    I like your red, white and blue supporter statement in your profile but I suspect you’re talking about the US of A red white and blue. Good luck with your health struggles and you couldn’t have a better inspiration than Saint Lenny. I had forgotten he had two knee recos.
    I am about to do a write-up on the match and it’s all about Lenny.

  2. Glen,
    It seems like only the other week that I was reading how you jumped tall buildings in a single bound to get out the Kentucky Derby edition. None of us know what tomorrow brings, but it sounds like you have a lot of love and professional support around you, and St Lenny has lent you a bit of his attitude.
    Go well and know that a lot of Australians will hold you in our thoughts tonight.
    Peter B

  3. Yvette Wroby says

    Hi Glen you are a champion and I am glad you wrote this and glad you find inspiration in our Lenny. Great read and how happy we are to hear of your progression back to health. Thanks for sharing your life with us and me. Yvette.

  4. Good read Glen. And good luck to you.

  5. Thanks to all. I truly appreciate and am sustained by every bit of positive energy directed my way. And not to belabor the point, but each case of GBS is very different. Alistair Clarkson was lucky — a couple months of tingling and weakness, a month or so of therapy. Mine came on as tingling in the hands and quickly progressed to numbness and paralysis in all but my forearms, neck and head, plus pneumonia. 11 days in the ICU (7 on a ventilator), a couple scary days the first week (so I was told much later). But thankfully I responded to treatment and recovery’s been at a steady pace since. But honestly from the start I looked at it as a great adventure — who gets to rebuild everything almost from scratch; maybe Round Two will be an improvement. I vowed from the start to stay upbeat and make every day a good day. And every one has been.

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