A Masshole in Full
Robbie washed up in Charleston in 1995. He’d finished college at Salem State and played 20 pro games in the American Hockey League, the rung right below the NHL, before getting sent down to the South Carolina Stingrays of the East Coast Hockey League. The ECHL used to be where hockey careers went to die, a league where long bus rides and empty rinks inspire a sinking feeling that your best years are behind you. Robbie knew this, and he was ready to hang it up. But then he talked to an old buddy, Mark Bavis, a former BU standout from Roslindale who was playing for the then-three-year-old Stingrays. Bavis told him, “If you come down here, you’ll never leave.”
At the time, hockey was a novelty in town, and the games regularly drew over 10,000 fans. Simply by being himself, Robbie instantly became a huge star. He wasn’t the best player, or the toughest, or even the first from Boston (Bavis and his twin brother, Mike, were already there). But Robbie was an entertainer, and the fans couldn’t get enough of the Irish kid from Beantown. He made funny faces at them. He scored big goals and did big dances in front of the other team’s bench. He tried to bite a guy’s finger off during a fight. “He’d tease his curly hair up into an afro,” says teammate Jared Bednar, who now coaches the Stingrays. “Once, he smoked a cigarette during warmups.” Robbie cost the team a fortune in pucks—he would stand at the end of the rink before games and flip them over the glass to the kids.
His second year, the team won the Kelly Cup championship. Robbie was everywhere. He was on billboards; he was on the cover of the program; he did a milk mustache ad. The southern fans didn’t understand much about the game (the team tutored them on icing and offsides), but they liked the fights and they loved Robbie. “We’ve had two huge blows of wind since I’ve been in Charleston,” says Jack Hinkle, a fan who became a friend. “One was Hurricane Hugo. The other was Robbie Concannon.” The fans started calling him “Coo Coo Concannon,” or just “Coocs.” When the souvenir stand, spotting an opportunity, began stocking “Coo Coo” T-shirts, it sold out the entire run in one night.
The local newspaper covered all his antics, and reported that he was bombarded with invitations from fans who wanted to take him out for his birthday. Robbie would instruct the rink announcer to introduce him as hailing from “North Charleston,” and the arena would go wild. After games, he’d have the announcer tell the fans to meet him at the Wild Wing Café down by the old slave market, and they’d come out in droves and watch him put on a show.
The huge personality, the classic Masshole behavior—they might have led Robbie toward nothing good if he’d stayed in the neighborhood. But in Charleston he found a kind of salvation. That’s because Robbie did it all, all of it, completely sober. The wake-up call came 15 years ago, after a late-night brush with the law. “We were waiting in line to buy food at the yuck truck after the bars had closed,” says David Cunniff, an old Southie friend who is now assistant coach of the Worcester Sharks. “Robbie thought it would be funny to cut the line and steal some guy’s sandwich and play keep-away.” Naturally, a fight broke out and Robbie was arrested. “I was in jail handcuffed to some guy,” Robbie explained to me, “and he asked what I was in for. I told him I tried to beat up a guy with a turkey, bacon, and mayonnaise sandwich. He told me he’d tried to kill his wife.”
Robbie realized some things had to change. The court informed him that with his next arrest he could expect a nice, long sentence. So he stopped drinking, cold turkey. “If I hadn’t quit,” Robbie told me several times, repeating the old maxim, “I’d be dead or in jail.”
Even without the booze, he was still Robbie Concannon, and Robbie Concannon stories still always end the same way. “I think it’s safe to say,” says Brendan Clark, lead anchor for the local NBC affiliate, “that he has the most seen penis in Charleston history.”