Without the example set by Eddie Long, it's easy to wonder if the Fort Wayne Komets might not have survived longer than their first few seasons. Though listed at just 5-foot-8, 170 pounds, “Tiny Mite” became the team's first star, and after playing 14 seasons retired as “Mr. Komet.”
As much as anyone, Long gave the Komets their identity. His hustle, grit and ability were something that attracted new fans to the team and the game. Long scored 31 goals and 52 points in 60 games the 1952-53 season as the Komets finished 20-38-2.
The Komets' outlook started to change in the summer of 1958 when Ken Ullyot was hired to coach. Until then, the Komets had not produced a winning season or won a playoff series. Long thrived under Ullyot's system scoring 33, 44, 34, 48 and 56 goals over the next five seasons.
He was named the IHL's Most Valuable Player in 1963 after putting up a career-high 56 goals and 102 points. During that season he scored 48 goals in the Komets' first 48 games.
Things came together for the Komets in 1959-60 as Long scored 44 goals and 88 points and the team dominated the regular season. Then came the heartbreaking Game 4 finals loss to St. Paul in four overtimes.
The Komets were always competitive, but Long made the play that finally helped make them winners and eventually champions during the 1963 semifinals against Muskegon. The Komets trailed 6-1 in Game 6 in Muskegon before rallying to tie the game behind five assists from Long, but it was a defensive play that saved the game in overtime that will be remembered forever. Muskegon's Larry Lund blasted a shot on goaltender Chuck Adamson from 10 feet out, which Adamson blocked, but the puck went through his legs and trickled toward the goal line. It was halfway across when Long popped into the crease to slap the puck away.
“I'll never know why I turned back in,” Long said. “We had possession of the puck. It was just one of those amazing things. Then I saw the puck and started cutting back in. It was like somebody pushed me that way. It was an amazing thing.”
The Komets eventually won in overtime and later crushed Minneapolis to win their first Turner Cup. Long finished with 20 points in 11 playoff games.
Long came back for one more full season in 1963-64, scoring 27 goals and 68 points and announcing his retirement. The Komets had an “Eddie Long Night” on March 27, 1964. Only two athletes in Fort Wayne history have ever had individual nights, basketball player Curly Armstrong and Eddie Long.
On his way to becoming the IHL's all-time leading scorer, Long finished his Komets career with 459 goals, 465 assists and 924 points while earning 845 penalty minutes in 858 games. When the Komets opened their Hall of Fame in 1988, he was the first inductee.
“What more can you contribute to hockey than Eddie did?” Ullyot asked. “He gave his life to the game in Fort Wayne.”
About this series
• Ever wonder what a Northeast Indiana Sports Hall of Fame might include? During a time when it may be difficult to look ahead to great sporting events, the Journal Gazette is going to offer you a look into Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana's fantastic athletic past. Over the next few weeks, we'll offer some suggestions on the people and events which could be featured in such a facility.