Legend ... former Rabbitoh Gary Stevens surrounded by memories of his playing days. Photo: Dallas Kilponen
THE BAR room within Gary Stevens's oceanside home at Malabar is his pride and joy. On its walls are South Sydney jumpers signed by the club's greatest players, himself included, framed black-and-white images of the international second-rower in his heyday and almost century-old jerseys of his grandfather, Arthur Oxford, a goalkicking champion who played in Souths' premiership team of 1918 as well as for Australia.
It is a collection of memorabilia to drop the jaw of a rugby league historian or Souths tragic. The only problem is that for Stevens the memories do not come flooding back.
A member of the Rabbitohs' last grand final-winning side in 1971, as well as the team that beat Manly to the old NSWRL title the year before, the former international forward shared the most formidable of back-rows with Bob McCarthy and Ron Coote, not to mention a pack that also included John O'Neill, John Sattler and George Piggins.
Yet as a result of a perpetual issue with blood clots in his brain, Stevens remembers little if anything of the 1970 and 1971 grand finals. He believes his memory loss stems from a scrum gone wrong during a Test match against Great Britain at the SCG in the mid-1970s.
''When the scrum broke I was laying face down in the mud. It's come back to haunt me,'' Stevens said. ''I've now got a cloud of blood in my brain so I can't remember too many things. I've got to keep taking these tablets every day of my life to thin my blood out. I'd rather have no leg than what I've got. I go to functions and I can't remember people, I can't remember stories and stuff like that. There's no pain involved but my memory loss is terrible.''
Stevens lives a comfortable life. He is a picture of fitness, working out three times a week in a gym he has installed in his garage, and his sprawling home - and the pair of German SUVs in the driveway - are evidence that he did as well as a builder as he did as a footballer.
The memory loss is simply his Achilles heel. His short-term memory is the worst. Stevens's wife Kay took him to yesterday's ex-players function at South Sydney Leagues Club because he cannot remember the way to Redfern Oval. He had to give up the building game because he could not recall where he had put a hammer, ladder or anything else.
What hurts as much as anything, though, is the haziness his storied career with Souths, and later Canterbury, is now imprisoned by. Stevens speaks with unbridled passion about his 163 games for Souths from 1965 to 1976, about captaining the club in his final year there, about his first-class lineage and about the 1971 grand final. The details do not readily come back to him, however. ''I can vaguely remember things. As soon as I try and remember it just goes,'' he said. ''As soon as I start to think it goes hazy.''
Stevens will be at ANZ Stadium tonight, willing Michael Maguire's team to upset Des Hasler's Bulldogs and reach a first grand final in generations. He will do so despite the fact his own time at Redfern ended in acrimony. He played in 1977 and 1978 at Belmore before contracting hepatitis, he suspects through sharing water bottles and sponges in the dressing sheds, and retiring.
''I had 13 years with Souths, I was a Souths junior, and Canterbury treated me twice as good as what Souths did [at the end],'' he said. ''The club was going bad financially and they wouldn't buy us a drink or anything. I used to take the players after a game back to my place for a drink.
''At the end of the year, I played virtually every game and got the best and fairest but they got rid of me. Canterbury treated me like a god.''
That does not mean that Stevens is in any way sitting on the fence tonight. His family has been a famous one at Souths for nearly 100 years so his loyalties are not in question. ''I still respect Souths and I still follow them. It wasn't the club that did it, it was the people that were in charge then - and they're all dead and buried,'' he said. ''I'm still a Souths supporter, right down … I hope they win the comp.
''I think they can do it this year. They've got to play their best football but I think they can do it.
''It'd be the greatest thing that's ever happened.''
And if they make the grand final? ''I'm going to go to the game - that's for sure,'' he said. ''And I'll get some enjoyment out of it, whether I remember the game or not.''