Penguins' Crosby does it his way
Being Sidney Crosby affords many privileges.
Living a normal life certainly isn't one of them.
Crosby's latest ordeal — a broken jaw that occurred precisely when the prodigy-turned-icon had again brought the NHL to its knees — is merely the latest example of a gifted, cursed superstar and his quest for peace.
“It's been an interesting couple of years,” Crosby said. “It hasn't really been perfect, I guess you could say.”
The kid who only desires ordinary treatment will never receive such a luxury in this lifetime. That's what happens when you're bigger than your team and your sport, even if you never desired such a distinction.
“I've never been quite sure how he handles it all,” Penguins defenseman Paul Martin said.
Crosby's latest torturous injury is finally improved enough so that he might go about his job of leading the Penguins' to the most famous trophy presentation in sports. What sounds like pressure is life as normal for Crosby.
It simply isn't a normal that anybody else can understand.
The Penguins and Crosby agreed to a 12-year contract extension last summer. It wasn't a surprise, but there was a catch.
Crosby, in his customarily polite way, explained to the Penguins that he wasn't interested in superstar treatment. Personal media relations staff members and all the other luxuries at Crosby's disposal — the Penguins are not strangers to pampering their superstars, and they've employed many — were no longer desired.
“You know,” Crosby said, “I really have always wanted to just be one of the guys. Those feelings have never changed for me, and they never will change. I am no different than anyone else.”
Crosby's refusal to view himself as a hockey god, even though so many already do view the 25-year-old in this light, has been evident for quite some time.
His agent, Pat Brisson, maintains Crosby's desire to be “one of the guys” has never faded.
He and Crosby were at a hockey camp a decade ago, and the kid was being treated differently than the rest.
“We were getting shipments of stuff for Sid,” Brisson said. “He was 15, and he was already a big deal. He always told me that he was OK with getting the attention. But the thing was, he didn't want to get that kind of attention and to be getting stuff in front of other players. Here he is, at 15, telling me that he doesn't want to be getting this kind of attention in front of other kids because he didn't want them to feel bad.”
Preferential treatment seems to turn Crosby's stomach.
“I have a million stories that are similar to the one when he was 15,” Brisson said. “It just amazed me at the time and still does, to see him thinking like an adult, and to see him thinking about others. He never wanted the flash, never wanted people giving him extra stuff just because of who he was. He was so low key about it, but he was firm about it. I'll never forget it.”
When normal isn't normal
There is a problem. Crosby is very much different than anyone else, though this isn't his fault. It's just his curse and it will never change.
When it became apparent last week that Crosby was nearing a return to the ice, Sports Illustrated sent a reporter to Pittsburgh and is considering putting him on its cover next week.
When word leaked late last week that Crosby was going to resume practicing with the Penguins at Southpointe the following day, numerous television reporters from Canada were in Western Pennsylvania less than 24 hours later. His concussion saga became so much bigger than the game two years ago that reports that he had visited a neck specialist upstaged the NHL All-Star Game festivities in Ottawa, as the gathering of NHL greats was suddenly overshadowed by the medical condition of the NHL great.
He wants so badly to be treated like the rest of his teammates, but even they know such a thing will never happen.
“We don't mind,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said, specifically referring to Crosby's refusal to speak at a podium during the playoffs, instead allowing dozens of reporters to surround his locker, often making those who sit nearby miserable.
The Penguins know he does that because he doesn't want to be treated differently. He doesn't want to stick out by speaking at a podium when no one else does.
“I mean, he's Sidney Crosby,” said Niskanen, with teammate Deryk Engelland smiling and nodding in agreement. “He's a bigger deal than the rest of us. We know this. It's no big deal.”
Crosby doesn't abuse his power even though he could get away with it. The truth is, in some ways, he doesn't have any power.
Being Sidney Crosby can't make the reported awful ice conditions at Consol Energy Center better, it can't get a privacy gate for his house.
But being Sidney Crosby does produce daily questions about his head and his jaw. For the normal human being, it would probably seem a little overwhelming.
“I give him all the props in the world for handling life the way he does,” Martin said. “He's been doing it for a long time, I know. There is nothing worse than dealing with long-term injuries, and to watch how patient and calm he is, to me, is so impressive. He's never acted like he's better than anyone else. It's been that way always, and guys appreciate it. He really is one of the guys.”
The man who raised Crosby to deal with such poise knows what his son endures isn't easy.
“At times you wish he could go to a movie or go to dinner without the hassle,” Troy Crosby said. “You call it a hassle, but I don't think it's that bad of a deal. He has a good life. He's doing something that he loves to do. I don't think he'd trade anything for that.”
The lockout and beyond
The NHL's four-month lockout illustrated Crosby's unique power, and his frustrations.
Who else could fly with a team owner and bring the league and union together for negotiating sessions? Only Crosby.
Months later, he showed his power again when Jarome Iginla, a future Hall of Famer, essentially squashed a trade to Boston simply because he wanted to play with Crosby.
It's hard to be treated like one of the guys when you have that kind of power.
“But he's still Sid,” linemate Pascal Dupuis said. “That's important.”
And he was the real Sid during the lockout. Crosby, ever helpful, updated members of the local media daily with the Penguins' informal workout schedule. He kept in touch when he went to highly publicized workouts in Dallas and Phoenix, playing the role of media relations man and out-of-work hockey player.
Following his daily work at Southpointe, Crosby was bombarded with request for autographs, sticks, and even one odd request for his water bottle.
He answered all requests with a smile, taking time to talk with his fans. It was a most abnormal time, but it was life as normal for him. He was still putting on a show at a hockey rink, even if the crowds were smaller than normal.
“We have this league because of the fans,” Crosby said. “I'll never forget that.”
His father has seen his son grow.
“He loves hockey, and he's understood since he was a kid the responsibility that he has as a high-profile player,” Troy Crosby said. “I'm not sure where he gets his patience from. It's not from me. He just knows how to handle people naturally.”
Last month, those fans were buzzing with a rumor that Crosby was dating musician Taylor Swift.
The city's most eligible bachelor smiled.
“Not true,” he said. “But I could do worse.”
Spoken just like one of the guys.