Monday, February 23, 2009

Blog blast past: The coming Crosby backlash is nothing personal

In the wake of his little set-to with Alexander Ovechkin on Sunday, it seems germane to blow the dust off this post about the lack of love for Sidney Crosby, originally published Dec. 14, 2006, after he had a six-point night vs. the Flyers and Pierre McGuire exclaimed that TSN was "The Sidney Network."

Sometime between the hours of, oh, 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. tomorrow, the Sick of Sidney Crosby Society's power will reach critical mass. May God have mercy on us all.

The backlash against the Cole Harbour Comet (as he would have been known in the days before bestowing nicknames became the droit du TV pinheads) has been there for a while, dating back to long before Crosby joined Pittsburgh Penguins in 2005. It goes back to long before juniors in Rimouski, probably even long before Shattuck-St. Mary's and AAA midget in Nova Scotia. For Crosby, it comes with the ever expanding territory.

It's bound to come to a head soon after last night's made-for-YouTube performance when Crosby had a career-high six points in an 8-4 drubbing of the Philadelphia Flyers and took over the NHL scoring lead, barely four months after his 19th birthday. As noted, there have long been rumblings. Some old fart hockey types (including a few who are still fairly young in years, if not outlook) bristled last year when the Penguins made him the youngest alternate captain in NHL history. Other people called him out for diving. Now the backlash is likely bound to start brewing in earnest.

Very little of that is Crosby's doing. Canadians went through this with Wayne Gretzky too back in the '80s. Gord Miller and Pierre McGuire's Sturm und Drang treatment of Crosby's big night on TSN last night certainly added fuel to the fire. They were just trying to hype a meaningless midweek game, fair enough. However, even by the standards of McGuire, who tends to describe every pitched battle for the puck between third-line wingers like it was the whole of the Peloponnesian War, it was almost an entire other level of dementia.

It was so off-putting that, watching from work, I found myself saying out loud, "What's wrong with Crosby? He hasn't had a point in almost eight minutes. What a suck." And I've cheered for Crosby, been following him since his days with the Dartmouth Subways.

The double whammy is that Alex Ovechkin, a year older, is coming to his own and he and Crosby represent the way the hockey nation stereotypes have been inverted. This is a gross generalization, but so be it: Canadians have come to embody the old Cold War stereotype of the robotic Soviet players. The Russians are the devil-may-care, impish sorts with the wink and the smile with a tooth missing, seriously talented without taking themselves too seriously. If the '72 Summit Series was being re-enacted today, it's a lot easier Ovechin hamming it up for the crowd like Phil Esposito famously did than it would with the serious-as-a-heart-attack Crosby.

Crosby is of the Alex Rodriguez-Tiger Woods-Peyton Manning-Kobe Bryant milieu. The great player who is liked, but not well-liked. He's fast becoming one of those superstars whom almost no one except the worst front-running fair-weather types cheer for. Their feats always seem to have this hollow quality. Tiger wins a major? All he's ever done is play golf. Kobe scores 81 points in a game? What's he ever done but play basketball?

Sidney Crosby winning the NHL scoring title at age 19? That's what he was built up to do. Paraphrasing Lester Bangs, part of admiring him is resenting him for failing to live up to your expectations.

Just for good measure, throw in that Crosby seems to have come to the pros fully formed, lacking any endearing human frailties. Would it kill him to have a zit? There's no backstory -- at least with Wayne Gretzky, you knew that his dad was a telephone repairman -- or even an indication that he's even had a part-time job after school or during the summer, or something of that nature.

It's nothing personal. That's the problem -- for us, not him.

Between the sacrifices the Kid has made to get where he is, plus the pressures and expectations he faces daily (especially from various commercial sponsors), he's not free to act like a typical 19-year-old -- which he isn't, of course. Where is there any indication that he does any of the usual 19-year-old things, or is full of any of the usual 19-year-old's uncertainties and fears?

Surely he most go through some of all that. You'll just never know about it, unless he's got a book to sell or goes on some Oprah-genre program to highlight his softer side. Talk about a turnoff.


Trina said...

Neate I disagree with your comment that Sidney Crosby is quickly becoming "one of those superstars whom almost no one except the worst front-running fair-weather types cheer for". As a Leafs fan since the Oilers traded Messier, I could not be considered to be fair-weathered, and I would have to say that Crosby is my favourite forward.

Why? Because he is amazingly skilled. Every time he touches the puck I get that sense of excitement and wonder what he is going to do. He is simply an incredible play maker. Since Gretzky, I don't think there has been a more inspiring player to watch.

Pete Toms said...

A Lester Bangs reference! I thought heretofore that I was the only sports fan who was also a Lester Bangs reader.


Dennis Prouse said...

In terms of the younger generation, I think my 10 year old superfreak-of-a-fan son is pretty typical, and he loves Crosby. So too do all his hockey buddies -- he's the guy they talk about in the dressing room, that is when they aren't talking about video games. Wayne Gretzky wasn't all that interesting as a personality either until he married Janet and left for LA. The kid is only 19 - plenty of time yet for dating slightly skanky celebrities and the like.