One of my worst memories as a Detroit sports fan came at the end of game seven of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals.
After spending that entire June day preparing to celebrate another championship with the Detroit Red Wings, I, and millions of others, were forced to witness Sidney Crosby accept the Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and watch as he thrust it into the air in front of the Red Wings faithful.
If that wasn’t depressing enough, we smoked our victory cigars outside after the ceremony, and commiserated on why our team couldn’t do what we thought was a foregone conclusion: beat the Penguins at home in a decisive game.
The answer, of course, was Sidney Crosby.
If seeing his mug plastered all over the advertisements for the Finals wasn’t enough, him raising the Cup was enough to instill my hatred of the league’s best player, right?
No, not even close. The hate began much, much earlier.
The seeds were planted in 1994 when Brett Favre found Sterling Sharpe all alone at the Pontiac Silverdome to beat the Detroit Lions in one of that year’s Wild Card games.
The hate plant started to mature in the late-90’s when Cleveland Indians fans packed Tigers Stadium with their stupid bells for Albert Belle, and I was forced to sit among them as they turned the place into Jacobs Field West.
It was ready to harvest on that summer night in 2009 when Crosby took back to Pittsburgh what was supposed to be ours.
As of this writing, Sidney Crosby has played 8 games this season.
His time on the shelf is due to concussion-like symptoms that have nagged him since the original hit that happened either during the 2011 Winter Classic on January 1, or a few days later against the Tampa Bay Lighting.
Either way, two severe hits so close together will affect the most superstar-y of players.
The chances of Crosby ever returning to the force he once was have to be less than fifty-fifty, which doesn’t bode well for my continued hatred.
But even I have to admit: It’s more fun to follow the game when Crosby is playing at full strength. In a weird way, you can’t make the strongest of cases for winning The Cup if the league’s best player doesn’t have a say. And the prospect of meeting up with his team in another Finals is what keeps me intrigued.
(It’s hard to hate Evgeni Malkin with as much passion.)
Hate is why the NBA was so popular last year: We all had a common enemy in LeBron James.
His poor decision to engage in “The Decision” turned a lot of people off.
But those same people turned on their televisions when James’ Heat lost to the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA Finals, and cheered right along with the fans in Dallas as James walked off the court a beaten man.
We reveled in his defeat. If he was going to mock the game by colluding to put together his own Dream Team, we were going to enjoy every second of every loss that put him one step closer to seeing his master plan fail.
You may be the best player in the league, but that doesn’t mean we have to like you.
In fact, it’s more likely we’ll hate you (unless we’re one of those white-clad Miami fans that think they are real fans.)
Vince McMahon understands that the fans need somebody to pull for, and somebody to pull against. The match wouldn’t have the same appeal if two guys both fighting for the greater good squared off.
When these oversized human beings in tights battle, it’s the modern (scripted) version of the Battle Between Good and Evil; a battle we’ve been fighting since cavemen learned how to depict battles on the walls of their caves.
And even though wrestling is fake, we watch because it brings forth our human desire to see evil vanquished. It’s a quest as old as human history.
Outside of the city of Pittsburgh, Sidney Crosby is the ultimate heel. He has been since he first laced up his skates for the Penguins in 2005. Through no fault of his own (other than being a damn good hockey player), fans in opposing cities hate him because the league pushed him down our throats, when he still would have excelled had the Powers That Be just let him play.
The longer Crosby stays away from the game, the more we will hear the “R” word, and that’s a shame.
Personally, I think he was too good in the eight games he played this year to consider hanging up his skates. But if the choice is between a lifetime of severe headaches and a few more good years of hockey, I think I know what I would choose.
Then again, I’m not hated by a majority of hockey fans.
For all of us, hockey is more fun with that jerk Crosby in the game.