Due to unforeseen events today, I’ve decided to put the social media blog on hold.
I wrote in Part 1 of this series about how some players have a special ability to make a fan feel as though they are part of the game.
I’ve encountered Pens many times off the ice. Sometimes at meet and greets and other times out in public. The week after the Pens won the Stanley Cup, my brother and I were at the zoo with my son and we saw Pascal Dupuis with his family on our way out as they were entering. We kinda threw a silly thumbs up in his direction to show our appreciation for the Cup, but also not to disrespect his privacy and this special day with his family after he had spent so much time away from his wife and beautiful children.
Once after work, my brother and I stood outside of our building waiting for the bus and Jordan Staal walked by us. He nudged me, as I was preoccupied and had not noticed immediately. We said not a word to him as he pressed on down Wood Street with his bag from Sacks.
We didn’t feel right in either of those situations disturbing them. Why? Because they are people, just like us who have lives to live.
A little over a week ago, I did something completely out of character. A girlfriend and I were on our way to have lunch when I noticed Simon Despres walking toward us. I stopped and said “Excuse me, are you Simon Despres?” He answered that he was. I stuck my hand out and introduced myself, identified myself as a Pens fan and asked him how he felt. He said he felt okay. I asked if he would mind taking his photo with me. He said he did not. We snapped a quick picture, I said my thank yous, wished him well and we parted ways.
Why didn’t I get his autograph? I don’t know. I felt weird taking up the time that I did of his, but I suppose being new to the NHL stage that he didn’t get recognized often, especially to casual fans. We were on a side street with no one around.
Today, the big one came. I was walking to Market Square to find a place to plop myself down and allow my mind to wander into the arena in Panem and continue reading Catching Fire, needing to escape the confines of my building for awhile. I walked past the branch at 3 PNC Plaza just as Sidney Crosby was exiting. Our eyes met, I said “Hello” and asked how he was. He said “Good, and you?” I said I was good as well, smiled and continued on to my destination, Kindle in hand.
It took another block of walking before my brain fully registered the encounter. My hand was shaking as I attempted to call my mom. Her reaction: “Did you give him your number?” My heart sank. That thought never entered my mind and disgusts me quite a bit.
I didn’t want anything from Sid. Had he not caught my eye, I would have continued walking. To see him out on the street was something humbling. Sid isn’t very big as far as players are concerned. In his jeans, grey ringed t-shirt, track jacket and signature black baseball cap, he could have been any college aged student on the street. It is so easy to forget as fans that most of these players that we place on a pedestal are just barely adults and still children in so many ways.
The question when I got home: “Did you ask him what’s up with his neck?” No. It’s not my business. And why remind him of why he is able to be downtown at the bank at noon on a game day when his team is in Toronto without him?
I look around my room now: a photo I took of Sid while sitting against the glass, a photo of my son leaning against the boards against the glass with his Crosby jersey, a ticket stub featuring Crosby lifting the Stanley Cup high above his head with the most genuine smile across his face that a person could possibly muster.
No. Sidney Crosby does not owe me a thing. Not an autograph, an explanation, or even the simple pleasantries that we exchanged on the side walk. The only other thought that had entered my mind as the words slipped past my lips with so much ease was not to call attention to him. Not here. Not now. Not with all of these people milling around the streets of Pittsburgh. Something felt awkward about talking to him as it was. A guy with so little respect of his privacy, though I was speaking out of politeness of the situation, I hope now that he was not taken aback.
We have all seen crazed fans. Fans with little to no shame. Fans who ignore the presence of a player’s family for their own gain. While these men may lace up their skates each night with the support of the fans around them, we know that for many, for players like Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, that they will always show up, even when the fans do not. They will always play for themselves because hockey is so much more than a sport or a career to some players.
Players need fans and fans need players for the relationship to exist, for the NHL to exist. But as I wrote before, hockey will still exist without fans. It’s life will be vastly different, but it would still exist in some form.
Behind all of the fanfare, the meet and greets, and obligatory photo ops, these guys are people, just like you and me. They breathe and bleed the same as we do. The very least we can do, is show them respect. They give up the luxury of a normal schedule, a normal day, a normal life so that fans may fill arenas and cheer their names as they win or condemn them at their lowest points.
They owe us nothing more than what they are already doing, and some, go above and beyond.