Tuesday, July 13, 2010

All the best to Stevie Y

By Rick Morris

As I’ve said a million times before on multiple platforms, Steve Yzerman is my all-time favorite athlete, and yeah, a hero of mine. He got me into watching hockey years ago and got me into his Red Wings. Excerpting from my column about him at the time of his Hall of Fame induction last November:

“I would like to mention why he is my favorite. He had outstanding God-given talent, but also radiated class and became, in my opinion, the greatest leader in team sports. His two decades with the captain's ‘C’ set a record by quite a wide margin, one that I believe will never be approached, much less surpassed. Hockey players as a whole tend to be the humblest and classiest in team sports and Steve Yzerman exemplified that better than most. I do not believe that we will see anyone quite like him ever again … The best way to sum up what he means to his fans is this: the best word that comes to mind when we think of his is ‘respect.’ The Canadian Olympic team chose to vacate the #19 during the Turin Games when Yzerman withdrew from the team for health reasons -- and that's saying quite a bit, because so many players of this generation wear that number out of respect for him. Respect, there's that word again. And as the Red Wings have become over the last decade hockey's version of the New York Yankees, the single most polarizing force in the sport, rarely if ever will you hear opposing fans speaking ill of Stevie Franchise. They will bash the ownership, or other Wings players, or Wings coaches, but not The Man. They know in their heart of hearts that they would kill to have him wearing their colors -- and we who love him know how fortunate we were that he wore ours.”

And it pretty much goes on in that vein.

This is, of course, being re-posted after reflection on Stevie Y being hired to run the hockey operations by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Selfishly, I would have liked to see him still with the Red Wings, still in line to take over one day. But realistically, Ken Holland, the best GM in the league, is nowhere near ready to be put out to pasture and his assistant, Jim Nill, is also the best at his job in the league. Icon or no icon, Number 19 wasn’t taking over anytime soon.

So as a commodity already in some demand across the league because of his legendary quiet-but-effective leadership, his star rose to new heights when he put together the organization to lead Team Canada back to Olympic gold in February. More offers, better offers, were going to keep coming. So the day of his departure was going to be inevitable, as much as I was in denial about it – much like how I was in denial about his retirement four years ago.

At a time like this, you can either take the low road, like Penguins fans who will go to their graves MF’ing Marian Hossa for leaving them when he was a hired-gun deadline-rental in the first place, or you can give the departed the respect they deserve. I am very pleased to report that Red Wings fans have almost without exception chosen the second option, the classy one. There are even a lot of folks on message boards proclaiming that they are adopting Tampa Bay as their favorite team in the East, their “1A” franchise in the league, if you will. I have seen traces of this phenomenon previously when Nebraska football fans joined the outstanding message board devoted to my alma mater, Bobcat Attack, and adopted us as their “1A” team when we hired Frank Solich as coach – after he had been driven out of the Cornhusker state in such a despicable manner.

Well, I can report that I am completely on board with this movement. I am adopting Tampa Bay and will root for them in all situations not involving the Red Wings. This isn’t the first time I have done this, as I used to root for Ottawa during their underachieving but star-filled days, sympathizing with them and seeing similarities to the pre-’97 Red Wings who the hockey world always buried with glee. But this adoption has actual meaning behind it. Steve Yzerman will be propagating the “Red Wing Way” – something that he had a very strong role in helping to create over the past quarter-century – in a new place, further validating the ways that this organization helped to redefine winning in the NHL. My all-time favorite athlete now has the opportunity to completely reshape a franchise from the ground up and I feel that I have to support him.

Famously, New York talk show host Joe Benigno of WFAN in New York disagrees with me and he more or less hijacked a segment of Episode #72 of THE FDH LOUNGE (Wednesdays, 7-10 PM EDT on SportsTalkNetwork.com) to inform me of this. I disagreed with him then as I disagree with him now. Having a “1A” does not dilute your love and your passion for your favorite team. In circumstances not involving your “1,” I see nothing wrong with showing interest in another team. I would root for Tampa Bay to win the Cup if they are not up against Detroit. If they are, of course I stick with the Red Wings.

And you know what? There’s no doubt in my mind The Captain would understand – and approve.

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