Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Steve Yzerman...

There are a handful of things in this world which are simply indisputable. They just...are. The fact that Steve Yzerman would be a first-ballot Hall of Famer was one of those things. I mean was there anyone out there who thought otherwise? I can't say enough about the man. Truth be told, I'm not sure I'm worthy. I honestly can't consider anyone who doesn't love Stevie Y to be a true Red Wings fan. Not to shame Nick Lidstrom, because he's doing a fine job filling some awfully big skates, but there are still moments when I catch a glimpse of the 'C' on his jersey and almost expect to see Yzerman propping himself up on his stick. The Captain's first season as such began just two months after I was born, and it still seems somewhat bizarre to see anyone else in that role. It took me an entire season to adjust to the dramatic realignment of my worldview that occurred when he retired. My biggest regret as a hockey fan is spending the last half of his final season in the hockey hell known as Florida where I was only able to catch parts of two games. I'm almost sad to admit it, but one of my most prized possessions is my #19 jersey. It's made from the good material they used to use, and as far as I'm concerned, it's priceless. I'll probably still be rocking it at Wings games fifty years from now when my hockey-obsessed grandchildren are pushing me to my seat in my tricked out wheelchair with Stanley Cup hubcaps.

I feel like I've been waxing nostalgic on this blog a lot lately, but I can't help it on today of all days. Steve Yzerman was one of my idols growing up. As a child, I once told my mother that if I ever got a terminal disease and Make A Wish wanted to grant me a wish, she had to tell them that I wanted to meet Steve Yzerman in case I wasn't able to talk for myself anymore. I was obviously a fun kid to be around. I'll also never forget the night he scored his 600th goal. Every single person in the arena stood and clapped when they made the announcement. We clapped and clapped and clapped through what must have been an entire commercial break. My hands were bright red by the time we finished clapping. And Yzerman simply stood up near the end of the bench, raised his stick up in the air once, and then put his head back down and went to work. Because that's what we do in Detroit. Nothing short of total amnesia could ever erase that image from my mind.

But seriously folks. There's literally no way to even begin to summarize what The Captain has meant to the Red Wings, and me personally. Players like him don't come around every generation, and he's part of the reason why I truly, deeply love hockey. And I'm not the only one. During his last six or seven years, it almost felt like he had a religious following in Detroit. Even now, I'm pretty sure I leave a trail of grown men crying in my wake when I walk around the Joe in my Yzerman jersey, so moving is the sight of his name and number set against the rich red background. When his name is mentioned in conversation by a Wings fan, it's said with a hint of reverence usually reserved for the Pope and heads of state.

So here's to one hell of a career from a guy who exemplified every aspect of leadership and class. Quite simply, he's the greatest Captain in the history of sports. It wouldn't surprise me if there were some people out there who might disagree with this last statement (six billion people in the world, there are bound to be one or two fools), but I'm fully prepared to shoot down every argument they might make with such vehemence and wit that their great-grandchildren will spontaneously burst into tears at random intervals in their lives.

It still sometimes seems weird that The Captain's not out there on the ice. As fans, we move on and find new players to obsess over, new agonizing situations, and new reasons to hop on board the stress train. The team's enjoyed success since he retired, and I believe that it will continue to do so for quite some time. It's not like Lidstrom hasn't done a bang-up job wearing the C. In fact, the only knock against him is that he's not Steve Yzerman. There's even a fine heir-apparent to the captaincy in Henrik Zetterberg, but as wonderfully talented as the current incarnation of the team is, there's a part of me that I think will always feel that something is missing. And that something is the player who was the heart and soul and even the knees of the single greatest love of my life for so many years. Steve Yzerman.

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