North of the 400

North of Toronto, South of a championship

Sidney Crosby is a player under pressure

with 2 comments

Second in an ongoing series at current athletes

There’s this ad in Canada right now for Tim Horton’s that stars Sidney Crosby. He’s riding a bus – presumably with the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins – out in some kind of countryside.

The bus breaks down, Crosby looks out the window and sees a group of kids playing hockey on a pond. And grabbing his stick, skates and gloves (nice to know he keeps those handy), he goes out and plays with them while a light snow begins to fall.

It’s a cute ad, though it’s one I like a bit for an entirely unrelated reason. And it’s one of many, many ads that prominently feature one Sidney Patrick Crosby, currently of the Pittsburgh Penguins. His likeness is attached to everything from clothing (including the stuff he wears in that Tims ad) to Gatorade.

The NHL is hitching its wagon to Crosby. He is the face of the league, hockey’s spokesperson and maybe the best talent to come out of Canada in a long, long time. Already the captain of the Penguins at the young age of 21, he’s already tearing into the league; he led the league in scoring in his second season by putting up the Gretzky-like 120 points – before he turned 20.

Fair or unfairly, that is a shadow he is gong to have to with. The shadow of Gretzky will always lie on hockey, but especially so on Crosby, as it has on every Canadian player in recent memory, from Eric Lindros to Alexandre Daigle. But for Crosby, it is perhaps the best comparison that could be made.

Like him he wears a high number. Like him he’s got a great scoring touch – but is just as likely to set somebody else up instead. Like him, he started his career on a young team brimming with talent. And like him, Crosby came into the league with a ton of hype.

Gretzky lived up to his, putting up unreal numbers in a time where scoring was at a peak. His 200 plus point seasons are unlikely to ever be repeated, let alone broken. Even now, close to a decade after his final game, his name is still shorthand for greatness in hockey.

This has to weigh down on Crosby. He a great talent, yes, but the entire league sometimes seems to pivot on his shoulders. Gretzky never had to save anything from oblivion.

He started immediately after the NHL cancelled an entire season. He is, through no fault of his own, the savior of hockey, the player who will rescue the sport from cable-TV obscurity.

The NHL he inherited was a league in it’s worst shape in decades, since the halcyon days of Gretzky, Lemieux and Messier. The league had moved from ESPN to OLN, a small network best known for broadcasts of fishing and the Tour de France and an occasional game on NBC. The NHL had just endured a lockout that cancelled a season – the first time an entire season had been cancelled in a major pro sport. Scoring was down.

Hockey was in danger of losing its position as the fourth sport in the US. Some would even argue it already had: to NASCAR.

So along came this baby-faced kid, not even old enough to vote, who was supposed to change all of this. He was supposed to be a tremendous talent, somebody that the NHL could latch itself to.

He thusly was prominently featured on NBC’s game of the week. He is in almost innumerable ads. He is the face of hockey in North America, to the North American fan. And this must certainly have put an incredible amount of pressure upon him.

Sidney Crosby is cranky. He has been called a whiner. He jawbones at referees, he argues for calls and it has been written that other players think he’s soft. This was most evident earlier this year, when he complained a hit from Alexander Ovechkin was dirty.

So, yes, he does complain. But no other player has the same circumstances he does; the expectations, the pressure, the hype and the weight.

Back to that ad I like so much. I don’t like it for it’s contrived scenario, or for it’s forced punch line. I like it for what I think it unconsciously shows about Crosby.

He gets away, but he’s still known. He escapes to a backwoods pond but everybody still recognizes him. He smiles because he loses himself in the game. He’s away from all the lights, from all the hype and the noise and the talk and the expectations…

Phil Dusenberry, the former chairman of BBDO North America, once wrote that advertising is not about ideas, but insights. What insight, then, is behind that ad? Was it an attachment of hockey being an escape for Crosby? Or was it an extension of earlier ads that showcased his history with minor hockey? Or was it even saying something at all?

I remember a couple years ago, Crosby was on the Tonight Show. He brought along the dryer he used to shoot pucks at in the basement of his parents house, back when he was growing up. That was how he used to practice his shot. Not against an older brother, not against a family friend, not against his dad. But by shooting pucks into an open dryer.

A solitary activity, turned by his talent, into him charged with saving a professional sport from obscurity.

It’s a heavy weight for a kid who’s barely old enough to order a beer.

Written by M.

March 21, 2009 at 9:36 pm

2 Responses

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  1. […] prediction here may have been a bit biased, since I can’t stand the Senators and I kind of have a soft spot for Crosby. But I also liked the offensive presence […]

  2. […] here may have been a bit biased, since I can’t stand the Senators and I kind of have a soft spot for Crosby. But I also liked the offensive presence […]

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