I know many people, myself included, who have conniptions when they can't watch the Pittsburgh Penguins on a regular basis. As hardcore fans, many of us need our tri-weekly doses of James Neal's power play goals and Marc-Andre Fleury's Cheshire Cat smile when he makes a save look a cake walk. Win or lose, this team is a part of our lives and we all have an insatiable hunger to see them, be it in games, practices, interviews or community appearances, as much as we can.
But imagine if we suddenly couldn't.
It's not very realistic , but what if we couldn't get our fill of Penguins hockey? What if there was no way for us to take part in our fandom? What would we do?
We would be frustrated, we would complain, listen to Adele's "Someone Like You" until we cried ourselves to sleep. Our investment in the game goes hand-in-hand with the fact that hockey become a daily routine for many of us; Losing something so concentrated in our lives will never be easy.
This is but a taste of what Sidney Crosby has gone through almost the last year.
Hockey has been as important to Crosby's life as his arm or leg. His accomplishments in the sport have propelled his name forward in North American history and sports history in general. As I've watched the last few weeks unfold, seeing Crosby go from working his way back into the lineup to scoring his first of the season on a wicked backhand to finding his way back on the injured list, it's become impossible to not think about how this has been affecting him.
Not Crosby the hockey player, but Crosby the human who is just as much (if not more) a fan of the sport as the rest of us. Crosby who has walked a fine line between a nightmare on the ice and being the star of his own nightmare.
Al Pacino taught us in Any Given Sunday that life is a game of inches and the margin for error is impossibly small. Those inches have dictated his life. A slip of the fingers and Gary Bettman could have picked the ping pong ball with the Anaheim Ducks logo. A few inches to the left or right and Ryan Miller makes the save in the Gold Medal Game. A few seconds slower or faster and Dave Steckel might not have connected with Crosby's head in the Winter Classic.
Inches have been the difference between exhilaration and heartbreak, integral emotions in the sport of hockey to both the player and the fan. But in reference to Crosby, the latter has dominated our minds. Heartbreak not simply because the Pens could use the skilled hands of their captain, but because this concussion roller coaster has to be playing a number on his psyche.
In a powerful Tim Hortons commercial, Crosby quotes himself from years back: "Hockey is that thought inside your head saying "Wouldn't it be amazing, getting up every day and playing and doing something that you love to do?""
Because of Crosby's determination to become the greatest hockey player in the NHL, hockey became a huge part of Crosby's identity. At times, they were synonymous. But now? Crosby's name has been placed with "concussion" more than any other word. The poster child of hockey has become a reference point, an example why certain things in the NHL must change. With Crosby now seeking more help for his concussion problems, he's also becoming a twisted science experiment.
The gears in Crosby's life have temporarily shifted. It's not about how many points he will score, but when will he have the opportunity to score his next one. And yes, I do mean "when" and not "if." What remains uncertain is the condition Crosby will be in when he returns and if he can put this era of concussions behind him. Crosby's doctors projected he would make a full recovery, however, his history of concussions increases the likelihood of more in the future.
For us, fans, it's not easy to know this either. There's even less we can do. After witnessing Crosby's unbelievable stretch in fall of 2010 when he went on his 25-game scoring streak, many of us thought Crosby had reached yet another impossible level in his game. Unfortunately, it was too short-lived to enjoy. From a great high came a great low and now we all sit in dark limbo, waiting, hoping that our captain can return to glory. He could be inches away, then again, he could be miles. All we know is that we're powerless in his endeavors.
This is a player who means so much to Pens fans and the city of Pittsburgh. He joined a C-list team and led them to a Stanley Cup years later, he revived hockey in the city like never before, he dedicated time and money to the community and charities. He made Pittsburgh relevant again.
That is why Crosby's recovery isn't just about his return as the League's best. It's about a prodigy who wants to do what he loves, but physically cannot. It's the frustration we know is present but isn't openly expressed. It's that the concussion experts have to go back to the drawing board to solve the mystery of Crosby's brain. It's that Pens games carry on while a disheartened Crosby watches from the press box, knowing that for the time being, he can't take part in something he was destined to do.