Sidney Crosby is a prodigy who has, by and large, fulfilled his promise. He, despite some recent struggles, is the best player in the game, still better than Jonathan Toews and Steven Stamkos and Anze Kopitar and Claude Giroux and Drew Doughty and John Tavares and . . . boy there are a lot of good players in hockey right now.
But Crosby remains at the top, largely because he is a player of destiny. He is at his most brilliant when the spotlight is at its brightest, scoring the defining moment goal at the Winter Classic, in the Stanley Cup finals, or back to back Olympic gold medal games.
Despite these lasting moments of greatness and overcoming his own adversities, somehow Crosby is respected but not truly adored. He is not forever loved in the way Wayne Gretzky was, however unfair that comparison will forever be.
Why is that? He led Canada to back to back gold medals, including one most famously on home ice. He's won pretty much everything he could. He has marketed himself well, aligning himself with iconic Canadian entities like Tim Hortons.
It seems he comes up a little short off the ice. He is polite but shy and reserved, perhaps a little reluctant or uncomfortable. Everything seems rehearsed with him, like we never really have gotten to know who our hero really is. We were all wowed of Gretzky's Hollywood lifestyle and his charisma and media savvy. Somehow we all felt like we knew him. We were all envious of him. We wanted to be him. That's somehow not a nation-wide case for Mr. Crosby.
Not that every hockey prodigy has been universally loved like Wayne Gretzky or Bobby Orr or Jean Beliveau. Rocket Richard and Gordie Howe were eventually, but they played the role of great villains at the same time. Mario Lemieux was oft-criticized for apparent disinterest until his amazing return from cancer treatment. Very few others have reached national or international adulation.
Unfortunately for Crosby, and soon for the similar Next One Connor McDavid and likely several more prodigies to come after that, we will always compare them to Gretzky on and off the ice. That is part of what they inherit as they rise to the top. These superstars can fulfill their destinies and have legendary careers, but we may be guilty of not appreciating them enough like we should be.
In time we will, but perhaps when it is too late.