Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Crosby vs. Ovechkin: Everyone needs a good villain

After Sunday's Washington - Pittsburgh game got a little ugly, it seemed there was a line drawn in the sand.

On one side, there are people who think Alex Ovechkin is light years ahead of Sidney Crosby. People who cannot stand Crosby's whining or bland, vanilla personality.

On the other side: Penguins fans.

For a long time, it seemed like Crosby just needed to open up. Over the years, there've been rumors of Crosby being gay (whether those rumors are faint, in my head or Tom Cruise-level widespread is irrelevant) and that didn't seem crazy to me. The guy still lives in Mario Lemieux's basement (doesn't he?) and to my knowledge has only been photographed with women while promoting his Reebok clothing line. No saucy Russian blondes wrapping themselves around Sid the Kid. At least not in public.

That's the strangest thing. For a league that barely generates high-end marketing, Crosby is the closest thing to "overexposed" the NHL can muster. Yet, does anyone really even know the guy? He could be gay. He could be a huge fan of "comedian" Sinbad. Hell, he might collect Pogs and Magic cards. None of this seems unreasonable because I know nothing of "the next, next one."

But maybe that's for the best because every league needs an "Elvis vs. the Beatles" type debate. And like NBA officiating, NFL replays and the BCS, controversies get people arguing and generate free publicity. If hockey fans found out that Crosby actually is a pretty solid guy, it would take all the fun and the fervor out of it for many Sid-haters.

The NBA's breakthrough era came with the Bird vs. Magic rivalry, two players who seemed both sublimely skilled and diametrically opposed. Magic played for the run-and-gun Lakers, coached by then-Hollywood-ized Pat Reilly; Bird was the leader of a Celtics team soaked in tradition, the last basketball team to win championships with two goofy looking white dudes as their best players.

You could appreciate both teams, but ultimately it came down to a choice. And that's a lot more fun than being in the middle.

When you talk about "best player" it's a Malkin vs. Ovechkin vs. Crosby battle, but the fight that sells tickets is Crosby vs. Ovie. Two players who couldn't be more different. Ovechkin takes nine shots a game, throws his body all over the ice and is wilder than a tornado. Passing is an afterthought to him. Crosby threads some of the prettiest passes you'll ever see, plays an all-effort game on both ends of the ice and is as bland as unflavored yogurt. He over-passes almost to a fault.

On some level, we need to sit back and enjoy this. Keep in mind: this is far from settled; Crosby can barely buy a six-pack right now.

I'll leave you with this thought originally posted on Battle of California:

"Stone Cold" Steve Austin vs. "The Hitman" Bret Hart: Not a bad parallel to the Alex Ovechkin vs. Sidney Crosby rivalry when you think about it. Austin/Ovechkin appeal to the simple fan with brashness and aggressiveness; Hart/Crosby are vaguely whiny, undeniably talented Canadians. Crosby might even have a disturbing obsession with baby oil and strange sunglasses for all we know."


jamestobrien said...

For the record, I'm a Penguins fan.

Chris Kontos said...

I think a lot of fans dislike with Crosby starts with how he came into the league. Not his fault, but with the NHL creating a "SuperDraft" for the rights to Crosby, I could see how fans could sour on him from Day One and find him more "whiny" than "passionate." He was put up on the Saviour Pedestal by the league, but without the personality of Gretzky or even Ovechkin to match. For me, I'm an Ovechkin guy... but I'd turn on the tv if Crosby was playing.

jamestobrien said...

This has been a weird few years in sports for me. I'm a Giants fan and a Penguins fan, so rooting for players like Crosby and Eli Manning isn't something I'm used to. I'm used to lovable losers, not winners people love to hate.

Chris Kontos said...

Giants and Penguins are winners this year?

jamestobrien said...

Eh, compared to their (what's the opposite of "golden" ... brown?) years, I'd call it "winning." I wouldn't have been shocked if I never saw the NY Giants win another Super Bowl, so it's good enough for me.

jamestobrien said...

That Bird-Magic photo is just breathtaking.