Friday, January 05, 2007

Story Time -- Steve Yzerman Edition

One of the all-time greats—and my second favorite athlete ever behind another guy that might be retiring this year—was honored this week. Steve Yzerman had his #19 jersey lifted to the rafters by the Red Wings, to join #1, 7, 9, 10, and 12 in immortality.

I thought it was a very nice ceremony. Darren Pang did a great job as emcee, and it was great seeing so many old faces back for the celebration—though it was disappointing that Gerard Gallant couldn't make it. His schedule has freed up a lot since the Blue Jackets let him go. I thought for sure he'd be there. Reunite Spud and Silk one more time.

What a great moment when Vladimir Konstantinov was introduced. If anyone was going to get an ovation as big as Stevie Y, Vladdy was the guy. It's nice to see him out of the wheelchair, even though it still depresses me like no other to see him in the state he is in (sidenote: If you ever want to get good and pissed off, read the book about the limo accident written by one of the police officers involved in the case. I believe it's called "Broken Wings", though a quick google search didn't come up with anything).

The biggest disappointment of the night—to me at least—was how unprepared Scotty Bowman seemed. It was as if someone wrote his speech for him and he was just seeing it for the first time as he was reading it. It's possible that it was just nerves, but he never took his eyes off the page, the delivery of the jokes was completely off….he didn't seem ready to speak.

The oddity of the night was that the NHL had a congregation there, but not only did Gary Bettman not get introduced, not only did he not speak, but their seats were in the upper bowl! Kinda funny really.

As for Yzerman's speech: What can you say? He talked for awhile—I'd say at least 15 minutes, and had nothing written out. No notecards, no cheat sheet, no nothing. It was straight from the heart. I love listening to that man speak. I don't know where you would have to go to find a better athlete that is more humble than Steve Yzerman. He seems almost embarrassed by his success.

To emphasize what a great guy he is—and in honor of the occasion—it's time for another story time.

We're going to go back to late 1993/early 1994. Toronto, Ontario. I was on a family vacation to the city with my parents and brother, and it just so happened that not only were the Wings in town to play Toronto (remember when the NHL actually let us play the Maple Leafs?), but they were staying in the hotel right across the street from ours.

Now let me take this moment to point out that I love getting autographs. I always have. It's getting a little weird now that it's getting to the point where the professional athletes I root for are younger than me, but at this point I was 11 or so.

So the day of the game, my brother and I put on our Wings jerseys—that we had bought the night before—and headed over to the Wings' hotel. The players started filing down, and while my brother and I were in the hotel's gift shop, Dallas Drake walked in. And this is one of the reasons that I've always liked Dallas Drake, even when he acts like a knucklehead on the ice, he came up to the two of us and said hello. We chatted for a minute or two, we got an autograph (he has a very cool signature, by the way) and we headed back out into the lobby.

One by one, the guys started walking by. Bob Probert stopped to sign an autograph for us—he was also very nice. It made me very happy to see him at the ceremony. I would love to see him get his life cleaned up for good, because I do believe he's a good man. Slava Kozlov—new to the country—stopped by, and made us laugh because it seemed that the only word of English that he knew was "yes". "Thanks Slava!" "Yes" "Good luck tonight!" "Yes".

We saw Scotty Bowman, Tim Cheveldae (as nice of a guy as he was bad a goalie), Steve Chiasson (RIP), Ray Sheppard, and a slew of others.

They all worked their way out to the bus. A few minutes later, Yzerman, Osgood and Cheveldae walked by. As an 11 year old, I was really excited, sprung up from my chair and exclaimed "Mr. Yzerman!!" failing to notice that they were obviously in a hurry. Yzerman didn't brush me off though. He told the other two to go ahead and came back to sign an autograph for me. As it turns out, he missed the bus. I don't THINK I caused it, since Osgood and Cheveldae didn't make it either, but the fact that he was willing to stop and sign an autograph for a young Wings fan, even though he was late for the team bus to the rink has always stuck with me.

And if you need another example of how much he is loved in this city: He did a signing at The Goalies Den in Troy awhile back—it was probably 1994 or something. The line stretched around the entire strip mall. It took us 2 ½ hours to get in, and we definitely weren't the last ones there. And despite the marathon session, he was still nice as could be—asking my name, and then endorsing the photo "To Tim: Best Always, Steve Yzerman".

Great hockey player and an even better man. Congrats Stevie. And may you have as much luck in management as Joe Dumars.

2 comments:

Kyle Whitney said...

Hey, I can't seem to get ahold of you, but was curious if you would be interesting in linking to an NMU blog on your site. Drop me a line at kywhitne@nmu.edu if you've got a second. Thanks

Chris Willie Williams (your brother) said...

Cool post. Thanks for memorializing that, because it really was a neat experience, and as you say, Yzerman went beyond being a class act to stop for you. I think that morning was the point when my lifelong Wings fanship was solidified. (Though I remember feeling really sad for Cheveldae- he looked so beaten-down even as we wished him luck.)

Steve Chaisson is dead? I didn't know that.