"The Things We Forget" is a chronicle of 2008 in sports. It is presented in 11 parts. This is Part 9, on Sidney Crosby. At the bottom of this piece, you can navigate to the other 10 parts.
Mediate wasn't the only unlikely highlight in a year that favored overdogs. Foundations of hope were laid in places that hadn't had much reason to cheer. Even cities like Pittsburgh saw their way out.
Until 2008, Sidney Crosby had always been the future. But after he, Evgeni Malkin and the rest of the youthful Penguins—with the notable exception of 118-year-old Gary Roberts—reached the Stanley Cup Finals to face the Detroit Red Wings, Crosby became, even in defeat, something like the present. He found himself in a space he had never before occupied, one that sheltered him from questions about what would happen next. For seven blessed weeks, he didn't have to think beyond now. "When you're on a run like that, you don't have time to think about what you're doing," Crosby said. "You're in a bubble."
The ancient and toothless Red Wings put an end to his ride, and in the quiet that followed, Crosby allowed himself a few days to think about how close he had come: "It's weird how you remember just bits and pieces, but those bits and pieces definitely stick with you." He remembered the first game of the playoffs; he remembered when the Penguins scored a late goal to beat the Ottawa Senators; he remembered coming back from a 3-0 deficit against the New York Rangers; he remembered how good it felt to beat the Red Wings twice, once in the third overtime. "It was fun while it lasted," he said.
And now, inevitably, it had started all over again. After the shortest summer of his career, Crosby was back on the ice at the Igloo in October, skating circles beneath the giant banner that commemorated Mario Lemieux, his boss and mentor. On the day that the Red Wings went to the White House to accept the president's congratulations, Crosby and the Penguins were playing the Philadelphia Flyers. It was a close, hard-fought game. Once, Crosby slammed the door to the bench so hard, the echo sounded above the sold-out crowd. The Penguins lost an early lead, and the game went to overtime. Everybody was on their feet. It felt like spring, not fall. With seconds remaining, the Penguins scored. They filled the ice in celebration, Crosby at the center of it.
A few minutes later, in the cramped locker room, The Kid sat by his locker, soaked through and smiling. Up close, he seemed an unlikely man to carry the burdens foisted upon him. He still has pimples. But in 2008, he proved himself a worthy successor to Lemieux as he brought salvation closer than ever. "I think this team and this city have a great future," he said. It didn't seem like coincidence that, earlier that day, just across the street, the cornerstone for a new arena had been laid.
Other Parts of "The Things We Forget"
Part 1: The Closing of Yankee Stadium
Part 2: Michael Phelps
Part 3: Lance Armstrong and David Tyree
Part 4: Annika Sorenstam
Part 5: Josh Hamilton
Part 6: Venus and Serena Williams
Part 7: The Boston Celtics
Part 8: Rocco Mediate and Tiger Woods
Part 10: Thurman Munson's old locker at Yankee Stadium
Part 11: The 2008 World Series
Bonus: See the author's receipts from putting together this story.