Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins handles the puck against Roman Josi #59 of the Nashville Predators and Ryan Ellis #4 of the Nashville Predators in Game Five of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Final at PPG Paints Arena on June 8, 2017 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/NHLI via Getty Images)
In our City of Champions, which can claim one of football's most famous dynasties and one of baseball's most iconic players, the largest shadow cast is by a hockey player who has been a better Pittsburgher than he was a Penguin. And that distinction says all anybody ever needs to know about the magnificent Mario Lemieux.
But everybody needs to know something else about Lemieux.
He recognized almost right away the kid who would supplant him as Pittsburgh's greatest professional athlete.
Sidney Patrick Crosby's legacy was secure before he won an MVP, scoring title and the Stanley Cup. On perhaps the greatest day for hockey in Pittsburgh, Crosby watched from the bench at Mellon Arena as Lemieux said the only words a Penguins fan had needed to hear.
March 13, 2007: Then and there, Crosby already had given Pittsburgh everything. He got built the hockey home that he brought to life Wednesday night with a tone-setting, momentum-grabbing, and quite possibly series-changing opening shift in Game 5 of what was an all-even Stanley Cup Final.
Nothing is even.
Soon, nothing will be the same.
And the difference between Pittsburgh's fifth summer with Stanley and the previous four is that it will signal a seismic shift in our sporting-crazed city. Whereas the Steelers' long awaited “One for the Thumb” reminded an NFL generation that Pittsburghers were from the town with the great football team, the Penguins' fifth championship will reorder the great ones as Pittsburghers see them.
It's Sidney Crosby, and everybody else — a group that includes Lemieux, Joe Greene, Roberto Clemente, Tony Dorsett, Kurt Angle and Suzie McConnell-Serio — are The Outsiders.
You can call that the New World Order of Pittsburgh professional sports, brother.
A year ago, Crosby reclaimed the unofficial standing he once held as the NHL's top player.
Only he would find so little satisfaction in again merely being the best. Only he would feel compelled to go after more.
At the World Cup of Hockey, against the planet's finest competition, he captained Canada to another world title. His return to the NHL was delayed by a concussion, and those games missed probably prevented him from winning another scoring title and MVP. But even as he ceded those trophies to his presumed heir, Edmonton's Connor McDavid, Crosby supplanted generational rival Alex Ovechkin as the NHL's leading goal scorer and — because why leave anything to doubt? — inserted himself into any conversation about challengers to Patrice Bergeron's defense among forwards.
Any one of those tasks was an awful lot to take on, even for Crosby.
Again, though, he was driven to do more. And, so, Crosby has spent the past couple of months of these grueling, grinding Stanley Cup playoffs gutting the legacy that is truly at stake in this Final.
Or will anybody really argue that Chicago's Jonathan Toews is his era's best leader after Crosby's Penguins takes out the same Nashville Predators against which Toews' Blackhawks couldn't win even one playoff game?
If all politics are local, all sports are provincial. As one of the few earthly arguments that can be taken as fact, a case must be made that Crosby's dash into hockey's hallowed territory is a distant second to the story of his scoring a spot on a Mt. Washington of Pittsburgh Sports.
Might happen Sunday night in Nashville. Could take until Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
It's happening soon; that's the reality. Crosby will take Lord Stanley's cherished silver chalice from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman for a third time, and the exchange may as well coincide with a flash similar to a Hollywood depiction of warp-speed dash into deep space by a flying vessel.
From Bettman to Crosby and then — whoosh. That is how this is going to go, right? Next thing we'll see is Crosby surrounded by Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, Lemieux and the ghost of Gordie Howe, and the Four Horsemen of Hockey Immortality will gleefully welcome him into as an official fifth member.
Which, you know, will be a real neat story for Crosby to share with his friends while fishing a lake in his Halifax.
But, again, won't have been enough.
Only for Crosby could becoming a hockey god not have been enough.
When he does lift that Cup for the second time in as many years and a third time in a dozen years, know that he will have done precisely what Lemieux predicted the morning of Oct. 8, 2005, a few hours before Crosby scored his first goal in his first game for the Penguins in Pittsburgh.
Then, as Crosby's captain (and landlord), Lemieux entertained the possibility that he one day might not be known as the greatest Pittsburgh Penguin. With a smile and without missing a beat, No. 66 offered an unfathomable assessment about a then teenage No. 87.
“He just might,” Lemieux said. “The kid is special.”
Might just be that Crosby is so special we cannot comprehend in real time what he's been doing for a dozen years, especially the past couple of years and specifically these most recent 10 months.
The greatest Pittsburgh Penguin? Truth is, Crosby can already consider himself that (though, he would never dare).
Still, Sidney Patrick Crosby is about to supplant Lemieux as Pittsburgh's greatest professional athlete. And when he does, expect to hear a lot about Crosby not being done winning, scoring, all of it.
Or, think about this: Crosby won't turn 30 until August.