Becomes just the fourth person to win "Sportsman of the Year" three times
by Michelle Crechiolo @PensInsideScoop / Penguins Team Reporter
February 21, 2018
Mario Lemieux. Roberto Clemente. Danny Murtagh.
And now, Sidney Crosby.
The Penguins captain joined that group of Pittsburgh sports legends as just the fourth person to be named the Dapper Dan "Sportsman of the Year" three times in the 82-year history of the dinner and sports auction, which took place at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center on Wednesday. Crosby also earned the honor in 2006 and '07.
"It means a lot to join that company," Crosby said. "I remember how honored I was when I heard about the charity and my first time going and seeing the turnout there. You can find out pretty quickly when you're new to the city how big sports are here. I think it means a lot to join that company."
Crosby first came to Pittsburgh over 12 years ago, a couple of months after the Penguins won the NHL Draft Lottery on July 22, 2005, and with it, the right to select him first overall just more than a week later.
Everyone in the city remembers where they were and what their reaction was when they realized that the course of Penguins history - and Pittsburgh sports history in general - was changed forever. And everybody's expectations have been absolutely blown away in the time since.
Crosby saved the franchise for a second time after Lemieux had done the same a couple of decades earlier. He was the person they built the team around, the person they built a new arena because of and the person who built new generations of hockey players and fans. As a player and a person, the Penguins quite literally hit the lottery with Crosby.
"You couldn't mold out of clay a better representative for the Pittsburgh Penguins, and for Mario Lemieux and his legacy," Penguins president and CEO David Morehouse said. "I think Sid has been an exemplary player, definitely, on the ice. But he has also been a model citizen off the ice. He's the embodiment of what you hope you can get in sports, either as a management member of a team, an owner of a team or as a fan."
During Morehouse's introductory speech, he referenced a conversation he had with Dan Rooney the first time Crosby won the award, where the legendary Steelers chairman expressed that exact sentiment.
"He was only 19 the first time he won Sportsman of the Year in 2006 and he was on his way to becoming the youngest player in NHL history to win a scoring title," Morehouse said. "That night, another winner, Dan Rooney, took me aside and said 'I really like that kid of yours.' And he said, 'I sure wish he was a football player.' He went on to tell me he was so impressed with Sid and his manners and how down-to-earth he was, not even talking about how great of a hockey player and athlete he was."
For athletes like Lemieux and Clemente, their legacies will live forever and go far beyond what they accomplished on the ice or the baseball field. Not just because they were two of the best to ever play their respective sports, but because of what they have done to be good role models and the class displayed while doing it.
Crosby is well on his way to doing the same, because as he continues to be the best in the world and leave his mark on Pittsburgh both on and off the ice, what stands out is just the humbleness and the humility with which he does it - despite the microscope he's under and the responsibilities and expectations that are placed on him.
"I just can't say enough about the type of person that he is," Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan said. "He's a great person, he's a great teammate. His work ethic is unmatched by anyone I've ever been around in sports. And I mean that sincerely. He's so conscientious. For a guy that's as accomplished as he is, he has a certain level of humility to him that I think is inspiring."
Pittsburgh has always been known for being hard-working and blue collar, even as the city's industrial sector has shifted from steel to technology. Character and work ethic are two important values to the people here, and those are the two qualities that have set Crosby apart in addition to his talent.
"His demeanor and his personality, you don't know that he's a superstar, he doesn't act like he's a superstar," said Bernie Hanchak, a longtime Penguins season ticket holder. "He epitomizes what Pittsburgh is all about. If you're humble, if you're real, if you work hard, the city will love you. If he ran for mayor tomorrow, it would be a landslide. He is Pittsburgh. His imprint is all over the city and the NHL."
That's incredibly important to Crosby, who's followed the example of his former landlord Lemieux and done everything he can to make his adopted city proud. As he said in his speech, it's been an honor and a privilege for him to play here in Pittsburgh.
"It's really important," he said. "This has been home for 13 years and you try to represent the city well with the way you play and that side of things, but I also want to give back to a place that's been so good to me as well. So there's a lot of different ways to do that, but what's always your goal - and probably any athlete will tell you - is just to do as much as you can, given the opportunity that you have to give back."
Most people don't see what Crosby does on a daily basis, which, as Morehouse said, is "by design. He's doing it in a natural way, he's not trying to get attention for things." But what does stand out to most people when they think of Crosby's impact on Pittsburgh has been his Little Penguins Learn to Play Program, which is now entering its 10th season.
"One of the first things Sid did when he came to Pittsburgh was he came to us and said he wanted to find a way for kids who couldn't afford to play hockey to be able to play hockey," Morehouse said. "So that's when we came up with Sidney Crosby's Little Penguins Learn to Play program, where Sid donates his money out of his pocket along with the Penguins, at the time Reebok and now Adidas, and Dick's Sporting Goods. And we combined to buy free equipment for kids."
This year, they gave away 2,000 sets of head-to-toe equipment, meaning countless kids who wouldn't have been exposed to the sport have now gotten an opportunity to try it out.
"And Pittsburgh, as a result, has led the U.S. in participation in the 10-and-under age group, which our target is 5-to-7 year olds," Morehouse said. "It's been an extraordinary effort, it's his because he came to us and asked us to try to pull something together for him."
Dennis Hottel has been a season ticket holder since 1988. He remembers the years in the early 2000s after Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr retired where the Penguins didn't make the playoffs and attendance, youth hockey participation and overall interest plummeted.
"When Sidney arrived in '05, those things all picked up," he said. "All you have to do is look at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex up in Cranberry just to see. And Sidney is directly responsible by starting that Little Penguins Learn to Play. Let's just say that he's a Pittsburgh icon. I'm very proud to be a fan and be able to watch him. All the memories he's brought to us as fans, they're golden. I just treasure him."
"Before he came, there were no young kids playing," Hanchak added. "Now, my granddaughters are 4 and 6 and they know who Sidney Crosby is. It's incredible."
Hottel and Hanchak know how fortunate they are to live in a town nicknamed "the City of Champions," with 16 combined titles between their three professional sports teams. For them, Crosby is in the same class as Lemieux and Clemente because of his humbleness, humility, and talent, and they couldn't feel more fortunate.
"The amount of Hall of Fame, best in class athletes that have played in Pittsburgh - baseball, basketball, football, golf, track, almost everything - is just unprecedented, especially for a city this size," Morehouse said. "So for Sid to join the likes of Roberto Clemente, Mario Lemieux and Danny Murtagh as a recipient of this award three times, is an extraordinary honor considering all the other people who have gotten it."
As Morehouse concluded his speech, he finished with another anecdote from the extraordinary man that was the late Dan Rooney.
"All of these things he's done on the ice, his commitment to Pittsburgh, there's one thing that will always stand out to me that best describes Sidney, and it's a compliment Mr. Rooney paid him when he was here," Morehouse said. "He said he's a true Pittsburgher. And anyone who knows Mr. Rooney knows there's no better compliment."