He’s about to be back

Circa 2007

In my previous life, I had this photo posted on my computer at work. Each time I look at it, I think of three words: “promise,” “potential,” and “expectations.”

My husband took it on Nov. 12, 2007 – a little more than four years ago – during the pregame skate of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils. At that time, the magnitude of Sidney Crosby held a lot of those three words.

That weekend, we’d visited Pittsburgh with my parents to see the Steelers face the Browns on a Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field … and my husband surprised me with tickets to the Penguins game the next night. Otherwise, I’d relegated myself to the fact that I was lucky enough to pay $14 for a ticket to see Sidney Crosby play for Rimouski of the QMJHL when the Oceanic played in Lewiston in 2005.

I hadn’t been to a Pens game at the Civic Arena (yes, I still call it that) in nearly 10 years. Being back under the dome made me realize a lot of what I missed about Pittsburgh – the camaraderie of its citizens, the weight that people put on professional sports, how the city’s residents value family and friends …

And the fact that this new superstar was bringing the Penguins back to prominence. Penguins fans had high expectations, but had no clue what Sidney Crosby would be capable of.

Kiss this

They also had no clue what the future held for Crosby and for the Penguins – for better and for worse.

Then came the 2011 Winter Classic in December at Heinz Field, and the game against Tampa Bay a few days later, instances that prematurely ended Crosby’s 2010-2011 season, the byproduct of a concussion sustained in one of those two games.

And then came the wait. And the speculation. And the examination of the impact concussions are having on the game. And the repeated statements by Penguins coach Dan Bylsma – “Sidney Crosby won’t play today.” And then came Sunday afternoon, when the Penguins announced that Crosby would begin his season tonight against the New York Islanders. (Front page news in Pittsburgh.)

His return is a big deal because Crosby not only is one of the most prominent faces of the NHL, but he’s also become a poster boy for concussion awareness, a role that was necessary but one that he unwillingly took on. Crosby had no choice other than to be a walking, talking illustration of the effects of trauma to the brain.

When you’re told something is a blessing in disguise, you scoff at the notion. In retrospect, most likely it is. Consider what we have learned because of Crosby’s absence.

But at the same time it feels as if we – Penguins fans, hockey fans, the NHL, Crosby’s detractors (and there are quite a few of them, if you haven’t noticed), sports in general – have waited too long for this.

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