Up until February 28, 2010, there were few players in the NHL - in the entire world - that I detested more than our newly-anointed Golden God.
That's right. Up until he shot the overtime winner by USA's goaltender Ryan Miller, causing an entire nation to erupt in a patriotic euphoria that only Olympic Hockey Gold can do, I hated him. I loathed Sidney Crosby.
See, world tournaments, particularly the pinnacle event at the Winter Olympics every four years, are a hard thing for me to wrap my head around. Of course I love my country. Of course Canada comes first. "Maple Leaf Forever", and all that jazz.
But for those of us who are die-hard fans of NHL teams, it's kind of a lot to ask - that we put aside our normal, comfortable, proud allegiances to players around the world to cheer on our country for two weeks.
I couldn't help but feel a twinge of sorrow knowing Alfie would not be getting a medal of any kind. A little thrill of happiness knowing Jarkko Rutuu brought back the Bronze.
Even more difficult is throwing support behind a collection of players of which many I have little love for. Chris Pronger? Scott Niedermayer? Bastards played for the Ducks when they beat us in the finals in '07. Joe Thornton? Never liked that guy. Marty Brodeur? One of our greatest foes, playing nets for one of our biggest Eastern Conference rivals.
Don't even get me started on Dany Heatley.
Aside from Jarome Iginla (who I've always thought was sexy as hell, and has the cutest smile everrrrr), I didn't have a whole lot of love for a many of those Canadian players going into the Olympic tournament.
And then there was Sid the Kid. The second-coming of Gretzky. The Chosen One.
The walking epitome of a primadonna if I ever saw one.
My disgust and hatred for Crosby? Probably more intense due to the fact that we've met up several times in the playoffs over the past few years, and if there's ever a way for hatred for the enemy to grow and fester, it's in the playoffs. I've always felt Crosby thinks he deserves special treatment because he is like hockey's new Messiah. He's known to dive, known to whine, known to chase after referees looking for a call...basically just known to be a big damn baby.
If you're a Crosby fan, you overlook these things, and you defend him. "Hey! He's Sid the Friggin' Kid! Of COURSE he should get his way!!"
For the rest of us? His act grows a little tiresome.
If you'd asked me before the Olympics who I would pick in the on-going, much-hyped "Who's Better - Crosby or Ovechkin?" debate, I'd have taken Alexander the Great any day. I love Ovechkin's enthusiasm. I love how he is always trying to be better than Crosby. I even love his show-boating. He's like a kid who can't get enough.
In 2007, the year the Senators went to the Stanley Cup finals, the first opponent we did away with that Spring was young Sidney and his Penguins. Back then, we the fans had our knuckles rapped by a local sports writer who didn't think it was right for us to boo "The Next Big Thing". He scolded us for being childish and petty, and for displaying any sort of negative reaction to His Royal Highness.
We booed louder.
Since then, the rivalry has only grown stronger.
So yes, it was a little difficult to cheer for this guy, even though he was wearing the red Maple Leaf. And even after he scored in the shoot-out to beat Switzerland in the round robin. Even then, I still had a sour taste in my mouth when I was forced to cheer for Sid.
But on February 28th, after the Americans had tied things up with less than 30 seconds to go in regulation time of the Gold medal game, and I - along with the rest of a country gripped with anxiety - had to sit through 7 minutes and 40 seconds of overtime, it was inevitable.
When Sid picked up a pass from Iginla and shot it past Miller to begin the epic Golden celebration and bring to a close the stellar Vancouver Games, I couldn't help it.
I was screaming and cheering and fist-pumping with the best of 'em.
The following day, when I saw a guy wearing a Team Canada jersey with Crosby's name and number on the back...I kinda wished I had one.
So, my opinion on Crosby has been forced to change a little. He's a Canadian hero now. He will go down in the history books as scoring one of the biggest, most important goals in our nation's history. He's right up there with Paul Henderson.
For my generation, he is Paul Henderson.
Now...well, now, I gotta love him.
That being said, I'm pretty sure that could all change if we face them in the playoffs again this year. I could be cursing Cry-Baby Crosby again very, very soon...
But until then...I'll celebrate him. He's the one who brought us the Gold, after all. I don't think I'll ever hate him with the same fervor again.