The Mount Rushmore of Professional Sport's Athletes goes as follows: Muhammad Ali, Babe Ruth, Michael Jordan & Wayne Gretzky. If I had to pick someone from Football it'd have to be either Joe Montana or Jerry Rice. Then again Jim Thorpe or Jim Brown might surpass them due to cultural influence and impact. But since only four grace the actual Mt, I am comfortable with my picks.
Hockey is the one sport I have yet to discuss or reference. I played street hockey as a kid and was a big hockey fan while active in the sport. This was around the time when Eric Lindros was in Philly and the New York Rangers & Mark Messier won the Cup for the first time since 1940. My friends and I dented our fair share of cars and even broke a living room window, about 7 feet wide x 5 feet high, with a frozen solid, pink street hockey ball. I recently visited that same spot of streets and housing. I couldn't find a single remnant of sports equipment or any evidence pointing to activity in the area. When we played there, there were a couple basketball hoops, loose bricks on the sidewalk for goal markers, chalk lines on the street for bases & the most telling factor; Cars were parked in driveways and at the ends of the street. The people of that neighborhood knew if they parked their car in the center sections it was going to get hit by a ball, a puck, a body or a stick. The people there were cool with us for the most part too. On my turn-back-the-clock day, cars were parked up & down the road like Danica @ Daytona with not a child in sight. There was always that one old guy who got really pissed if you stepped foot on his grass though. We had to deal with 2 of em in our neck. I bet the current old dudes would be thrilled if some kids came around to play on their lawns or near their street corner. Well maybe not thrilled but at least encouraged.
Gretzky, Lemieux and Lindros were the big dogs of Hockey in the mid 90s. The Legion of Doom John LeClair, Eric Lindros and Mikael Renberg led the Flyers top line from 95 to 97. I saw them play in '96 against the San Jose Sharks sitting in the very top row of the CoreStates Center. A fan next to us punched a hole in what appearred to be dry wall ceiling. That was the most memorable part of the game for me even though it ended in a 2-2 tie with overtime. Top Row or Upper Deck seating in any venue are notorious places for fan misbehaviour. I remember Marty McSorley beating up a Flyer too. McSorley is Classic NHL Bully/Tough Guy/Goon/Enforcer. He was Gretzky's protector in Edmonton with the Oilers and he followed the Great One to the Kings in Los Angeles in the biggest trade in Canadian History, equivalent to Babe Ruth going from Boston to New York. If Canadian's weren't so reasonable and humane, that trade might have resulted in riots and the burning down of Northlands Coliseum.
The Last Hockey game I attended was in 2004 when the Flyers faced the Maple Leafs in the 2nd round of the NHL Playoffs. I won tickets by, get this, sending a creatively written email to Comcast's Daily News Live show. "Best email wins tickets to the Flyers vs Leafs game," announced Michael Barkann. So I go into a spur-of-the-moment soliloquy about the NHL and the idea that it's becoming a league dominated by higher payroll teams. I include evidence from the previous seasons and use the Flyers as my prime example for cementing my argument. They read my email on-air, joked about how the question/email was so long-winded it was short-circuiting the studio and I sat there laughing and smiling knowing I'd be at Game 5 of the Flyers, Leafs. The Result: Best Sporting Event I've witnessed live. Plenty of fights, Tie Domi getting ejected for excessive ass-hole-ery, Ed Belfour being pulled from goal for getting torched, (crowd chanting Ed-dy!, Ed-dy!, Ed-dy! while he skates to the bench, awesome) Keith Primeau hat-trick and Flyers win 7-2. I had no vocal chords after that game. I'm the kind of fan that believes in crowd participation so I make sure, even to the embarrassment of myself and the people with me, I get my money's worth. I didn't pay a dollar for those tickets, but I made my presence felt nonetheless.