It had to end this way, didn't it?
Sidney Crosby sending The Frozen North into a frenzy. The Next One elbowing his way into a spot aside The Great One as one of Canada's all-time hockey greats. Overtime winner. Game, set, go ga-ga Canada.
Well, no. It didn't have to end that way at all. It shouldn't have ended that way. Not the way Crosby was playing. Not the way Canada was playing. For about 66 of the 67 minutes of a gold medal game for the ages, Sid the Kid was pretty much invisible. At that point he had gone the equivalent of almost four games without a point.
Was the greatest player in the greatest hockey-playing nation burned out?
Miracle on Ice II had been halfway written when the U.S. Zach Parise scored the tying goal with 24 seconds left in regulation. Hey, but what do they say down here in the States when a baseball game is tied in the ninth?
It only takes one.
That's what Crosby provided in the second-greatest Olympic hockey game ever played. Canada beat the U.S. 3-2 in overtime, in a fitting end to the latest Winter Olympics. Try as it might, NBC couldn't douse the fervor of hockey fans everywhere. Most of the greatest Olympic hockey tournament ever was relegated to cable while the network showed ice dancing and skiing. In our profession that's called burying the lede.
When Parise tied it for the U.S. it was gut punch to America's Hat. That meant the next goal was in competition for the greatest ever scored in each country's history. It was Paul Henderson (1972 vs. the Soviets) vs. Mike Eruzione (1980 vs.the Soviets). Henderson's country won. Henderson himself had to step aside. Sidney's goal now replaces Henderson's as the most significant in Canadian hockey history, second only to Eruzione's in Olympic history.
Sports remains the best reality television. There's really nothing currently on the international level in the U.S. that compares to this kind of drama. The World Baseball Classic isn't one. The NBA pros playing in the Summer Olympics has been, well, boring. We're a bit player in the World Cup.
Yet, the 1980 Miracle on Ice remains the biggest sports upset maybe ever.
So let's not forget what happened these past two weeks. Not just U.S. hockey, the game of hockey gained a level of respect. That's two silver medals in the last three Olympics for the U.S., two out of three golds for the Canadians. It's up to the NHL now to keep the momentum going. Maybe, in some way, this can remove the NHL from cable oblivion (Versus?).
Further observations: The Next One (Crosby) truly is on a level now with The Great One (Wayne Gretzky). A Stanley Cup and gold medal within seven months is pretty cool ... No matter what, the U.S. had the faster team ... U.S. goalie Ryan Miller was named the tournament's MVP. Pretty heady stuff for the losing side.
And you have to admit, it was fun for a while watching an entire nation gag. Own the Podium? The U.S. won the medal count 37-30. OK, so you don't care and maybe you shouldn't. March Madness is coming. Baseball is starting.
But it was genuine and heart-stopping and a rush that Xavier v. Richmond on Sunday just couldn't provide. My headline for our copy desk friends north of the border:
You're welcome, Canada. You've got your gold. We've still got our TMZ, our Oprah, our Entertainment Tonight dishing our dirt. That's another way of saying it's time to get back to business.
It's your serve, Tiger.